When Word Records founder Jarrell McCracken committed his sports broadcast-cum-sermon “The Game of Life” to
vinyl in 1951 (the snippet you hear at the beginning of this CD), it’s not only safe to say that the thought
never occurred to him that his company would lead the charge into a new era of religious-themed music, it’s
also a great bet he wouldn’t have guessed one of the label’s future artists would be compared to such
“secular” hit makers as The Beatles, Paul Simon and Marc Cohn.
But those very comparisons have been made about singer/songwriter Fernando Ortega, and his song “This Good
Day” is a stellar example of what contemporary Christian music-pioneered by many of Word Records’ early
artists-has become. This intelligent, well-crafted tune was also the most played song on Inspirational radio
formats in the year 2000, and a fine way to kick off this 50-year salute.
In case you haven’t heard Nicole C. Mullen yet, we’re pretty sure you’ve heard of her-as the voice on
VeggieTales’ “Larry Boy Theme,” as a Dove Award-winning songwriter, and a backup singer for years prior to
that. Her “Redeemer” was the most played song on Christian adult contemporary stations in 2000.
The trio of Steve Crawford, Da’dra Crawford Greathouse and Nee-C Walls is Anointed. That’s what they call
themselves, but we’ll bet you agree. Their 1999 third album opener, “Revive Us,” will rouse the sleeping and
set your spirit-and your feet-in motion.
Word executive Loren Balman has shown his gift for conceptualizing great projects before with albums like My
Utmost for His Highest, but he and producer Brent Bourgeois may have outdone themselves with Streams, a
“soundtrack of hope” that seeks to encourage during life’s darkest moments. Just listen to Sixpence None The
Richer’s beautiful “Breathe.”
Rich Mullins may have left this mortal soil in the fall of 1997, but his last songs-fortunately left in demo
form on a cheap cassette-were his last gift to us, and his Ragamuffin Band, led by Rick Elias, fleshed them
out on The Jesus Record, including the #1 song, “My Deliverer.”
Though Kurt Kaiser, who joined Word’s staff in 1959 as its first A&R Director, has more than 200 copyrighted
songs to his credit, one of them-“O, How He Loves You and Me”-is Word Music’s all time most performed song.
This recorded version, from a 1997 album called Moments-Jewels for the Crown, features Wanda Geddie Brickner.
Formed in 1991 on the campus of the Arkansas college these four women attended together, Point of Grace is one
of the brightest success stories in recent musical history, with a string of 21 consecutive #1 singles,
including 1996’s “Circle of Friends” (the group’s longest charting #1 song) from Life, Love & Other Mysteries.
Before she was driving a car-and before Misses Spears and Aguilera were Britney and Christina-Jaci Velasquez
had recorded her first album for Myrrh. The fastest selling album by a debut Christian artist at the time, it
featured “On My Knees,” co-written by the aforementioned Nicole Mullen, which went on to win the Dove Award
for Song of the Year in 1998.
Another female artist who has been recording since she was 15 is Crystal Lewis-only by 1996, Lewis had
released over 15 albums as well. With four #1 singles including the most played song of the year (“People Get
Ready…Jesus is Comin'”), Beauty for Ashes was Crystal’s biggest album to date.
The name of Shirley Caesar is synonymous with gospel music. Ten Grammys, 17 Doves, 12 Stellar awards and
numerous other honors have made Caesar a standout in the world of entertainment. Recording since 1967, Pastor
Caesar has been with Word since 1980. “Heaven” is taken from the 1995 album, Live…He Will Come.
Ray Boltz says he has given his simple gifts back to the Lord, and has literally watched his words and music
change thousands of lives. 1994’s “I Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb,” is an inspiring anthem, which stands next
to “Thank You” as a Boltz standard.
Guitar legend Phil Keaggy gave his loyal fans what is arguably the finest album of an illustrious career with
1993’s Crimson & Blue, and gave radio one of his hookiest tunes with “Everywhere I Look.”
Though she made her debut singing others’ words and music, Cindy Morgan showed the first real promise of her
own songwriting prowess on her 1993 album A Reason to Live with the ballad, “I Will Be Free.”
Jesus Music veteran Bryan Duncan had made lots of records by 1992, but a personal revival resulted in his best
songs in years, and his greatest success to date. Mercy brought five #1 songs, including the fine “Love Takes
When Bruce Carroll made his early recordings for Word, most Christian radio stations thought his music too
country for their adult contemporary formats-and most country stations thought his music too pop. Times
change, and listening to Carroll’s “Who Will Be Jesus” today puts things in better perspective as an artist
making music for himself, before there was a market to pitch it to.
An artist who has always been well received at Christian radio is Wayne Watson, whose 1987 Watercolor Ponies
brought him a Grammy nomination, but it was the title song from his 1990 album “Home Free” that gave him the
biggest radio hit of his career.
As most Christian music fans know, Petra means rock. Formed originally in 1972, founder Bob Hartman has led
the band through many incarnations, but the band may have never been more popular than in 1990 when Beyond
Belief brought the band a huge hit and a Grammy Award.
For over a decade, the voice of Sandi Patty was the voice of Christian music to the contemporary church and
most Christian radio listeners. Beginning as a studio singer in her college years, her planned career as a
music teacher was thwarted when requests for concerts caused her to choose a different path. Patty was
Christian music’s reigning diva when she recorded “Another Time, Another Place” with Wayne Watson in 1990.
A threesome made up of very successful studio singers made their own mark on inspirational pop music in 1986
when Marty McCall, Bonnie Keen and Melodie Tunney-otherwise known as First Call-recorded “Undivided.”
Though he’s gone on to excel in other fields of media, the voice of Benny Hester was well known on Christian
radio in 1986, as his Prodigal Son inspired “When God Ran” became the most played song of the year, staying at
#1 an amazing 13 weeks.
There’s not much that hasn’t been-or needs to be-said about Amy Grant. The first real superstar of Christian
music was also the first to find enduring success in the pop world. But before “Baby Baby” and leopard-skin
jackets, Grant made modern music for the church like “Thy Word,” co-written by Amy and Michael W. Smith. The
legacy of this song alone (now included in many modern hymnals) would make Jarrell McCracken proud.
Randy Stonehill is one of Christian music’s most enduring-and endearing-singer/songwriters. His first album
released in 1970 but his biggest radio hit was his most recent. That’s staying power. One of “Uncle Rand”‘s
most requested rave-ups in concert is his slightly loopy take on Belafonte-styled calypso gospel, “Shut De Do”
from 1983’s Equator.
If Sandi Patty was the female voice of Christian music in the ’80s, Russ Taff was her male counterpart.
Initially helping to transform the Imperials from a Southern gospel quartet to a very contemporary pop group
(represented here by 1979’s “Praise the Lord”), Taff left the Imps, and recorded his first solo manifesto
Walls of Glass in 1983, featuring the anthemic “We Will Stand.”
A keyboard player and singer from Northern California, Leon Patillo recorded and toured with Santana in the
early to mid-’70s. A change of mind and heart brought he and his gifts to the Christian music world at the end
of the decade, and in 1981, Patillo wrote a song about marriage (“Flesh of My Flesh”) that has been sung in
more weddings than we care to count.
Another hit maker of the ’70s-’80s was David Meece, whose chameleonic qualities helped him craft songs that
sounded, at turns, remarkably like the Bee Gees, Gino Vannelli or Barry Manilow. See what you think on his
1980 classic, “We are the Reason.”
Before there was an Amy, there was Evie. She was “only four feet eleven,” but her voice was heard above the
crowd on early Christian radio. Ron and Carol Harris wrote 1979’s “Special Delivery,” like many of her hits.
The son of a minister, George Beverly Shea was already a “star” in the church music world when Word signed him
to its label. Singing on the radio for years for various evangelists, Rev. Billy Graham persuaded Shea to sing
for his first radio program in 1944, and the two have been associated ever since. This recording of “I’d
Rather Have Jesus,” is from his 1978 album, The Old Rugged Cross.
When pop star B.J. Thomas gave his life to Christ in the mid-’70s, the opportunity arrived for artist/producer
Chris Christian to make his first gospel recording for Myrrh. “Home Where I Belong,” written by then-label
mate Pat Terry, was a huge hit for Thomas, and garnered the first “crossover” airplay for the label.
If there was one sound that convinced Billy Ray Hearn there was indeed “something new under the Son”
musically, it was the music that flowed out of Annie Herring and her two siblings, Nelly & Matthew-better
known as 2nd Chapter of Acts. “Which Way the Wind Blows” was the first track from the trio’s 1974 debut album,
Though he was really the artist Myrrh was launched to “find a place for,” Randy Matthews’ version of “I Wish
We’d All Been Ready,” from the ’74 album of the same name, was released on the Word label. This early anthem
of the Jesus People was written by the legendary Larry Norman.
Her real name was Nancy Henigbaum, but she went by its translation: Honeytree. A gentle Midwesterner with a
heart so big you could hear it in her music, Honeytree’s 1973 “Clean Before My Lord” received much airplay-for
her version and Evie’s.
One of the most popular Southern gospel quartets for Marvin Norcross’ Canaan label was The Happy Goodmans,
whose 1971 recording, “The Lighthouse,” became a signature song for the family group.
Another singer associated closely with Rev. Billy Graham is Cliff Barrows, and here’s a very rare opportunity
to hear Barrows and his “Gang” on a 1966 recording of “He’s Everything to Me.” It’s hard to believe the church
world considered this radical, but it was-written in a folk/pop style by the music world’s original “roaring
lamb,” Ralph Carmichael.
Which brings us full circle back to “The Game of Life.” Jarrell McCracken should be proud to see how much of
his dream and its potential has been fulfilled over the last 50 years. I’ll bet though, that if he were still
running the company, he would be inspiring its staff to dream new dreams and continue to think outside the
box, for the next 50 years, and for the sake of the Gospel.
Word Gold: 5 Decades of Hits
1 Jarrell McCracken- The Game Of Life
2 Fernando Ortega- This Good Day
3 Nicole C. Mullen- Redeemer
4 Anointed- Revive Us
5 Sixpence None The Richer- Breathe
6 The Ragamuffins- My Deliverer
7 Kurt Kaiser & Wanda Geddie-Brickner- Oh, How He Loves You And Me
8 Point Of Grace- Circle Of Friends
9 Jaci Velasquez- On My Knees
10 Crystal Lewis- People Get Ready…Jesus Is Comin’
11 Shirley Caesar- Heaven
12 Ray Boltz- I Pledge Allegiance
13 Phil Keaggy- Everywhere I Look
14 Cindy Morgan- I Will Be Free
15 Bryan Duncan- Love Takes Time
16 Bruce Carroll- Who Will Be Jesus
17 Wayne Watson- Home Free
1 Petra- Beyond Belief
2 Sandi Patty (duet with Wayne Watson)- Another Time, Another Place
3 First Call- Undivided
4 Benny Hester- When God Ran
5 Amy Grant- Thy Word
6 Randy Stonehill- Shut De Do
7 Russ Taff- We Will Stand
8 Leon Patillo- Flesh Of My Flesh
9 David Meece- We Are The Reason
10 Evie- Special Delivery
11 The Imperials- Praise The Lord
12 George Beverly Shea- I’d Rather Have Jesus
13 B.J. Thomas- Home Where I Belong
14 2nd Chapter Of Acts- Which Way The Wind Blows
15 Randy Matthews- Wish We’d All Been Ready
16 Honeytree- Clean Before My Lord
17 The Happy Goodmans- The Lighthouse
18 Cliff Barrows & The Gang- He’s Everything To Me
Compilation Producers: Bubba Smith & Chris Smith
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