Michael W. Smith Biography
Michael Whitaker Smith (born October 7, 1957, to Paul and Barbara Smith in Kenova, West Virginia), often nicknamed "Smitty", is an American singer, songwriter, guitarist, and keyboardist.
Since his first solo project in 1983, Smith has become one of the most popular artists in the Contemporary Christian music world, while also finding considerable success in the mainstream. Smith himself is hesitant to put a label on his music and states that he "doesn't make a record for the Christian market or for the Pop market, [he] just makes a record." Smith has frequently topped both Christian radio and Billboard charts and is often listed as one of the top keyboardists in rock and roll in Keyboard Magazine. Smith has sold more than 13 million records and has had 29 #1 hit songs. By 2005, he had garnered 14 gold records and 5 platinum records, 40 Dove Awards, an American Music Award and 3 Grammy Awards. He was also named one of People magazine's most beautiful people.
By the time Smith graduated from high school, he had found himself with serious drug and alcohol abuse problems. He attended Marshall University for a brief period while developing his songwriting skills with various local bands around Huntington, West Virginia. Smith dropped out of college and moved to Nashville to pursue a professional music career. In November of 1979, he suffered an emotional and mental breakdown that awakened a recommitment to the Christian beliefs of his childhood. He cleaned up his substance abuse problem and began playing keyboards for the CCM group, Higher Ground.
In 1981, Smith was signed as a writer to Meadowgreen Music, where he racked up a number of highly successful gospel hits penned for artists like Sandi Patty, Kathy Troccoli, Bill Gaither, and Amy Grant. The following year, Smith began touring as a keyboardist for Grant on her Age to Age tour. He would eventually become Grant's opening act and recorded his first Grammy nominated solo album: The Michael W. Smith Project (which he also produced), in 1983, on the Reunion Records label; a label started by Grant's brother-in-law, Dan Harrell, along with Michael Blanton. This album contained the first recording of his hit Friends which he co-wrote with his wife Deborah. Incidentally, the song that is most associated with him, probably took him the least amount of time to write, as they wrote it one afternoon for a friend who was moving away, never thinking it would become the hit it has.
By the time Smith's second pop album was released in 1984, he was headlining his own tours. In 1986, Smith released the critically acclaimed rock album The Big Picture, with well known record producer Johnny Potoker (Brian Eno, Genesis, Madonna, No Doubt, Talking Heads, etc).
After the release of his 1988 effort, i 2 (EYE), Smith once again teamed up with Amy Grant for her "Lead Me On World Tour". The following year, Smith recorded his first Christmas album.
In 1990, Michael W. Smith released Go West Young Man, which was his first real mainstream effort, including the mainstream crossover hit "Place In This World". That album was followed by 1992's Change Your World (which included the #1 adult contemporary hit "I Will Be Here For You"), 1995's I'll Lead You Home, and 1998's Live The Life. Also in 1998, Smith released his second Christmas effort, Christmastime. In 1999, Smith released This Is Your Time, written by Smith and Wes King, the brother-in-law of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, which was inspired by the Columbine shootings. Smith had been asked to perform at some of the memorial services that were held in honor of the victims, which made a huge impression on him.
In 1996, Smith opened his own record label (although he does not record on it), Rocketown Records, named for a song on The Big Picture. He states the label is driven by the artists, and the first artist signed was Chris Rice, who had written "Go Light Your World", a #1 hit song by Kathy Troccoli, in 1995.
Nearly all of Smith's albums contain at least one instrumental track, and in 2000, Smith recorded his first all instrumental album, Freedom, after many years of wanting to create an instrumental album. The following year, Smith released an all praise and worship album, called Worship, interestingly on September 11. This album was followed by a sequel, Worship Again in 2002. Both albums were recorded live in concert. (Both are also the only two albums to be comprised almost entirely of songs he did not write himself). A Worship DVD, which comprised a selection of songs from both albums, was released in 2002 and immediately topped the Billboard video charts.
After two decades, Smith finally won the Male Vocalist of the Year award at the GMA Music Awards in 2003.
Smith wrote a song entitled "There She Stands", prompted by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He performed this song live for the 2004 Republican National Convention. In introducing the song before he performed it, he made remarks about meeting personally with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office in October of 2001, a short time after the attacks. Smith mentioned that the President, a personal fan (as is the President's father), and family friend of the artist, had asked him to attempt to write a song about the attacks. The song is about America's ability to rise from the ashes and remain strong even after such horrific events.
Smith became a good friend of U2 frontman Bono. The two have joined forces on a number of occasions for performances and in connection to Bono's DATA Organization. While U2 was recording its album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, Bono even invited Smith to jam with them in the studio. The song that the group worked on with Smith did not end up making it onto the record, but might surface in the future on another project.
Smith's latest album, Healing Rain was released in 2004 and debuted at #11 on the Billboard Hot 200 Chart. The title track rose to #1 on the Radio & Records Charts and a music video for the song was released. The album nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album, combines the pop style of his previous recordings with the praise and worship feel of his two releases in that genre. A new album, "Stand", is due in November, 2006.
Smith and his wife have written the theme songs for Kanakuk Camps for the past two decades. The theme songs have birthed such notable hits as "Love Crusade", "Live the Life", and "Straight to the Heart". The Christian youth at this camp give Smith access to a steady, young audience even as his original fans age.
In 1994, Smith opened a teen club, named Rocketown, in Franklin, Tennessee. Later in early 2003, the club was moved to a new location--a renovated warehouse in downtown Nashville. The venue offers a large dance floor, extensive indoor skate park, and a cafe hosting live acoustic music. Rocketown is located on 401 6th Ave. S. Quoting a Christian Activities article, Rocketown's mission is to create culturally relevant environments that foster vital relationships between disenfranchised adolescents and Christian mentors in order to meet their physical, social, and spiritual needs.
Smith is actively involved in volunteer service and is vice chair of the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation, which is chaired by Jean Case of the Case Foundation.
Smith finished work on a film directed by Steve Taylor entitled The Second Chance which was released on February 17, 2006 in selected theatres. In the movie, he stars as a pastor assigned to work in the inner city. The film also stars jeff obafemi carr, and features a soundtrack now available from Reunion Records. The DVD of the movie was released on July 18, 2006.