Rich Mullins Biography
Richard Wayne Mullins (October 21, 1955 – September 19, 1997) was an American singer/songwriter born in Richmond, Indiana. He was a well-known Christian music artist until his untimely death in an automobile accident in 1997. He is best known for his praise choruses Awesome God and Step by Step, which have been embraced as modern classics by many Christians. Three of his albums are considered among Christian music's best: Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth (1988), The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume One (1991) and A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Ragamuffin Band (1993). His songs have been covered by the likes of John Tesh, Rebecca St. James, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Third Day, Caedmon's Call, and Jars of Clay, but his influence on his colleagues in the music business reaches further.
In addition to his music, Rich Mullins is remembered for his sincere devotion to the Christian faith. He often called St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) his hero and modeled his life after him by showing great compassion towards the poor and adhering to a vow of poverty. In 1997, he composed a musical about the life of St. Francis (set in the Old West) called Canticle of the Plains.
Mullins was seen as an enigma to the Christian music industry. Often barefoot, unshaven, and badly in need of a haircut, Mullins did not look like the average American gospel music writer. He was very much at home among the ungodly, and unafraid to name his own sin and indadequacies in public, often baffling the American Christian culture that he seemed oddly a part of. His lifestyle was unquestionably marked by devotion and discipline, yet his simultaneous refusal to buy-in to contemporary Christian niceties made him a bit of an uncomfortable presence in a music culture marked by artificiality. Although he achieved a good amount of success on Christian radio, he never received a GMA Music Award until after his death.
Unlike most artists in Contemporary Christian music, Mullins did not consider his music his primary ministry, but rather a means to pay his bills. Instead, his ministry was the way he treated his neighbors, family and enemies. Taking a vow of poverty, he accepted a small church salary and spent the last years of his life on a Navajo reservation teaching music to children.
Rich Mullins grew up attending Arba Friends Meeting, a Quaker church in Lynn, Indiana . The Quaker testimonies of peace and social justice inspired many of his lyrics.
Mullins began his musical career with Zion Ministries in the late 1970's, where he wrote music and performed with a band called Zion. Zion released one album in 1981 entitled Behold the Man. While working for this ministry, Mullins penned a song called Sing Your Praise To The Lord, which was recorded by singer Amy Grant in 1982 and became an immediate hit on Christian Radio.
In 1975 Mullins attended Cincinnati Bible College, where he became close friends with Sam Howard, the son of Minister Maurice Howard .
In 1983 Debby Boone recorded Mullins' O Come All Ye Faithful for her Surrender album. In 1984 the song was also featured in a TV movie called Sins of the Past.
Mullins became a songwriter in the Contemporary Christian music industry by 1984, penning songs for Pam Mark Hall, and Amy Grant (Doubly Good to You on the album Straight Ahead 1984 and Love Of Another Kind on Unguarded 1985).
By 1986 Mullins recorded his first, self-titled, solo project, followed in 1987 by Pictures in the Sky. Neither album had sold very well. It looked as though Pictures might be his last, until Mullins wrote a song called Awesome God. Mullins recorded that song and released it on his third album, Winds of Heaven... Stuff of Earth and it quickly became a hit on Christian radio and a modern-day praise chorus sung in churches around the world to this day.
The Winds of Heaven... Stuff of Earth album also introduced fans to the hammered dulcimer, an instrument that would become a Rich Mullins trademark; he also played the Appalachian dulcimer (lap dulcimer).
In 1988 Mullins moved to Wichita, Kansas to be part of Rev. Maurice Howard's congregation at Central Christian Church.
In the early 1990's Mullins released a pair of albums entitled The World As Best As I Remember It, Volumes One and Two. These albums featured more of a stripped-back, acoustic feel than his earlier work, with nods to Irish music. Sometimes By Step, a song written by good friend Beaker and included on both volumes, became an instant hit on Christian Radio, and, like Awesome God, with worship leaders.
In 1991 Mullins enrolled at Friends University. He would later draw inspiration from a lecture at Friends by author Brennan Manning. This is also where he met Jim Smith (his posthumous biographer), and Mitch McVicker.
In 1993 Mullins assembled a group of Nashville musicians (including Jimmy Abegg, Beaker, Phil Madeira, Rick Elias, Aaron Smith) to form A Ragamuffin Band, which was named after The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. The band recorded A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Ragamuffin Band, which was later named the #3 best Christian Album of All time by CCM Magazine. The band got together again in 1995 to record Brother's Keeper.
Mullins graduated with a B.A. in Music Education from Friends University on May 14, 1995 . After graduation, he and Mitch McVicker moved to a reservation in Tse Bonito, New Mexico near the capitol of the Navajo Nation in Window Rock, Arizona to teach music to children. They lived in a hogan at the reservation until his death.
In 1997 Mullins teamed up with Beaker and Mitch McVicker to write a musical based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, entitled The Canticle of the Plains. Mullins had great respect for St. Francis, and even formed "the Kid Brothers of St. Frank" in the late 1980's with several friends, each taking a vow of poverty. Mullins was never really aware of how well his records sold, because the profits from his tours and the sale of each album went to his church, which divided it up, paid Mullins a small salary, and gave the rest to charity. Mullins was also a major supporter of Compassion International and Compassion USA.
Mullins was killed in a car accident on September 19, 1997. He and his friend Mitch McVicker were travelling on I-39 north of Bloomington, Illinois to a benefit concert in Wichita, Kansas when his Jeep flipped over. Neither man wore a seat belt. Both were thrown from the vehicle. A passing tractor-trailer swerving to avoid the Jeep killed Mullins. McVicker was badly injured but survived.
Shortly before his death, Mullins had made a rough tape of songs for what would have been his next album on Myrrh Records; he was going to call the album Ten Songs About Jesus. This rough micro cassette recording became the basis for The Jesus Record, which A Ragamuffin Band recorded after Mullins' death. Mullins and McVicker had also recorded what would become Mitch's first true solo album (aside from lead vocals on four songs on the Canticle of the Plains album).
Furthermore, the family founded The Legacy Of A Kid Brother Of St. Frank to continue his mission to develop programs of art, drama and music camps for Native American youth and provide a traveling music school serving remote areas of the reservations. Today it is administered by Alyssa Loukota and Tammy Pruitt.
My Deliverer was named Song of the Year at the 1999 GMA Music Awards. In the strangest of ironies, the presenters were GMAMA winner Kathy Troccoli, the first artist signed to Reunion Records in 1982 (Rich was on Reunion until 1996, then signed with Myrrh Records in 1997), and three-time NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip.
GMA Music Awards (All were posthumously awarded)