SARA TOTH – EDITOR
Over the course of his career, Michael W. Smith has won more than 40 Dove Awards, three Grammy Awards and an American Music Award. He’s been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. He’s released more than 20 albums; 14 have gone gold and five have gone platinum. He’s an actor, an author, a humanitarian and — perhaps most importantly — a father and a grandfather.
“I put family first,” Smith told Maina Mwaura in a conversation last month on fatherhood and faith for Religion News Service. “(My wife) and I talked about this extensively in the early days, especially when … things really began to take off, you know, when I was opening up for Amy (Grant) and all of a sudden you got 18,000 people showing up. … It can suck you into this whole thing of entitlement, and you’re a rock star — and all that kind of stuff can take you for a ride. And then I just made some rules and said I’d never be away from my family more than two weeks. That’s just the rules.”
Smith, a celebrated contemporary Christian artist who has experienced success on both Christian and mainstream charts, last performed at Chautauqua in 2005; he returns to the grounds for a show at 8:15 p.m. Friday, July 2 in the Amphitheater. He’ll be joined by opening act Nathan Tasker, another contemporary Christian performer, who will start the evening with a brief set and a short discussion on Compassion International, a humanitarian aid organization that both he and Smith are involved in.
“The writer of the Book of Hebrews speaks of a hope so sure, and so certain, that it holds the soul like an anchor holds a boat in the midst of even the most powerful of life’s storms,” Tasker wrote in a blog post for Compassion International. “This is a hope that brings light to the bleakest of situations, pushing back against darkness wherever it is found — be it Honduras, Nashville or Sydney.”
Since his first album in 1983, Smith has recorded 32 No. 1 hit songs, including “Place in This World,” “Here I Am to Worship,” “Friends,” “Awesome God” and “Great is the Lord.” His 2018 album A Million Lights includes the song “Conversation.” Smith told American Songwriter last year that he “always knew it was a special song,” and was inspired to re-release it in 2020, accompanied by a new music video, filled with images of protests and historical footage of moments from the civil rights movement.
“I think the urgency of what has happened in 2020, on so many levels, made me rethink about how to actually re-release the song,” Smith told Tess Schoonhoven of American Songwriter. “(I wanted to) strip away the production, make it raw, and hopefully people really hear the song and what it’s really saying, and it would resonate with people’s hearts in the midst of all the chaos and division.”
Looking to the season, Deborah Sunya Moore’s desire to bring Smith back to Chautauqua was about “his larger mission to bring people together.”
“Having sold over 15 million albums, he could sit back and sit pretty, but I was moved when he re-released his song ‘Conversation,’ ” said Moore, the Institution’s senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts. “He did this at a time of racial tension because he wanted to encourage us all to enter into a conversation with someone that thinks completely differently.”
Coupled with his work in helping more than 70,000 children through Compassion International, Moore said, Smith’s work encouraging conversations through his music made him a perfect fit for the summer.
“This is what Chautauqua hopes to do each day, and it’s not easy,” she said. “I appreciate that Smith felt the urgency to be a part of healing division that is so deep.”
Reflecting on the meaning of “Conversation” with Schoonhoven, Smith said it was simple: “that you can sit down and have a conversation with anybody.”
“Especially a conversation with someone who believes completely differently than you do, and you leave with respect for the other that believes differently,” he said. “In the end, love rules the day.”