Michael W. Smith (born October 7, 1957) is a Grammy Award-winning American singer-songwriter, musician, recording artist, composer, and actor. He is one of the best-selling and most influential artists in Contemporary Christian Music, and he has achieved considerable success in the mainstream music industry as well. Smith is a three-time Grammy Award winner, and he has earned 34 Dove Awards. Over the course of his career, he has sold more than 13 million albums and recorded 29 number-one hit songs, fourteen gold albums, and five platinum albums. Smith is an American Music Award recipient; he was also named one of People magazine's "Most Beautiful People".
Michael Whitaker Smith was born to Paul and Barbara Smith in Kenova, West Virginia. His father was an oil refinery worker and his mother was a caterer. He inherited his love of baseball from his father, who had played in the minor leagues. As a child, he developed a love of music through his church. He learned piano at an early age and sang in his church choir. At the age of 10, he had "an intense spiritual experience" that led to his becoming a devout Christian. "I wore this big cross around my neck," he would recall, "It was very real to me." He became involved in Bible study and found a group of older friends who shared his religious faith.
After his older Christian friends moved away to college, Smith began to struggle with feelings of loneliness and alienation. After graduating from high school, he gravitated toward alcohol and drugs. He attended Marshall University for a few semesters while developing his songwriting skills. He also played with various local bands around Huntington, West Virginia. During that time, his friend Shane Keister, who worked as a session musician in Nashville, encouraged him to move to the Country Music capital and pursue a career in music.
In 1978, Smith moved to Nashville, taking a job as a landscaper to support himself. He played with several local bands in the Nashville club scene. He also developed a problem with substance abuse.
I really started losing touch when I moved to Nashville, around April of '78. I was smokin' marijuana, drinking, doing some other drugs; just being crazy, you know. My mom and dad knew what I was doing. But they never hassled me, they just prayed for me. And I felt convicted by God. Every time I'd wake up I knew: This isn't me. But I couldn't change myself.
In November 1979, Smith suffered a breakdown that led to his recommitment to Christianity. The next day he auditioned for a new CCM group, Higher Ground, as a keyboardist and got the job. It was on his first tour with Higher Ground, playing mostly in churches, that Smith was finally able to put the drugs and alcohol behind him.
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. Some of these worship songs can be found in church hymnals. 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. They wrote it one afternoon for a friend who was moving away.
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). On a track titled "Tearing Down The Walls" from The Big Picture, Smith intros with an Amy Grant recording of "Emmanuel" played backwards via the CD search button. He has explained that he and Potoker were trying to come up with a different way to go into the song.
After the release of his 1988 effort, i 2 (EYE), Smith once again teamed up with Grant for her "Lead Me On World Tour". The following year, Smith recorded his first Christmas album.
In the mainstream
In 1990, Smith released Go West Young Man, his first mainstream effort, including the mainstream crossover hit "Place in This World," which peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1992, he released 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" (about Cassie Bernall, one of the students killed during the Columbine massacre). In the music video for this song, the beginning shows a real video of Bernall talking about her religious beliefs and how she wanted to spread the word of God. Smith wrote the song with Wes King, the brother-in-law of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Smith had been asked to perform at some of the memorial services that were held in honor of the victims.
In 1996, Smith opened his own record label, Rocketown Records, named for a song on The Big Picture. He does not personally record on it. 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. In 1999, Smith collaborated with Jim Brickman on "Love of My Life" from the album Destiny, which went to #9 on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks.
Nearly all of Smith's albums contain at least one instrumental track, and in 2000, Smith recorded his first all instrumental album, Freedom. The following year, Smith released an all Christian music album, Worship, 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 recorded live in Edmonton, Alberta at YC Alberta and released in 2002. It immediately topped the Billboard video charts and went gold in both the U.S. and Canada.
Smith won the Male Vocalist of the Year award at the GMA Music Awards in 2003.
Smith wrote a song entitled "There She Stands", inspired by the September 11, 2001 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 2001. Smith mentioned that Bush, a personal fan (as is George H.W. Bush) and family friend, had asked him to write a song about the attacks.
Smith is 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 invited Smith to jam with them in the studio. The song that the group worked on with Smith, entitled "North Star," did not end up making it onto the record, but might surface in the future on another project.
Smith's 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 religious feel of his two releases in that genre. A new album, Stand, was released in November 2006.
Smith and his wife have written the theme songs for Kanakuk Kamps for the past two decades. The theme songs have birthed such hits as "Love Crusade", "Live the Life", and "Straight to the Heart".
At a concert in Wabash, Indiana on , 2007, Smith announced that he was soon headed to London to begin recording his third Christmas album. It was reported in Christian Today that the new album would be a collection of all-original Christmas songs. The album, It?s A Wonderful Christmas, was released on , 2007.
On , 2008, Smith recorded his third live Christian-themed album at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, to be titled A New Hallelujah. It was released on , 2008
On , 2008, in Columbus, Ohio, he united with his friend and fellow Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman, beginning a multi-city concert series called The United Tour.
In 1994, Smith opened a teen club, named Rocketown, in Nashville, Tennessee (6th Avenue). 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. 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. He is also an avid spokesperson for sponsoring children through Compassion International. Smith finished work on a film directed by Steve Taylor entitled The Second Chance which was released on , 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 , 2006.
In July 2007 Smith performed live for a San Diego concert as a part of radio personality Sean Hannity's "Freedom Concert" tour.
Smith is married to Deborah "Debbie" Kay Davis (b. 1958) and has five children: Ryan Whitaker, Whitney Katherine Smith-Mooring (married to Jack Mooring (brother to Leeland Mooring) of the band Leeland), Tyler Michael (keyboard player for the United Tour), Anna Elizabeth and Emily Allison. He resides in the Nashville suburbs and spends time at the Smith family farm.
Smith is an alumnus of Alderson-Broaddus College, having been awarded the degree Doctor of Music honoris causa in 1992.
Smith is the founding and visionary pastor of New River Fellowship in Franklin, Tennessee. He was the lead pastor from 2006 and 2008. Smith and his wife remain involved members of the church.
Smith supports the Republican Party, and is personal friends with several prominent Republicans, including former President George W. Bush.