(L-R) MercyMe's Bart Millard, Zach Williams, Matt Maher, Tauren Wells, and Danny Gokey
2018 GRAMMY Nominations: Best Contemporary Christian Music Album Roundup
As the 60th GRAMMY Awards approach, the five nominees for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album are exceptional representatives of how faith and music can come together spiritually.
While none have yet to win a GRAMMY Award, almost all have been nominated previously, with the exception of first-timer Danny Gokey. Looking at previous nominations in order, Matt Maher has received eight, MercyMe has three, Tauren Wells has two from his efforts with Royal Tailor, and Zach Williams earned his first nomination last year for the title track to his 2016 album Chain Breaker.
Let's take a closer look at the diversity of styles and scriptural messages conveyed by this year's Best Contemporary Christian Music Album nominees.
Danny Gokey, Rise
The fifth album from "American Idol" alum Danny Gokey identifies with the trajectory he defines through words and music — rising from darkness and hopelessness into a powerful brightness that causes one to shine. This Milwaukee native grew up singing in church and to his parents' Motown albums. As an adult, he drove a semi truck for a living and married his high school sweetheart, Sophia. After Sophia died tragically due to medical complications arising during a surgical procedure, Gokey fulfilled her wish that he audition for "American Idol." Finishing the 2008–2009 season in third place behind Adam Lambert and Kris Allen, Gokey found himself with an international following that had cheered him on all season. Since then, through remarriage, children, mission work, charitable efforts – including founding the Sophia's Heart Foundation – and strong chart support for his musical explorations up to and including Rise, he has tried to be a house on a hill, illuminating a pathway for others. Receiving his first GRAMMY nomination for Rise, Gokey's ambition to be "a voice that connects, a voice that unifies, a voice that finds common ground" has reached a higher position to send his message out into the world.
Matt Maher, Echoes (Deluxe Edition)
Matt Maher's album title responds to his challenge, "How do we echo our faith?" Culminating in Maher's ninth GRAMMY nomination since 2011, the growing audience for his music has included faithful listeners around the world, and even Pope Francis. A jazz piano prodigy first raised Catholic in Canada, Maher's family later moved to Arizona, where his ability to play message-rich music topped a jazz scholarship with invitations to share his reverberations. His first GRAMMY nomination was for "I Lift My Hands," a track co-written with Chris Tomlin, appearing on Lullaby Tribute To Chris Tomlin in 2011.
Now a quintet, praise rockers MercyMe grew from a trio first founded in 1994 around lead singer Bart Millard. After ankle injuries sidelined Millard's high school football ambitions, he took a choir elective, and after the death of his father during Millard's freshman year of college, he accepted his former youth minister's invitation to assist with music ministry in Florida. There, with "a local youth group who played for a Wednesday night service," Millard fell in love with Christian music performance and learned to translate football's fast-paced energy into praise. After moving to Texas, the band's opportunities to spread their message grew steadily, including artistic fellowship with Steven Curtis Chapman. GRAMMY nominations began with their 2006 album Coming Up To Breathe, and Millard's solo album Hymned Again netted him two solo artist nods for 2008.
Tauren Wells, Hills And Valleys
Tauren Wells received his first two GRAMMY nominations at the 54th and 57th GRAMMY Awards, respectively for Royal Tailor's 2011 debut Black & White and their 2013 self-titled follow-up. That makes this year's nomination for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album Wells' third in a row (No pressure on that next album!). Now, in addition to performing, Wells and his wife manage the Prisma Worship Arts School in Houston, centered at her father's Royalwood Church. Piano, drums, guitar, bass, voice, violin, viola, and cello are on the curriculum with the objective "to fuel dreams, empower creatives, and refine gifts to illuminate the world with God's glory." The title track from Hills And Valleys is also nominated this year for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song.
Zach Williams, Chain Breaker
In 2012, Zach Williams turned aside from years leading Southern rock bands to settle down in his native Jonesboro, Ark., as a worship leader while he considered a potential future as a solo artist. In 2016, his single "Chain Breaker" went to No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Songs chart and received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song. Now, Chain Breaker the album follows with a solid rack of soulful tracks that has listeners testifying that each one has reached their hearts. As a high school and college basketball player, drugs, alcohol and an eventual ankle injury cut his dreams of sports stardom short. But then, alone in his college dorm room with his roommate's guitar, Williams set out on the self-taught road and says it was then that, "I knew what I wanted to do with my life." While he loved touring, drugs and alcohol were constant companions on the road, until a new marriage, a new church, and feeling touched by the Holy Spirit while listening to Big Daddy Weave's "Redeemer" inspired him to turn his life around. Now his outreach to others shares both the pain of his own history and his turning point, when he allowed Christ in, breaking the chains of addiction.
The 60th GRAMMY Awards will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York on Jan. 28, 2018, airing live on CBS from 7:30–11 p.m. ET/4:30–8 p.m. PT.