"How Did I Wind Up Here?" from Mosaic
I booked myself to sing for churches, youth groups, weddings, anyplace they'd have me, along with my songs about faith.
A few days a month I drove to Goldmine studio after school in my plaid kilt uniform to work with my youth-group leader and producer, Brown Bannister. There was no rush and no deadline. No one was holding his breath. My first record came out in 1978 during spring break of my senior year in high school. I autographed album jackets for my classmates at Harpeth Hall the way one would autograph yearbooks. There was no fanfare or publicity around the quiet release of my first record. I was seventeen, and within a few weeks I got my first concert offer.
Brown got the call about the booking and phoned me, so I drove over to talk to him about it. Up to this point, I had only sung for people I knew—family, friends, schoolmates—and the idea that a total stranger would call and ask me to sing for a group of more strangers was mind-boggling. Brown said the request was for three hundred dollars.
Three hundred dollars. My mind went racing. I had been saving money for my freshman year at college. My parents were paying my tuition, but I was saving up for extra spending money. As much as I wanted to go to Denver for the concert, spending three hundred dollars would wipe out my savings. I told Brown why I couldn't go. He started laughing and corrected my thinking. No, I did not have to pay them three hundred dollars for the opportunity to sing. Miracle of miracles, they were willing to pay me. I couldn't believe my ears. As it turned out, my appearance at Lakeside Amusement Park, sandwiched between the deafening roller coaster and the fish-feeding area, was the beginning of a long, steep learning curve about hard work, expectation, preparation, and professionalism. I've sung thousands of concerts since then, released over twenty recordings, and I've watched the music business change drastically. I have some awards on the shelf and gold and platinum records in frames on the wall.
It's been hard work and always interesting. I'm amazed that doing my job led me into the company of so many fascinating people and has taken me to so many unexpected places. Doors that I never thought existed, much less considered knocking on, have swung open for me. That high-school kid (or, for that matter, this forty-six-year-old woman) never had any aspirations for fame or success, but because of the people in my life who dreamed for me and stood beside me and enabled me, I have lived an amazing life.
As I sit here rolling back over the years in my mind, one memory leads to another, far too many moments to recount, but here are a few that make me smile.
Vince and I had been invited to go on a trip that the Bush family has taken every year since George Bush Sr. left office. With them, they take their extended family and a circle of friends of their choosing. They like music, and almost every year they invite someone musical to come along. This particular year they invited Vince and me. And they told us, "Please bring your guitars, but you don't have to sing."
The trip was filled with hiking, backgammon, wonderful meals, and great conversations. Most of those people whose company I enjoyed I will probably never see again. We walked remote, narrow roads on little Greek isles, and at one point we took a bus ride that scared me to death, up a winding road. We discovered a little, family-owned museum. The owner had married an Englishwoman. They showed us ancient relics, and when we left, we promised to send music. (I've yet to send the music, but I still have the address.) At a seaside trattoria, under the stars, we danced wild, reckless Greek dances.
That's not the first time we'd been invited to do something with the Bushes because of music. Twelve years earlier, when President Bush Sr. had lost the election to Bill Clinton, he organized a farewell gathering at Camp David to thank people who had supported him through his time in office. I was invited to come and sing at a Sunday-morning chapel program. Gary and I went, and my mom came along to help with six-week-old Sarah.
It was a quick trip. We arrived at our cabin around dinnertime on a Saturday night and were told that if we were hungry, we should walk to a particular cabin a short distance away. I figured it was a cafeteria or something. It was dark, and I couldn't get a feel for the place. When we knocked on the cabin door, it was opened by George and Barbara. It was just the five of us having dinner. And then we all watched a movie—Of Mice and Men—together, curled up on the sofa with their dog, Millie.
I had met them once before, on a tour of the White House, when Matt was a baby. Years later, they came to a Christmas show and sat in the audience. At the same time, Vince was getting to know the Bushes through his music. He sang at the dedication of the Bush Library.
Life takes some interesting turns. Here in a remote cove, stretched out under the stars around a bonfire, Vince and I sat at George and Barbara's feet, and played guitar and serenaded President Bush on his eighty-first birthday. They watched the stars and heard the waves lapping. It was beautiful.
I had met Kevin at a fund-raiser golf tournament in Las Vegas several years before. Perhaps to be more politically correct, the organizers thought they should involve at least one female golfer, and I was playing golf at the time. I wasn't an actor, and people had paid thousands of dollars to play with movie stars. Whoever drew my name not only didn't get a movie star but didn't get a good golfer either. My manager and friend, Jennifer, was with me on this trip, and we struck up an interesting conversation with Kevin.
Now anybody who knows me knows that my favorite movie of all time is Dances with Wolves. I love its narrative perspective, its setting in history, the cinematography, the exquisite use of empathy. I never imagined I would have the chance to meet the film's creator, but I did, and we talked about the world of acting and the magic of film and music. In the way that one thing leads to another, a few years later Kevin and I sang a duet for his movie The Postman, and I even gave acting a brief try. Now, a decade later, I was enjoying an outdoor fire and live music at his enchanting Colorado hideaway. Music brought me here.
On my second visit, I met Carole King, truly my greatest musical influence. She was jetlagged from a trip overseas, but I was just glad we got to breathe the same air. Later, I sang on a tribute project to her great songwriting, and she sent me an old Tapestry LP cover, signed "Good Job." When it arrived, I ran around the house like a crazed kid, called my mother, and then my grade-school boyfriend, Johnny, saying, "You are the only one who will understand how monumental this is for me." Like everybody else, I know what it feels like to be a real fan.
I was thrilled to be asked to participate in the 1987 Prince's Trust concert in London, my first opportunity to work with Art Garfunkel, Robin Williams, and James Taylor. When my family and I arrived in London, I was a brand-new mother of a nine-week-old son, Matt, and we were both incredibly jetlagged. In a brief backstage meeting, Princess Diana gave me some encouraging words as another working mom. She agreed it was worth the fatigue to have your children with you. Later that night in a dressing room, James Taylor called out to me, "Give me that boy," taking a fussy Matt so I could have a break. I couldn't help but think of his beautiful lullaby "Sweet Baby James," which I had listened to a million times. To this day, I love the honesty of his music. I have been to a dozen of his live shows, and not a week goes by that I don't pull out one of his CDs and listen to it.
A few days after I got home, an enormous spray of roses arrived at my door, with a card from Tony.
There are places I have been just because a video director wanted to film me in a particular spot. During the filming of the "Lead Me On" video, I enjoyed a cappuccino hot from the catering truck, miles from nowhere, in the middle of Zion National Park. The film crew had been given permission to be in a remote area of the park. The moment was not lost on me. I was enjoying a favorite drink in a rare setting.
I was in a bit of a time crunch during an overseas tour, so on a day off, I flew to the coast of Spain to film a video for "I Will Remember You." Standing on a rocky outcropping, high above the deep blue waves, it seemed to me that if the wind caught my oversized blouse (pregnant again) just right, I might sail off the edge.
I've watched the sunrise from the top of the Empire State Building, hours before the crowds showed up, while taping an episode of NBC's Three Wishes. As host of the show, I accompanied a young boy named Colton who was losing his eyesight and wanted to see New York City in all its glory.
During another episode of Three Wishes, my son, Matt, and I experienced zero gravity over the Atlantic Ocean on a NASA training flight, granting the wish of a young man from Cincinnati who plans to become an astronaut. That was the greatest "take your kid to work" day of my life (and neither one of us threw up).
I've received a letter from each of our last seven presidents, and I've had conversations with Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.
I've won a golf tournament with Bill Murray, and shared a dressing room with Carly Simon and Loretta Lynn.
I've met most members of the Grand Ole Opry.
I've played golf with Arnold Palmer.
My favorite collection of photographs is of my daughter Millie and me—a gift from Annie Leibovitz.
I have been a part of several Billy Graham crusades since then. The last one was in Minneapolis in the late nineties. Before the evening started, I had a chance to visit with Billy. I felt pretty sure I was headed for a divorce, though no one knew it but me, and out of respect, I felt like I needed to tell him that my life was derailing. His organization sets a high standard. If I was going to stand on his stage as an invited guest, I didn't want anyone to be taken by surprise by later events. He talked to me about his own children, reminding me that God is always at work in our lives, even when we take the long way home. The good news of the gospel was as powerful in the tiny curtained-off backstage area where we spoke as it was in the full-to-capacity stadium that night.
Unique gifting brings some people's lives to the forefront. That's true in every arena. I've been fortunate to have had wonderful interactions, both onstage and off, with many people whose work has had a profound influence on my life.
I know that these doors were opened to me because of music. The opportunities have left me thrilled and dumbstruck, verbose and tongue-tied, and always feeling like I'm in a little bit over my head.
And curious about what's around the next corner.
Read more excerpts from Amy Grant's Mosaic: