Amy Grant and the Kennedy Center Honors
Celebrating the CCM icon and her trend-setting body of work
The second artist feature ever posted here at God’s Music Is My Life was about CCM icon Amy Grant’s revolutionary 1985 release, Unguarded. Why? Because it’s that important to the narrative of the genre of Contemporary Christian Music. While many critics will point to her 1988 Lead Me On album as the essential album, I’ll always point to Unguarded because it was the moment that shifted the focus of Amy’s career.
That moment was the possibility of CCM escaping the claws of the institution of the church that fitfully claimed it with the intention of re-shaping it into its own image. Unguarded fought that re-shaping with its simple insertion of the ideals of faith into songs about love, friendship, romance and introspection. It did that so successfully that listeners from non-churched locations were able to relate and let Amy’s music into their personal space.
While CCM, largely, chose to remain cloistered in the safety of the church, Grant continued to press the envelope and write songs about all facets of life from the perspective of a person of faith. Her honesty about her struggles, ponderings and values in interviews, which have occasionally sparked just as much controversy as her music, has endeared her to fans who have loved her for both her wisdom and occasional foot-in-mouth flounders. Her career is one of a kind.
This month, Grant was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors alongside U2, Gladys Knight, Tania Leon and George Clooney. She is the first CCM artist to ever receive the honor. I wanted to share a link to the in-depth feature in the Washington Post that includes quotes from Brown Bannister, CCM historian John J. Thompson, journalist Hunter Kelly, CeCe Winans and others. Click here to read.
I wanted to share a few of my favorite Amy tunes from down through the years. I hope you enjoy—and don’t miss the Kennedy Center Honors broadcast on December 28th at 7 PM CST on CBS (It will also stream on Paramount Plus).
My Father’s Eyes (Live in 1979)
In the early days of her career, believe it or not, it was just Amy and her guitar. This song, written by Gary Chapman, was her breakthrough and first signature song.
2. Stay For Awhile (Live at Creation, 1988)
On the heels of Unguarded, Myrrh/A&M released a greatest hits album, The Collection, which included two new tracks. “Stay For Awhile” was one of them, a tune about two old friends reconnecting. The recorded version featured background vocals by Mr. Mister’s Richard Page. This live version has Michael W. Smith on keys and Donna McElroy and Gary Chapman on background vocals.
Don’t Try So Hard (2013)
On her last non-holiday studio album, 2013’s How Mercy Looks From Here, she teamed up on this composition with none other than James Taylor. With a theme that points back to 1982’s “I Have Decided,” Grant counters notions of a works-centric faith and advocates for a being-ness that lives in a state of grace and self-acceptance.
And if you need a little bit more—my friend Matt Nightingale and I got together back in 2020 to talk about why Unguarded made such an impact on us.