Article

History of Hymns: Praise chorus affirms Jesus as guiding light

by C. Michael Hawn

“Thy Word Is a Lamp”
Amy Grant
UM Hymnal, No. 601

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

Amy Grant

This direct quotation from the King James Version is the refrain of Amy Grant’s well-known praise chorus.

Ms. Grant (b. 1960) was born in Augusta, Ga., where her father, Burton Paine Grant, was doing his medical residency. After living briefly in Houston, Texas, her family moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 1961. Upon her birth she became part of one of the most prominent and prosperous families of Nashville. Her great-grandfather, Andrew Mizell Burton, was a wealthy insurance executive and philanthropist.

The youngest of four daughters, Ms. Grant now has four children. She grew up in the Church of Christ, a faith tradition that bans the use of instruments in worship.

The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of the UM Hymnal, notes that her “recording career began with sweeping floors and demagnetizing tape heads in a Nashville recording studio where she made her first album singing her original, contemporary Christian music at the age of seventeen.”

Following her first album in 1977, she accepted concert appearances with Billy Graham Crusades and as an opening act for the Bill Gaither Trio. Ms. Grant’s albums and performances have won multiple Dove and Grammy awards and multiple platinum records, indicating millions of sales.

Music critic William Ruhlmann boldly states, “Although Amy Grant cannot claim to have invented the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) style of gospel music, she did the most to popularize it in the 1970s and 1980s before successfully crossing over to pop music in the ’80s and early ’90s.”

Known for her contemporary Praise and Worship songs, Ms. Grant became a controversial figure among CCM followers when she released the album Unguarded in the mid-1980s. This was her first album marketed to secular as well as Christian audiences. Mr. Ruhlmann notes that Ms. Grant “achieved this breakthrough for CCM and for herself by forging a pop-rock sound that matched the production values, and often aped the styles, of pop-rock, and by writing lyrics that often were ambiguous in their meaning, sounding to Christian music fans like appeals to God and to more general pop fans like love songs.”

According to her website, “Amy Grant’s career spans over 25 years and stretches from her roots in gospel into an iconic pop star, songwriter, television personality, and philanthropist. Grant has sold more than 30 million albums and won six Grammy Awards in multiple categories, beginning with the platinum-selling Age to Age in 1982. She also has six #1 hits, including “Baby, Baby,” and “Every Heartbeat” and is one of only two Christian artists to be awarded a star on the legendary Walk of Fame in Hollywood.”

She often tours with her husband Vince Gill, a country singer, guitarist and songwriter. Recently she has participated in a “2 Friends Tour” with popular Christian singer/songwriter Michael W. Smith (b. 1957). Together they represent the apex of Contemporary Christian music of their generation.

“Thy Word Is a Lamp” was written in 1984 and set to music composed by Mr. Smith. This song is not at all ambiguous in its affirmation of the importance of God’s word in our lives and the role of Jesus as a “guide” who is beside us “to the end.” Now a “classic” in the CCM genre, this song expresses a personal relationship with Jesus who is a friend and companion “when I am afraid” and have “lost my way.”

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Categories: History of Hymns