On a high note

Chris­tian leg­end says fi­nal thank you

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RELIGION - BECCA MARTIN-BROWN

“I was kind of a shy kid re­ally,” says the smil­ing wo­man with the big voice. “Words were hard for me. But I could learn a song and more com­fort­ably tell some­body what was on my heart. It’s al­ways been my way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing.”

Music is a tool that has served Sandi Patty well. Over the course of her 38-year ca­reer as a Chris­tian singer, she has earned 40 Dove Awards, five Grammy awards, four Bill­board Music Awards, three plat­inum records, five gold records, sold some 11 mil­lion recordings

and been in­ducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2004 and as an Indiana Liv­ing Leg­end in 2007.

In 2017, how­ever, Patty plans to re­tire, and her For­ever Grate­ful Tour stops March 3 at the Spring­dale High School Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter.

“Ac­cord­ing to the Met, in opera a wo­man’s vo­cal prime is 45 to 60,” says the 60-year-old. “I want to say the things I want to say while I can still trust the art form. I want to be able to hit the notes I ex­pect to hit.

“Music is a very pow­er­ful tool,” she adds. “It can be used for a lot of dif­fer­ent things. But it’s never about the artist in Chris­tian music; it’s al­ways about the mes­sage. I feel very hon­ored and priv­i­leged to be able to sing some songs that

have meant a great deal to peo­ple in some joy­ous or dif­fi­cult mo­ments.”

BORN TO SING

Born in Ok­la­homa City, where she now lives, Patty has had her own share of chal­lenges on her faith jour­ney, which be­gan as a child in the house­hold of a music min­is­ter and a pi­anist.

“I de­cided early on, when I was 8 years old, that I wanted to be a fol­lower of Je­sus, and I re­ally didn’t stray too far from that,” she says. “Music was a huge part of my life grow­ing up, so I was al­ways singing. But I thought I would teach school, and that’s where music would take me.”

In­stead, Patty en­rolled at San Diego State Univer­sity to study voice and con­duct­ing, then trans­ferred to An­der­son (Ind.) Univer­sity. She was work­ing as a stu­dio mu­si­cian, singing back­ground vo­cals and jin­gles — like one for Ju­ciy Fruit gum — when she met Chris­tian mu­si­cian Bill Gaither.

That’s where she crossed paths with a young music pro­moter named Mike Bedford.

His Morn­ing Star Pro­duc­tions was “do­ing con­certs that even­tu­ally grew into 23 states and 50 ma­jor mar­kets,” says Bedford, who moved to North­west Arkansas in 1982. “Sandi was back­ing up the Gaithers and be­ing fea­tured as a soloist. She had one of the most amaz­ing voices I had ever heard.”

Over the years, Bedford says, he “had the priv­i­lege of work­ing with her a num­ber of times. She is one of my fa­vorite peo­ple. She’s al­ways had this in­ti­macy with her au­di­ence that makes peo­ple feel like they can sit down with her.”

Bedford, who was wor­ship pas­tor at Univer­sity Bap­tist Church in Fayet­teville from 1986 to 1994, also be­lieves “Sandi has had an in­cred­i­ble, ef­fec­tive role in mod­el­ing the faith jour­ney. She’s been so trans­par­ent with any is­sues she’s had in life — and all of us have is­sues in life. Only Je­sus suc­ceeded in go­ing through this life with­out sin.

“When peo­ple have had a public fail­ure, if they re­spond to it in the power of God, it lets oth­ers see that Je­sus still loves us. He is al­ways faith­ful,” Bedford says.

PUBLIC TEST OF FAITH

Patty had more than a mo­ment of doubt. In 19921993, she and her man­ager hus­band John Helver­ing went through what she calls “a very public di­vorce” that also ended the mar­riage of one of her backup singers, Don Pes­lis. She mar­ried Pes­lis in 1995, amid ru­mors they had an af­fair.

“It was the low­est place in my life,” she said in an in­ter­view with the Chris­tian Broad­cast­ing Net­work. “I was tired of play­ing dam­age con­trol, won­der­ing if some­body was go­ing to find out. I said to my­self, ‘I’m done with this. If I don’t ever sing again or make an­other record, I just have to be right and clean be­fore you, Lord.’”

In an in­ter­view with James Long for To­day’s Chris­tian Music on­line ra­dio sta­tion, Patty re­called stand­ing on stage singing one of her sig­na­ture songs, There is Strength in the Name of the Lord, yet feel­ing her own life was spi­ral­ing out of con­trol. “I sang those words as some­thing I hoped for, some­thing I clung to, think­ing, ‘Maybe I’ll find it.’”

The au­thor of seven books, Patty wrote Bro­ken on the Back Row (Howard Pub­lish­ing, 2006) about that pe­riod in her life.

“There’s some­thing about go­ing through a very dark sea­son, where you re­ally have to wres­tle with more than the sur­face stuff that makes you ques­tion,” Patty says now. “I had to won­der, if even on my worst day, mak­ing my worst choice, was God still there for me?”

As for her music, Patty says the di­vorce “changed peo­ple’s re­sponse to it for a sea­son. A lot of peo­ple stopped play­ing it or invit­ing me here or there. Truly, I didn’t know if I would sing again.

“But the op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue has been such a gift and bless­ing for me. God is the god of sec­ond chances and new be­gin­nings — that’s re­ally, re­ally true.”

“She has a par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful way of be­ing open and hon­est about all of that,” Bedford says. “She doesn’t do a lot of talk­ing dur­ing her con­cert. This is a music event. But what she does say will be a bless­ing to peo­ple and help them in their faith walk.”

“I am in awe,” she told Long. “God still loves me! God still loves me.”

NOW, TO TEACH

Patty is now con­sid­er­ing a new fu­ture, one that doesn’t in­clude “singing for two and a half hours a night ev­ery night for 90 con­certs.” She says, it’s “not re­ally a good­bye or farewell tour, but a thank you tour. I feel very much that I have been called by God, but it’s the peo­ple I have worked for.

“I wanted an op­por­tu­nity to say thank you to the peo­ple who have lis­tened to the records and come to the con­certs and prayed for our fam­ily and loved on us.”

Patty cur­rently has con­cert dates sched­uled through mid-March, and more might be added. In April, how­ever, she’ll be­come artist-in-res­i­dence at her church in Ok­la­homa City, where she plans to fi­nally get around to the teach­ing she’s al­ways wanted to do.

“I hope to have the op­por­tu­nity to do some speak­ing, maybe spend a week­end at a church and work with their mu­si­cians and talk about what that is to be a mu­si­cian in a church set­ting,” she says, “to talk about the art and the heart of that.”

“This prom­ises to be the con­cert of the year for North­west Arkansas,” Bedford says. “In De­cem­ber, I heard Sandi’s Christ­mas show at the Alma Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter. Her backup singers are com­posed of her son, daugh­ter and daugh­ter-in-law. They could do a show alone with their per­fectly blended har­monies. The band is fab­u­lous! The en­tourage on the 90 city tour in­cludes 30 peo­ple trans­ported by two coaches. This is a big show!”

Bedford adds that the Singing Men of Arkansas un­der the di­rec­tion of Jerry New­man will be fea­tured in num­bers such as We Shall Be­hold Him, Love in Any Lan­guage, The Lord’s Prayer, More Than Won­der­ful and I’ve Just Seen Je­sus.

“So af­ter all of these years, we find our­selves here, and it’s time to do the last tour,” Patty says. “My faith shaped ev­ery­thing for me. I re­ally am ‘For­ever Grate­ful.’”

COUR­TESY PHOTO

Sandi Patty is a leg­end in Chris­tian music, win­ner of 40 Dove Awards, five Grammy awards and four Bill­board Music Awards. She is cur­rently on her fi­nal per­for­mance tour, plan­ning to re­tire at the age of 60.

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