On a high note
Christian legend says final thank you
“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.’”
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.