The link between country music, and faith is undeniable. We can easily point to the earliest settlers in American history, who brought old folk songs about human frailty, and redemption to the hills of America. And the faith link continues still today, when we look at current favorites topping the charts like Morgan Wallen, whose dad is a former minister, and. Cody Johnson, who is a christian.
The recent news of recording artist, and actor Granger Smith leaving country music for full time ministry impelled me to wonder how many
Country artists have also felt a higher calling on their lives outside of secular music. The important caveat here is the ministry aspect of a calling as there is not a shortage of country stars that have recorded successful gospel albums such as Alan Jackson, Randy Travis,and Hank Williams.
What follows are five Billboard charted artists that left the neon signs, and
sawdust floors for wooden pews, and the eternal light. They answered a higher calling fueled by God’s limitless mercy, love and a sincere desire to share their story, and hopefully help humankind..
Hailing from Rogers, Arkansas, Vern was discovered by the legendary songwriter Harlan Howard in 1964, and signed to RCA Victor. Unfortunately, his debut album Woman, Let Me Sing You A Song was not promoted, and an official single was never released. It would take nine more years before RCA would release another album from Vern.
Eventually, Vernon charted about seven hits in the 70’s. His voice is what many old school country fans would describe as stone cold country. At the time, it was considered too country in the midst of the outlaw movement of the middle 1970's, and later the pop country Urban Cowboy craze. Vern did however experience a higher level of success in the U.K., and some of his music was re-released there by the Bear Family.
Vern also worked as an actor on A Thing Called Love with River Phoenix. You may also recognize him as the preacher in Loretta Lynn's biopic
Coal Miner’s Daughter. Timing was probably a factor in Vernon’s short run as hard country had mostly gone the way of the dodo bird by the time he started getting some attention.
In 1981, Vernon re-emerged as a gospel singer, and preacher. Vernon continues to perform traditional classics, and gospel across the U.K. while sharing the love of God to all that will hear.
You could say, Lionel was somewhat of a child prodigy. By the time he was 8, he had mastered playing several instruments including the fiddle. Discovered by MCA’s Tony Brown, Lionel charted twelve Billboard singles, and topped the charts in 1991 with Leap Of Faith.
The 1990’s was a time when country music was taking yet another turn with platinum selling artists like Garth Brooks putting on mega live shows and selling out arenas everywhere. MCA, and Lionell parted ways. It was also in the 90’s that Lionel started working with a church startup in Nashville
Hope Park Church where he eventually became the Worship Pastor.
Now you can join Lionel online for services at Spero Dei where he is part of the worship team as a Song Leader. He also hosts a podcast. Lionel says he’s grateful that he was able to actively raise his children when his MCA deal came to an end.
He established an in-home studio, and parlayed his expertise in production work for T.V. like HGTV. Lionel has over 100 scores composed so far. Lionell also continues to work on a select number of artist projects, and is a keynote speaker.
Possibly one of the most successful artists to hear God’s voice was BJ Thomas. Oklahoma born, and Texas raised, by 1975 he had a top two country album, and was nominated for a CMA. But his greatest success was winning an Academy Award for Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. You might think he was on top of the world with these early notable achievements, sadly that was not the case.
At best, BJ's success was bittersweet as he had developed an addiction to cocaine among other drugs spending thousands of dollars a day on the habit. In 1975, BJ took 80 pills in hopes that he would end his life. Fortunately, it did not work out that way. When he went home his wife shared that she had accepted Jesus as her savior, and he did too.
BJ found success in gospel music winning seven Dove awards throughout his career. He was very open in sharing his testimony on the 700 Club, Guidepost, and several other prominent faith based mediums. He continued to chart in country music with nine more top 30 hits-two of which topped the charts.
“If the bottom is falling out, know that God is there to catch you..”
For classic country fans, and music historians, Dallas Frazier is a very familiar name. His penned hits include chart toppers like Ally Oop,
Elvira, and Fourteen Carat Mind to name a few. Even my favorite artist of all-time George Jones recorded an entire album of Dallas’ songs.
An Oklahoma native transplanted in Bakersfield, his family like Merle Haggard’s people were impacted by the dust bowl, and migrated westward. While barely in his teens Dallas scored his first industry job working for Ferlin “On The Wings Of A Dove” Husky.
Shortly after he recorded his first songs, and was a regular on a local show.
Eventually, Dallas moved to Nashville and charted eight songs on Billboard, but became more successful as a songwriter. The artists that have recorded Dallas songs are a literal who's who in the music industry. Elvis, Quincy Jones, Poco, Brenda Lee, Charlie Rich and so on..
Dallas’ success did not go unnoticed as he won a Grammy for Charley Pride’s version of All I Have To Offer You Is Me. He was also inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame.
Dallas stepped away from country music to devote his life to ministry. From 1999 to 2006, Dallas was the Pastor at Grace Community Fellowship near Whitehouse, Tennessee.
Country music is abuzz with the news that Granger Smith will be stepping away from secular music to pursue a calling in ministry. While he was still a student at Texas A&M, Granger released a handful of independent albums, and was fortunate to score a record deal w/ EMI.
The country artist charted six songs with Backroad Song topping the Billboard Country Airplay Chart in 2016. Additionally, Granger earned three gold singles, one featuring his alter ego Earl Dibbles,Jr. In 2019, tragedy struck the family when his son River died in a drowning accident. Granger was blessed with the birth of another child in 2022. He, and his wife named the baby Maverick.
Granger was also the lead actor in Pure Flix’s Moonrise, a movie about finding God, and love after the death of a spouse. He is currently on his farewell tour “Like A River” which will run through August.
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