New music for a timeless
(December 15, 2002)
Carmichael is considered by many to be the father of contemporary
Christian music. He has served as president of the Gospel Music
Association, been inducted into the GMA Hall of Fame, was founding
president of Light Records and Lexicon Music, and has arranged
or produced six musicals, 75 television and motion picture scores
(including The Cross and the Switchblade) many songs and more
than 200 records. He is a Dove Award and Emmy Award recipient.
Carmichael spoke to Jim Linzey about his life and ministry.
PE: What were your
I’m most grateful for my parents, Richard and Adele Carmichael,
for bringing me up in the church. I’m proud I’m a
preacher’s kid and for what my folks gave me as a spiritual
heritage. I’ve thanked God a thousand times over for the
Bible teaching I received growing up in the Carmichael household.
We had family altar every day and church almost every night.
PE: How did you
come to know Jesus Christ as your Savior?
Every time my parents gave an altar call, I responded. But while
attending Southern California Bible College [now Vanguard University],
I realized that I needed to allow Jesus Christ to become the supreme
Lord of my life. I made a commitment to God that if He would make
my musical dreams come true, I would give them all back to Him.
PE: What led you
When I was a student at Vanguard University in 1949, the school
raised funds for uniforms and instruments for the band I assembled.
President Harrison allowed us to go on television with a program
called The Campus Christian Hour. After 50 consecutive weeks on
the air we won an Emmy Award.
What were some high points in your involvement with contemporary
In 1966, I told my friend Jarrell McCracken, founder and president
of Word Records, that I believed the evangelical status quo was
counterproductive to evangelism. If something wasn’t done
to change the trend, I felt the church would suffer. I suggested
starting a new record label called Light and releasing all the
experimental music on it. In 1968 we released the record I
Looked For Love and Andrae Crouch’s Gonna Keep
On Singing followed by many other records. In the 1970s we
released contemporary Christian programming to nationwide radio.
In 1975, we produced and presented Jimmy Owens’ musical
If My People to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention,
gaining tremendous support for the new sound. Lexicon’s
New Church Hymnal in 1976 contained traditional and contemporary
music. Congregations of all denominations were singing the new
music, something I had prayed for and dreamed of all my life.
PE: Is contemporary
Christian music a new idea?
In the 1700s and 1800s, poets wrote many of our traditional hymns,
combining the unchanging message with popular secular melodies.
And they were sternly criticized. The musical “pop”
style of the 1800s is what we now call traditional, though it
did not come from within the church.
The same process occurred
from 1900 to the 1950s. Be it jazz, blues, ragtime, ballad, marches
or what we call “traditional,” these musical expressions
share one characteristic — they did not originate within
What is your motivation for introducing new forms of musical expression
into the church?
Psalm 33:3 and Revelation 14:3 admonish us to sing a new song.
The message we must share is timeless and unchanging, but if we
are to communicate it to a changing world, the medium must be
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