CMA Awards 2020: Christian singer Chris Tomlin talks country music's impact on him growing up

CARSON BLACKWELDER
·3 min read

This year boils down to one word for Chris Tomlin: collaboration.

The Christian singer, known for massive hits such as "Our God" and "How Great is Our God," isn't just nominated for his first-ever CMA Award -- for Thomas Rhett's "Be a Light" -- but he's also performing at the show for the first time with Rhett and the song's other featured artists: Reba McEntire, Keith Urban and Lady A's Hilary Scott.

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"That's not anything I thought I would ever be doing, you know, obviously, with coming from more of the Christian and worship genre," the 48-year-old told "Good Morning America," calling the chance to work with these "legends" a "gift."

Tomlin also noted that this song has "a purpose behind it" and the potential to bring people together, especially during a time when people are divided, both metaphorically and literally, due to COVID-19. This, he said, is something he has been expressing in his 25-year career in the music industry.

"It's different than just singing a great song that's Top 40 and sounds great and it's a hit song," he explained. "There's a difference when it has such a powerful message behind it, and it's really saying something people need to hear and it's saying something at the right moment at the right time."

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Not only is he part of a collaboration, but Tomlin also put out an entire album of his own only featuring collaborations between him and other artists, both from the Christian genre and country genre.

"Chris Tomlin & Friends," released July 31, was executive produced by Florida Georgia Line, and "born out of relationships and friendships" -- not a grand plan to bridge the two genres, he clarified.

"I just felt like I was in this current," he noted. "I was kind of going wherever the river was taking me because I wasn't even trying to do it."

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Tomlin said he worked on each song with the artist featured on it from beginning to end, from writing the songs together to recording it together in the same studio, not because some label planned it.

"The message of God's message of grace is not just confined to a genre of music," the Grammy winner continued, calling the two genres "sisters" or "close cousins."

Tomlin also explained how much he loved the idea of bringing his music to a new audience and vice versa to the country artists featured on the album getting introduced to a Christian audience.

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"If you look at the history of country music -- and the history of most all music -- it really comes out of the church," he remarked. "The church is like the breeding ground for so much of this music."

Tomlin said his love of country music came from his dad, who taught him to play the guitar when he was young and even played in a "little country band in our little town in East Texas."

"He loved the outlaws. He loved Willie [Nelson] and Waylon [Jennings] and Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash and those guys," he recalled. "So I've always had a connection to this music in a special way and have grown up loving it ever since I was a kid."

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The father of two, whose third daughter is due later this year, said he "felt called" to take a "different path" in his music career, ultimately choosing to pursue Christian music. That said, he considers this a "full-circle" moment being nominated by and performing at the CMA Awards.

Back in 2006, Time magazine dubbed him "most often sung artist anywhere," a description Tomlin doesn't take lightly, calling it the honor of his life to have such a wide-reaching effect on listeners through his music.

"I could win 100 Grammys and sell 100 million records," he said, "[but] all that does not compare to me to these songs finding their way into people's lives in the church around the world."

CMA Awards 2020: Christian singer Chris Tomlin talks country music's impact on him growing up originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com