Michael Whitaker Smith (born October 7, 1957) is an American musician, who has charted in both contemporary Christian and mainstream charts. His biggest success in mainstream music was in 1991 when "Place in this World" hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Over the course of his career, he has sold more than 18 million albums.
Smith is a three-time Grammy Award winner, an American Music Award recipient, and has earned 45 Dove Awards. In 1999, ASCAP awarded him with the "Golden Note" Award for lifetime achievement in songwriting, and in 2014 they honored him as the "cornerstone of Christian music" for his significant influence on the genre. He also has recorded 31 No. 1 Hit songs, fourteen gold albums, and five platinum albums. He has also starred in 2 films and published 13 books including This is Your Time, which he worked with Christian author Gary Thomas to write.
Michael Whitaker Smith was born to Paul and Barbara Smith in Kenova, West Virginia. His father was an oil refinery worker at the Ashland Oil Refinery, in nearby Catlettsburg, Kentucky. His mother was a caterer. He inherited his love of baseball from his father, who had played in the minor leagues. As a child, he developed a love of music through his church. He learned piano at an early age and sang in his church choir. At the age of 10, he had "an intense spiritual experience" that led to his becoming a devout Christian. "I wore this big cross around my neck," he would recall, "It was very real to me." He became involved in Bible study and found a group of older friends who shared his faith.
After his older Christian friends moved away to college, Smith began to struggle with feelings of loneliness and alienation. After graduating from high school, he gravitated toward alcohol and drugs. He attended Marshall University while developing his songwriting skills but dropped out after one semester. He also played with various local bands around Huntington, West Virginia. During that time, his friend Shane Keister, who worked as a session musician in Nashville, encouraged him to move to Nashville, the Country Music capital, and pursue a career in music.
In 1978, Smith moved to Nashville, taking a job as a landscaper to support himself. He played with several local bands in the Nashville club scene. He also developed a problem with substance abuse.
I really started losing touch when I moved to Nashville, around April of '78. I was smokin' marijuana, drinking, doing some other drugs; just being crazy, you know. My mom and dad knew what I was doing. But they never hassled me, they just prayed for me. And I felt convicted by God. Every time I'd wake up I knew: This isn't me. But I couldn't change myself.
In November 1979, Smith suffered a breakdown that led to his recommitment to Jesus Christ. The next day he auditioned for a new contemporary Christian music (CCM) group, Higher Ground, as a keyboardist and got the job. His lead vocals were heard on much of CCM radio with the single, "I Am". It was on his first tour with Higher Ground, playing mostly in churches, that Smith was finally able to put the drugs and alcohol behind him.
Beginning, MOR and Christian rock era (1981-1989):
In 1981, while he was playing keyboards for Higher Ground, Smith was signed as a writer to Meadowgreen Music, where he wrote numerous gospel hits penned for artists such as Sandi Patty, Kathy Troccoli, Bill Gaither and Amy Grant, to the effect that some of these popular worship songs can now be found in church hymnals. The following year, Smith began touring as a keyboardist for Grant on her Age to Age tour.
He would eventually become Grant's opening act and recorded his first Grammy-nominated solo album The Michael W. Smith Project (which he also produced himself) in 1983 on the Reunion Records label. This album contained the first recording of his hit "Friends", which he co-wrote with his wife Deborah. By the time Smith's second album Michael W. Smith 2 was released in 1984, he was headlining his own tours. In 1986, Smith released The Big Picture.
After the release of his 1988 effort, i 2 (EYE), Smith once again collaborated with Grant for her "Lead Me On World Tour". The following year, Smith recorded his first Christmas album, simply titled Christmas (1989).
Mainstream venture and inspirational pop albums (1990-1999):
In 1990, Smith released Go West Young Man, his first mainstream effort, which included the mainstream crossover hit single "Place in This World". The song peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1992, he released Change Your World, which included the No. 1 adult contemporary hit "I Will Be Here for You". In 1993 Smith released his first box set, The Wonder Years and his first greatest hits album, The First Decade (1983-1993). The latter also includes two new songs, "Do You Dream Of Me?" and "Kentucky Rose".
In 1995, Smith released his eighth album I'll Lead You Home, which combines the pop style of his secular albums with a touch of religious feel. Live the Life (1998) and This Is Your Time (1999) follow the same style. In 1998, Smith also released his second Christmas album, Christmastime.
Smith collaborated with Jim Brickman on "Love of My Life", a romantic love song for Brickman's album Destiny in 1999. The song went to chart at No. 9 on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks. Also in 1999, he became the first Christian artist to receive the ASCAP "Golden Note" Award for lifetime achievement in songwriting.
Instrumental and live worship albums (2000-2003):
Nearly all of Smith's albums include at least one instrumental track, and in 2000, Smith recorded his first all instrumental album, Freedom. The following year, Smith released his first all-worship music album, Worship, on September 11. This album was followed by a sequel, Worship Again in 2002. Both albums were recorded live in concert. Worship Again also includes a song that Smith wrote called "There She Stands", inspired by the September 11, 2001 attacks. He performed this song live for the 2004 Republican National Convention, saying that President George W. Bush, whom he said is a fan and a family friend, had asked him to write a song about the attacks.
In 2002, Smith released a live concert DVD titled Worship, filmed live in Edmonton, Alberta at YC Alberta. The concert includes songs from both Worship (2001) and Worship Again (2002). It immediately topped the Billboard video charts and went gold in both the U.S. and Canada.
Smith won the Male Vocalist of the Year award at the GMA Music Awards in 2003. The same year he also released his second greatest hits album, The Second Decade (1993-2003), which includes a new single called "Signs".
Contemporary Christian albums (2004-2010):
Smith's album, Healing Rain, was released in 2004 and debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 200 Chart. The title track rose to No. 1 on the Radio & Records Charts and a music video for the song was released. The album combines the pop style of his previous recordings with the religious feel of his two live worship albums. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album. In 2006 he released Stand, which is similar to Healing Rain (2004) in style and genre but with more Christian themed-songs. Also in 2006, Smith did the score and soundtrack to the film The Second Chance, which he also starred in. He also released a single from the soundtrack album, "All In The Serve".
In October 2007, he released his third Christmas album, It's a Wonderful Christmas. On June 20, 2008, Smith recorded his third live Worship album at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, titled A New Hallelujah. It was released in October 2008. That same month he began a tour with Steven Curtis Chapman. In September 2010, he released Wonder, which follows the CCM style of Healing Rain (2004) and Stand (2006). In October 2010 he started touring with Third Day, tobyMac, and Max Lucado on the "Make a Difference" tour.
Orchestral instrumental, hymns, and studio worship albums (2011-present):
Smith's second instrumental album, Glory, was released on November 22, 2011. Unlike his first instrumental album, Freedom (2000), this album features a 65-piece orchestra at AIR Studios Lyndhurts Hall in London and Wildwood Recording Studio in Nashville. The following year he released his third compilation album, Decades of Worship (2012).
Smith's concert in Draper, Utah, on July 24, 2012 was almost canceled due to a complaint filed by a Utah resident on July 16, 2012. He claimed that a show "conflated with prayer and worship" should remain in church or private property, not in "public's backyard". The following day the city council decided to cancel the concert, but a day later they decided to host the show as planned after all after a criticism from a Utah evangelical group that equated cancelling the concert to an assault on religious liberty. The Mayor of Draper and several city council members were present at the event and were recognized for their support.
In 2014, Smith released three albums, Hymns, Sovereign, and The Spirit of Christmas. Hymns is Smith's first effort at doing his own rendition of traditional hymns, and it was released exclusively at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store on March 24, 2014. The album sold 12,000 copies in its first week of release and debuted at No. 24 on the US Billboard 200. It was also the best-selling Christian music album for the week of April 19, 2014, and won 2014 Dove Award for "Inspirational Album of the Year".Sovereign, released on May 13, 2014, is his first studio worship album and his first album released through Capitol Records, after leaving his long-time label Reunion Records in 2013. The album sold almost 16,000 copies in its first week, and debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200, making it the highest charting album in his career as of 2014.The Spirit of Christmas, officially released as Michael W. Smith & Friends: The Spirit of Christmas, is Smith's first duet album. Released on September 30, 2014, it features duets with Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Jennifer Nettles, Martina McBride, Vince Gill, Bono, Amy Grant, and Michael McDonald. The album marks Smith's third new album in 2014 to enter the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 16 as of December 2014. It also won 2015 Dove Award for "Christmas Album of the Year".
Smith, along with Amy Grant, was honored as the "cornerstone of Christian music" by ASCAP in 2014 for his significant influence on the genre. In 2015, Smith and his son Tyler wrote the score and soundtrack for the film 90 Minutes in Heaven, where he also has a small acting role in.
Smith's second hymns album, called Hymns II - Shine On Us, was released on January 29, 2016. Like his first hymns album released in 2014, the album will be sold exclusively at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.
In 1994, Smith made his acting debut as Billy Holden in Secret Adventures: Shrug. In 2006, Smith was the lead actor in The Second Chance, a film directed by Steve Taylor. He also did some of the score and soundtrack for this film.
In 2015, Smith starred as Cliff McArdle in the film adaptation of the best-selling book 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. In addition, he collaborated with his son on the score and soundtrack for this film.
In 1994, Smith opened a teen club, named Rocketown, in Nashville, Tennessee (6th Avenue). Later in early 2003, the club was moved to a new location--a renovated warehouse in downtown Nashville. The venue offers a large dance floor, extensive indoor skate park, and a cafe hosting live acoustic music.
In 1996, Smith opened his own record label, Rocketown Records. The label was named after a song on his third album The Big Picture. Smith does not personally record on it, but he stated the label was driven by the artists. The first artist signed was Chris Rice, who had written "Go Light Your World", a No. 1 hit song by Kathy Troccoli, in 1995.
Smith is actively involved in volunteer service and is vice chair of the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation, which is chaired by Jean Case of the Case Foundation. He is also an avid spokesperson for sponsoring children through Compassion International.
Smith is married to Deborah "Debbie" Kay Davis (b. 1958) and has five children: Ryan Smith, Whitney Katherine Smith-Mooring (married to Jack Mooring of the band Leeland), Tyler Michael (keyboard player for the United Tour), Anna Elizabeth, and Emily Allison. He resides in the Nashville suburbs and spends time at the Smith family farm. His son, Ryan Smith, is a filmmaker who directed the film After.
Alderson-Broaddus College awarded Smith the degree Doctorate of Music honoris causa in 1992.
Smith attended Belmont Church in Nashville, Tennessee and is mentored by its long time pastor, Don Finto. Smith is the founding pastor of New River Fellowship in Franklin, Tennessee, where he was the lead pastor from 2006 to 2008. Smith and his wife remain involved members of the church.
Smith supports the Republican Party, and is personal friends with several prominent Republicans, including former President George W. Bush. He endorsed Sam Brownback's brief run for president in 2008.
He was also named one of People magazine's "Most Beautiful People" in 1992.