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For Chapman, family and Christian beliefs shape musical career

Thu., Oct. 3, 2013, midnight

Steven Curtis Chapman has been one of Christian music’s best-selling artists for more than two decades, releasing 47 No. 1 singles and a number of gold- and platinum-certified albums since his debut in 1987.

But long before he was a successful singer-songwriter with a stockpile of awards – including five Grammys and a whopping 57 Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association – Chapman recalls eavesdropping on his father writing and playing music in his childhood home in the small town of Paducah, Ky.

“He’d go in the kitchen and write songs with his buddies and close all the doors,” Chapman said, “and I remember as a little kid putting my ear up to the door and listening to the music. It kind of had this mystique to it.”

Chapman first started actively performing when he was in first grade, he said, singing with his older brother in church and at Christmas parties. Around the same time, his family began to experience a resurgence of their Christian values.

“I was watching a real transformation take place in my family,” Chapman said, “and that began to show up in the music my dad was playing and shaped the first songs I wrote. They were songs about my life and my faith.”

He continued writing his own music and playing with local rock bands, but it wasn’t until Chapman moved to Nashville, Tenn., that the wheels of his career were set into motion. While singing with his brother in a country music show at the now-defunct Opryland USA amusement park, Chapman met celebrated gospel musician Bill Gaither, who was able to get Chapman in touch with other established recording artists.

Chapman started writing songs for other people – his compositions were recorded by venerable Christian acts such as the Imperials and Sandi Patty and country legend Glen Campbell. “I kind of thought that was going to be what the extent of my career was – writing music for others – and maybe doing my own shows here and there,” Chapman said, “but never blossoming into a full-on recording career.”

But he continued to record his own material, which quickly gained a following. His third album, 1989’s “More to This Life,” was a hit, and Chapman has been a fixture on the Christian charts ever since. (Nine of his full-length albums have reached the No. 1 spot.)

After so many years of writing and performing, Chapman said he finds inspiration for new material through his marriage, his children and his faith. When his youngest daughter died in an accident in 2008, Chapman channeled his grief into his music, particularly on his 2009 album “Beauty Will Rise.”

“As art reflects life, my art certainly took a much more somber tone,” he said. “I was pouring out my heart in the deepest places of struggle and pain. As the years have progressed, music has been part of the healing.”

Chapman said that the high spirits of his earlier work have resurfaced on his newest album, “The Glorious Unfolding,” which was released earlier this week.

“People have even commented, ‘Man, I hear a smile back in your music,’ ” he said. “Beginning to experience healing and laughter and joy in our family and in our hearts, and new memories and new hope, has really been something to celebrate. And my art, I think, is reflective of that.”

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