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January 5, 2004
Iím writing today because rather than the typical ďbio,Ē I wanted to be the one to tell you a bit about myself, my story and my new album, Beautiful. As I contemplate what to write, Iím relaxing in the front lounge of a tour bus and preparing to go on stage where Iíll get to share my heart with a group of people Iíve never met. I canít help but shake my head and wonder how in the world I got here. I smile to myself as I consider how blessed I amÖ My life is indeed beautiful.
For those of you who donít know my history, I grew up as the oldest of two kids in Jackson, Miss., where I started playing the piano when I was 2. I lost my sight to a congenital eye disease around the same time, but it didnít slow me downójust ask my mother! For me, music was always a hobby. In many ways it was my relief because it was such a great way to express many of the thoughts and feelings I had trouble articulating. In fact, I remember writing my first song when I was only 7 or 8 years old. When I moved to Nashville to major in music education at Belmont University, I had every intention of teaching high school music after graduation. Instead, I found myself getting ďdiscoveredĒ by a friend who took an interest in my songwriting. Long story short, I signed a record deal in 1998 with Rocketown, an indie label owned by Michael W. Smith. This unexpected turn of events brought about incredible excitement and change. I could barely believe that the music I thought Iíd be playing in my living room for my friends was finding a new home.
My first record, Without Condition, was a collection of songs Iíd written during the previous five years of my life. Monroe Jones, producer extraordinaire, painted my introspective journal entries into colorful pieces of music which helped me to land a slot at the Nashville stop of Lilith Fair, a show at Sundance Film Festival, and more work than I could say grace over.
That first season of my career will forever be one of the most memorable times in my life. I learned how to enjoy traveling in spite of being a homebody. I learned how to engage people in conversation even though I am an undeniable introvert. And I got to experience the true joy of othersí encouragement when I was surprised with the Dove Award for New Artist of the Year in 2000.
After two years of intensive training in all things singer/songwriter, I realized how fast my life was moving and how exhausted I was from always racing to catch up with it. I knew that if I was going to continue in this line of work, I had to take time to rest and refuel. So thatís exactly what I did. I spent several months doing nothing but writing new songs. Something More was then born. It was more experimental and edgy than its predecessor, but it was an exciting accomplishment.
About eight months after Something Moreís release, Margaret Becker produced a more acoustic, live-like EP for me called Blueprint. Iíve spent the last year and a half traveling and sharing the songs on these projects with all those who dare to listen, and I couldnít be any more grateful for the opportunity to do so.
Now, another year has passed, and I can barely believe Iíve just completed my third full-length project. I might be a bit biased, but I think itís my most exciting musical accomplishment to date. To me, Beautiful feels like a comfortable pair of jeansóIím content and relaxed each time I wear it, and I like the way it looks on me. It reflects my lifelong musical influences and reveals some of my deepest thoughts and strugglesÖ all the things I love about singing and songwriting wrapped together in one package.
For describing this record, Iíve coined the phrase ďold soul.Ē While the record has a decidedly R&B flavor born out of years of listening to everything from Stevie Wonder to rap, its lyrics are very much about my maturing process. Many of the words and melodies are simpleónot unlike my previous projectsóbut lots of them were born out of the more seasoned corners of my soul.
I spent most of Spring 2003 traveling in a van so I had a lot of time to work on songs, to really consider words and mull over melodies, to think about what I wanted to say and what was important to me. Just like when I was a kid, I still tend to write about the things Iím not great at articulating in conversation, especially how my life relates to my faith. What does it mean to believe and trust in God in a world where things generally donít make any sense? How do I fit into Godís greater plan? What does it look like to search for hope? Why do we all continue to chase things in this life that are ultimately meaningless?
Iíve also found myself really struggling with how important self-image is and what that means for me. Iíve always been the girl who goes out without make-up, wearing a hat and not thinking about ďbeauty.Ē But as Iíve gotten older, and further along in a career that places a high premium on image, Iíve become very aware of how important these things are to other people. Itís really caused me to wrestle because I donít know if I meet the worldís standards for beauty or for anything. However, Iíve come to realize that those things arenít what make me who I amóI am defined by something else, something far greater. Itís the idea behind ďCall Me Beautiful,Ē and a large part of why I wanted to title this album Beautiful.
Youíll also hear a lot on Beautiful about trusting and change, two areas in my life that are a constant challenge and yet two things I seem to be continually called to face. Isnít it funny that the way we grow the most often comes out of the darker periods of our lives? Well, those periods are also often what drives me to the piano. And from my own times of growth and struggle, Iím learning many lessons about life. Though I canít say I know all the answers to my questions, I am beginning to understand that true joy comes from realizing how beautiful this journey is. It is beautiful not because it is perfect, but because it is dangerous, mysterious and wonderfully exciting all at the same time.
I find myself able to embrace life and see it as beautiful when I look to the One who created ultimate beauty. The songs on this project represent my quest to know and experience even more of what He intends ďbeautifulĒ to be. It is my hope and prayer that the lyrics and melodies you find here will encourage and inspire you to consider seeing life this wayóas the ultimate beautiful blessing from God.