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In ‘The Jesus Music,’ Erwin Brothers recount the glory and mess of Christian music

Amy Grant, proper, and Michael W. Smith in “The Jesus Music.” Picture courtesy of Lionsgate

(RNS) — The modern Christian music trade survived scandals, pushback from televangelists and the wholesale disruption of the report trade over the previous 50 years and stored rolling alongside.

Then final spring, COVID-19 introduced all of it to a halt.

Artists who’d spent a long time on the highway had been all of a sudden caught at dwelling, their tour buses unpacked, with no clear indication after they’d be capable to get again to enjoying music in public. For Christian filmmakers Andrew and Jon Erwin, who started their careers making music movies, the pandemic appeared a once-in-a-lifetime probability to get their musical heroes on digital camera.

“For the primary time in historical past, all of those artists are off the highway,” Andrew Erwin advised Faith Information Service in a video interview.

So the Erwins, a pair of brothers who’ve made faith-based films corresponding to “I Can Solely Think about” and “October Child,” referred to as up Christian music legends Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith and pitched the thought of a documentary concerning the historical past of Christian music. The 2 stated sure and signed on as producers. Earlier than lengthy the venture was underway.

The results of their efforts is “The Jesus Music,” a brand new documentary that traces modern Christian music from its beginnings amongst hippies at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, within the late Nineteen Sixties to the worldwide worship music empire of Australia’s Hillsong Church. The documentary debuted in early October, incomes simply over a half-million {dollars} on the field workplace in restricted launch, according to Deadline Hollywood, which covers the leisure trade.

Poster for "The Jesus Music." Courtesy image

Poster for “The Jesus Music.” Courtesy picture

Andrew Erwin stated he and his brother interviewed about 100 artists, together with a few of the greatest names in Christian music, together with Kirk Franklin, TobyMac and different members of DC Speak, Chris Tomlin, Invoice Gaither, Lecrae and present chart-topper Lauren Daigle.

Distributed by Lionsgate, the movie is anchored across the experiences of Grant and Smith, who grew to become a few of the greatest names within the enterprise starting within the Eighties. Early on, Grant offers an interview in what was as soon as the Koinonia Christian Bookstore and  Coffeehouse on Nashville’s music row.

On the time of the interview, Grant — who has offered tens of thousands and thousands of information — was a number of weeks away from having open-heart surgical procedure. She recollects visiting the coffeehouse and listening to folks singing with guitars about Jesus. The expertise, she stated within the movie, modified her life.

“It was in contrast to something this Southern spiritual city had seen,” she stated through the interview.

“A variety of hymns are, shut your eyes singing to God,” Grant stated, in describing the music she dreamed of creating. “I wished to sing songs with my eyes huge open, singing to one another.”

RELATED: Oh Baby, Baby: Amy Grant’s biggest hit turns 30

The strongest a part of the movie comes within the first hour, because the Erwins use classic footage and interviews with California pastor Greg Laurie and Tommy Coomes of the early Christian rock band Love Music to recount the motion’s early days, when former hippies, disenchanted by intercourse and medicines, shaped what was often called the “Jesus motion” of the early Seventies.

That second had its personal soundtrack with guitar and drums — epitomized by the long-haired songwriter star Larry Norman, whose songs concerning the finish of the world, racism and the vacancy of medication and intercourse made him the motion’s first rock star.

At one level, interviewees recite lyrics of “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus,” one in every of Norman’s early hits, which begins with the road “Sipping whiskey from a paper cup, you drown your sorrows until you’ll be able to’t arise,” then goes on to speak about capturing up medicine and getting a sexually transmitted illness on Valentine’s Day.

John Styll, the previous president of the Gospel Music Affiliation and founding father of Up to date Christian Music journal, stated such lyrics could be banned on immediately’s Christian radio.

“No means would they play it,” he stated within the movie.

Amy Grant in "The Jesus Music." Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Amy Grant in “The Jesus Music.” Picture courtesy of Lionsgate

The film additionally highlights Explo ’72, an enormous Christian music occasion that featured Christian music stars alongside performers corresponding to Johnny Money, Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson. Throughout that occasion, which introduced greater than 200,000 younger folks to Dallas, evangelist Billy Graham gave his stamp of approval to the Jesus motion and Jesus music.

“True religion must be utilized to the social issues of our day,” Graham stated in a speech on the occasion that’s featured within the movie. “At this time, Christian younger folks must be concerned within the issues of poverty, ecology, warfare, racial stress and all different issues of our technology.”

Lonnie Frisbee, a long-haired and influential preacher within the motion’s early days, can also be featured within the documentary. Frisbee performed an necessary function within the Jesus motion however was lengthy ignored after his loss of life from AIDS within the early Nineties. The movie additionally mentions a few of the scandals that engulfed Christian music stars corresponding to Grant and Sandi Patty.

“We didn’t have any intention of chasing scandal however we wished to grasp the wrestle,” stated Jon Erwin in a video interview. “There have been numerous sophisticated folks throughout the timeline of Christian music.”

Kirk Franklin in "The Jesus Music." Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Kirk Franklin in “The Jesus Music.” Picture courtesy of Lionsgate

The movie additionally denounces the racism that separated white Christian stars from Black gospel musicians, throughout a bit that features an interview with Kirk Franklin, whose feedback about looking for racial therapeutic had been minimize from a broadcast of a Christian music trade awards present.

“After we don’t say one thing, we’re saying one thing,” Franklin stated through the speech, which addressed the killing of Black males.

One of many movie’s most touching moments is available in footage of the funeral for Truett Foster McKeehan, the 21-year-old son of TobyMac, one of many founders of DC Speak. McKeehan died of an unintentional overdose in 2019, and his father recounts his son’s passing in an emotional interview.

TobyMac in "The Jesus Music." Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

TobyMac in “The Jesus Music.” Picture courtesy of Lionsgate

Among the many movie’s surprises is a bit on the Christian metallic band Stryper, whose members grew to become Christians after watching sermons of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. After their conversions, band members grew to become stars for taking part in metallic music that praised Jesus and for throwing Bibles at their followers throughout concert events, solely to see Swaggart activate them.

Many of the musicians within the movie stated that if that they had the possibility, they’d do it yet again. However their fame got here with a price, warns Michael Tait, one of many founders of DC Speak. Tait would go on to be the lead singer of the Newsboys, one other influential Christian band.

“I might not want fame, or fortune, or notoriety on anyone,” he stated. “Anonymity just isn’t a nasty factor. Belief me.”

RELATED: Kirk Franklin to boycott Dove Awards, says comments about race were cut from speech

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