To children of the ’80s and ’90s, the name “Amy Grant” evokes an immediate reaction, potentially even a few lines of the Grammy-nominated, quintuple-platinum song “Baby, Baby.” Images of a fresh-faced, curly-haired 30ish Amy Grant in cowboy boots and a white T-shirt, from the early MTV and VH1 days, come to mind. On her “Heart in Motion” album, Grant’s voice ranged from bright and girlish to having the velvety depth that continues to characterize it, moving her from her previous reputation as a Christian pop songstress into bona fide pop superstar territory.
Grant’s career — and personal life — skyrocketed into the public spotlight. Her marriage of 20 years to Vince Gill has been the topic of countless articles and celebrity TV shows; their blended family has not only survived the scrutiny, but thrived. Now, Grant and Gill, both musical powerhouses — Grant rightly calls her husband “freakishly gifted in music” — approach 60 (she’s 58; he’s 62) with a preternatural peace that can only come with time.
“I am going to sound like a hippy dippy grandmother,” Grant says, her voice measured, “but you can’t grasp to anything. Life is a continuum, the good and the bad. You can’t hold onto a moment; you can’t hold onto your children, because they grow up. You wake up and take a deep breath and say: ‘We are all in the big lazy river of God.” This is the first moment in a 45 minute interview that Grant, who has been called “The Queen of Christian Pop,” invokes the G-word. Her stories and insights evoke moments of divinity through the ordinary — say, while doing laundry or looking for car keys.
While Grant’s spirituality has anchored her life as a celebrity, it seems devoid of the dogma and exclusion that is often associated with modern Christianity.
“My language is less filled with religious terms, even if my understanding arrived that way,” she says. “Language can be inclusive or exclusive.” Grant tells a story illustrating her point:
“I remember years ago, a lot of us were participating in a benefit with Carole King. It was for The Painted Turtle (Paul Newman’s camp for kids with serious medical conditions.” Grant narrates the pre-show commotion, everyone being “wowed by Katy Perry” during sound check and hanging around, jamming and talking. “I was looking at Carole King and thinking: ‘You are in your ’70s … and still doing this.’
Grant walked over to King. “I said, ‘Thank you for not quitting.’ As an aging artist myself, I was saying, ‘you are showing me the way.’”
King said: “I’ve tried to quit, but then I get the call.”
“I thought she was talking about Lou Adler, her longtime manager, and she said, ‘No, I mean the voice that comes and says ‘Keep on.’ And I said ‘Yes.’ I knew exactly what she was talking about.” She talks about flashes of inspiration or “the voice” arriving at moments when you’ve got three kids and manage to get the onion into the skillet or find the clean pair of underwear in the back of the drawer. “You build it from there,” she says.
Indeed, from the outside, Grant seems to have led a charmed life. She’s a six-time Grammy Award-winner, has four healthy (and largely grown) kids and a 20-year marriage to the country star Vince Gill. She’s authored multiple books, including a celebrated memoir, “Mosaic: Pieces of my Life So Far,” and hosted an NBC show called “Three Wishes,” where she essentially traveled the country making dreams come true.
Pretty sweet, huh?
Not that Grant would disagree — she speaks of her life with a palpable satisfaction, from the vantage point of age and experience. But as we plebes might imagine, superstardom takes its toll.
She tells a story about traveling while working in Germany with a girlfriend in the ’90s, at the peak of her celebrity. “I was spending a lot of time with Lyle Lovett and called him, and he gave me the name of a little town in Germany to visit. He said ‘I don’t feel like anyone speaks English there,’ and I said ‘Perfect.’ We had coffee in the town square, and I remember telling my friend: ‘I feel like a sham. I feel like a machine.’ And she said, ‘Why don’t we find a quiet corner, and you can throw open your guitar case, and we’ll just eat on whatever money you make?’ I did, and I was more nervous than singing at the Forum. We did get dinner out of it,” she laughs.
“It’s those unexpected moments that music intersects with normal life,” she says, “and it does feel good to get older and feel the freedom to breathe.”
Having the time to breathe is probably nice, too. Grant has been a working musician for over 40 years, having signed her first recording contract at 15, when the owner of the studio where she recorded her first demo finished the cut and called World Records. Grant describes those early years, taking guitar class in high school, hanging at a coffee shop-cum-bookstore, listening to a folk band called “Dogwood” that played there and never really took off. Yet their wide-ranging inspiration, from folk and rock to their own faith, moved Grant to try her own hand.
Her eponymous first album was released just shy of her high school graduation; she played her first ticketed concert while a college student at Furman, and not long after, she met her first husband, singer-songwriter Gary Chapman. Grant’s career continued on the upswing, hitting a high note with “Heart in Motion,” her 1991 album with the hit single “Baby, Baby” that secured her in the mainstream, sending her touring around the world, and establishing her as the voice and face that continues to be so familiar to audiences.
As often is the case, behind the scenes wasn’t as glamorous as her life in the spotlight appeared. But Grant has a certain knack for seeing the rainbow after the storm. Years ago, she was involved in a serious car wreck and suffered injuries that largely took her peripheral vision. Grant says: “It’s helped me — whatever task is right in front of me, I can work hard at and focus, and when I step away, I step away.”
Her marriage with Chapman ultimately crumbled, and both the breakup and her subsequent marriage to Gill were very much in the public eye. Amid the noise of uber-celebrity, Grant seems particularly adept at finding quiet moments of magic in everyday life. She describes listening to her husband, along with Chris Stapleton and Al Anderson, playing music one “ordinary” day.
“I’m walking to the laundry room, and I’m listening to the three of those voices,” she says, “and I reached my hands to the ceiling and said, ‘This is the best laundry day of my life.’”
Okay, so maybe that’s not an average laundry day, but Grant does seem to see the beauty of her uniquely charmed life in small, quiet moments. She also sees her success — and that of others — largely as attributed to tenacity and hard work. The success stories she cites: Zac Brown, Stapleton, Drew Holcomb, and her own daughter, Jenny Gill, give credit to their talent, but truly pay homage to sheer will. She talks about her daughter playing Songwriters Fest in Key West not long after having a baby (“She was so proud of getting her baby weight off and flaunting her young beautiful self and then came back and got pregnant again.”). She talks about Zac Brown “playing every single club in the Atlanta area” before blowing up. “Man,” she said, “he just wouldn’t stop.”
Grant herself seems to have struck the perfect alchemy of unflagging work ethic — and a dash of her own special homespun sparkle. This year, two of her daughters got married, and she had the opportunity to offer a little advice from the other side of those hard-working, high-output, child-rearing years.
“There are times in your life that it’s like a ring of fire — it can be enormous and frightening. You are the tiger,” she says. “and you will practice and concentrate, and you will jump through the ring, and you will land on the other side. Wiser.”
Grant speaks like a tiger from the other side — and it does seem like her life, in some vital ways, has come full circle. She describes setting up a pre-wedding gathering for her daughter Sarah. Grant was adjusting the sound system at her daughter’s instruction.
“I looked over and saw my ex-husband, Gary Chapman, talking to my husband Vince,” she says, “and the sound system components were on a bench that people are sitting on, and I’m hopping over and trying to fix it. Vince leaned over to Gary and said: ‘Have you seen this movie before? Amy’s over there spinning the plates.’” In the commotion, she saw the two of them smiling over at her. “This has taken 20 years,” she says, “and I knew that’s where we all wanted to get. It is possible to reconcile over irreconcilable lines.”
It’s a happy ending, but it’s not actually the end. Grant is redoing her old Bambi Airstream trailer, putting flags on the map of where she wants to go across America that she originally visited on a tour bus.
“My band gave me a birdhouse the shape of an Airstream, with three $500 gas cards inside and said ‘Take the trip.’” She is turning 59 this year, and their youngest is graduating from high school. “I told Vince: ‘I’ve got your tour calendar, and I am going to be the woman in the parking lot asking for a pass!’”
Grant has a bit more music to play first. The band she’s bringing to Key West Theater are “artists in their own right — musicians, singers, writers, comedians and painters.” They’ll come up with a song list unique to the evening and the vibe, and pepper the sets with stories. “It will just be a great night of music, no looking at the screen. Stories and songs. Music is still so soul-filling.”
Key West Theater
512 Eaton Street.
Doors 7 p.m. Show 8 p.m.
Tickets at www.keywesttheater.com