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Michael English Biography
Truth is eternal but its expression constantly changes.
This is the lesson that has led Michael English toward a peak of creativity and self-discovery.
The sound that he pioneered in the 1990s, after emerging from his apprenticeship with the Gaither Vocal Band into the light of his solo career, pointed contemporary Christian music in a fresh direction. His influence was enormous and his accomplishments – multiple Dove Awards, No. 1 singles in Christian and Adult Contemporary charts, two consecutive Top 5 albums,– impressive, commercially and artistically.
But this is just the beginning. His triumphs and trials, heavily publicized, have led English to a pivotal point. And this year his outreach to the world takes new shape, in words written as well and sung.
The title of his latest effort, The Prodigal Comes Home, actually graces two achievements: his upcoming CD and his memoir, published by Thomas Nelson on April 10.
While the book marks his first appearance as an author, the album is his fourth for Curb Records and the latest in a string of recordings that stretches back through years of solo and vocal group experience. But as its name suggests, The Prodigal Comes Home differs from his earlier projects.
Of course, like almost all of his music, it celebrates and honors God through lyrics conveyed by one of the most thrilling voices, heard in any style, today. Time, however, has empowered that voice to approach the material more personally than before, which makes The Prodigal Comes Home his most honest and autobiographical effort to date.
Rising from the foundations of “In Christ Alone,” “Solid as the Rock,” “Heaven,” “Mary Did You Know,” and all of his songs whose impact resonated throughout the Christian world, its sound is as dynamic as anything in English’s catalog, relevant to modern times and tastes, and candid beyond any precedent in his work.
“That wasn’t our intention,” English insists. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘Let’s make this about my life.’ It just happened, which is how God often works.”
Now, English’s life is hardly a mystery. Born to musical parents in Wallace, North Carolina, he was saved at age seven and started performing in childhood with his family band, the Singing Samaritans. On graduating from high school he joined a Southern gospel quartet, the Singing Americans. His reputation for delivering powerful, emotional testimony led eventually to an invitation from the great Bill Gaither to join the Gaither Vocal Band.
“Bill knows better than anyone how to reach people through music,” English says. “To this day I don’t think I’m anywhere close to him as a communicator, but I did learn a lot from being with him for ten years. And when the opportunity to become a solo artist presented itself, even though I had my doubts about whether I had anything to say, I was more frightened of not taking the risk.”
His eponymous debut shot to No. 3 in the Billboard Contemporary Christian charts and launched English on the fast track in 1992. But stardom came at a terrible price: Emotional wounds sustained in childhood reopened, an affair shattered his youthful marriage, a pattern of chemical dependency started to play out. And while he continued to fill concert venues, he knew that his performances had become only charades of the fiery professions of faith they had once been.
“God was calling me to be serious about my spiritual life, but I was just faking my way through it,” English confesses. “I took my eyes off the prize and lost everything.”
English’s escape from shadows and return to grace has been documented, though never as candidly as in his upcoming memoir. And these stories feed the power of the songs on The Prodigal Comes Home, lifting them above mere musical excellence toward a statement that will touch everyone, the doubtful and the believers, like a whisper felt in their own hearts.
“You know how artists are,” he says, laughing. “Their next record is always the best they’ve ever done. But I can honestly say that this is the first one I’ve done with a clean heart, a clean spirit, and a clean mind. Am I perfect? Absolutely not, but I’ve never felt so ready to sing and get the message out there. And I’m not the singer I was when I could go onstage and nail it each night. But something has taken the place of that. I can’t explain it, other than to say that God has cleaned the cobwebs from my life.”
The title cut has actually been a staple of English’s concert set for years. Ironically, he cut the demo for “The Prodigal Comes Home” a decade ago; he loved it the moment he heard it, yet he wasn’t ready to give it the interpretation it deserved. That moment has come – but it’s not the only sign of invigoration on this record. With producer Mark Miller of Sawyer Brown, English challenges himself to speak with a new musical language. The results, he admits, may surprise longtime fans; they’ve already caused some of his friends to raise their eyebrows.
“It’s funny,” he says, smiling, “because when I cut some of these songs and played them for my wife and my manager, Norman Miller, they were like … ‘Um, where’s Michael English?’ Well, I’m right here; there’s some of what I’ve always done and more of what’s happening now.”
And here he sings, and what we hear is both familiar and a revelation: “’Get out, get out, get out of the boat and walk on some water with me.’ I would have been afraid to sing like this in the past, but it’s what I love to do now, because I trust God. Sure, I know there are radio stations and record stores that won’t carry my music because I’ve dropped the ball in my personal life. I know I have to prove myself to them. And with The Prodigal Comes Home I’m ready to do that.”
Listening is believing. Hear The Prodigal Comes Home and welcome an old friend on this, the most daring and rewarding step of his life.