Big Interview - May 09 Inspire - Michael W Smith

American singer-songwriter Michael W Smith tells GEORGE LUKE about the motivations behind his music-making

With the release of his new CD and DVD A New Hallelujah, Michael W Smith reminds us once again that although he’s known primarily as a Christian pop singer (and occasional film actor), his real passion is for worship.
 
“The title was actually my wife’s idea,” says Michael. “We wanted to get across a sense that worship is global, and so it’s got an international flair to it, with the African Children’s Choir.

“Not only do they bring an African element in, but since they’re orphans, they also remind us of the instruction in Isaiah 58 to care for widows, orphans and strangers.

“There’s also a Spanish singer on the album, and lots of different races represented in the choir that you see on the DVD – it’s awesome.
 
“This has all been inspired by my travels around the world. I struggle with the fact that in America today, the most segregated hour of the week is still Sunday morning – to which I’m thinking, ‘What are we doing?’ God’s not American. He’s not British, either!”
 
The new album isn’t the only opportunity Michael has had recently to fuse his twin passions of worship and caring for the poor. He was also one of the key artists involved in making the charity worship album Compassionart (see video).

 
“That was one of the most amazing experiences of my career,” he enthuses. “I think the most awesome thing about it was that we were all cooped up in this house in Scotland – 11 songwriters – and we dropped, hopefully, what little egos we had at the door.

“We were all involved in something much greater than ourselves; all the money was going to the poor. We collaborated all week long and had a meltdown every day! It was a pretty amazing picture of the body of Christ at work.”
 
But at a time when all the major world economies are in a crisis, are people in the West still as concerned about alleviating poverty in the developing world?
 
“I’m sure there will be some pulling back,” says Michael, “but I hope that’s not the case. Maybe this is the time that we are supposed to sow into these sorts of things. It is a tough time.

“But I don’t care what kind of time you’re in; even if it’s just a small, little thing, there’s still something you can sow into that benefits the poor.
 
“As for how the recession will affect the Christian music industry; so far, it doesn’t look good. Sales are already down – though I think most of that really is due to piracy.

“That said, I think there’s a very, very good chance you’ll see an increase in what we do because of the times we’re in.

“If you look at The Great Depression, music and movies were a hit. People’s attitude was: ‘Can I just escape the misery that I’m in for a little bit?’ And many of those people turned to things that were inspirational.

“I’m not being prophetic here; I’m just saying there’s a good chance that that might happen again.”
 
Michael was Vice Chair of former President George Bush’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, a group set up to promote and encourage volunteer service in America.

“When President Obama took over, he could have wiped that council off the map and said we’re not going to do it any more,” he says. “But I’ve been told that he’s not going to do that because he believes in what we’re doing. So I’m sure that at some point this year, I’ll get to meet President Obama. I look forward to it.”
 
And does he think he could beat the new President at tennis as he once did his predecessor?
 
“Hmm … He looks like a good athlete. If he can shoot a basketball the way he does, I’m sure he’s good with a tennis racket!”
  • Michael W Smith headlines TheBigChurchDayOut event at Wiston House, West Sussex, UK, on 24 May. Details from www.thebigchurchdayout.com

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