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Crystal Lewis Bibliography: (click on each album cover to view tracks and Crystal Lewis lyrics)
Crystal Lewis Biography
I WAS BORN in 1969 in a little-known town called Corona. The city lay between empty hills and empty roads on a long stretch of almost empty land called southern California. Wait, I'm not that old. California was thickly inhabited at that point in time. There were, however, hundreds of acres of citrus groves and dairy farms then that are not there today. I have journeyed long and sometimes hard to get to where I am now. There have been countless moments of wonder and doubt and confusion and yet I look back with little regret and much delight. Delighted because I am fully aware of my own weakness and God's strength. Delighted in the fact that I have been put in a position of trusting and leaning and depending wholly on Jesus for strength in all! Delighted to know that I continue to stand before the future with only that trust in God to guide me through it and to it. Here is how the story goes, leading up to now:
I was born in 1969 in Corona, CA to a pastor, from Kentucky, and his wife, from California. In the five years leading up to my arrival they built a small church in Norco (neighboring little city to Corona), were married in it, began pastoring it and then had the first of three daughters. Me.
My mom and dad were (still are) quite a team. One preaching the word and the other one singing it. I was so incredibly fortunate to have grown up in a God-fearing, God-loving family. And the fact that my mom was a remarkably gifted pianist was over and above what I could've ever dreamed. But of course, God had planned it all along.
Fast-forward a few years, past countless encounters with church sound guys, Amy Grant songs and church musicals, and we come to the year 1985. I was 15 years old and attended an audition for a musical for kids called 'HI TOPS'.
This musical was written and produced by Ernie and Debbie Retino, the creators of Psalty the Singing Song Book. I became a part of the cast and had my first experience in a recording studio as we recorded the soundtrack to the show. I was (type) cast as the valley girl-Angel and actually did little to no singing in the show. I remember thinking,... "they're not taking full advantage of my talent!" and "it's not fair I didn't get a bigger part! One that would really showcase my voice!" Again, God had it all planned out, and not according to my specifications. As I look back now, I realize that I was not even close to being ready for the spotlight.
Through my involvement with 'HI TOPS', I met a young man who was in a local (Orange County) rock-a-billy band, the Lifters, that was connected to Maranatha Music. We became friends and I was soon invited to join the band, but with a new name. So the Lifters became Wild Blue Yonder and I officially began my career. As it turns out, the former drummer from the Lifters remained roommates with the new drummer for Wild Blue Yonder and they frequently came to our rehearsals together. I was barely 16 at this time and had not yet started dating, at least not officially, but I found myself attracted to this guy... Brian Ray, our drummers roommate that was always hanging around. Eventually, we became friends and after getting to know each other better, began dating. (We've been married almost 15 years now!)
Wild Blue Yonder stayed together as a band for just under 2 years. We recorded one full length album on the Frontline Records label. Frontline was a relatively new label and they were looking to sign new acts. When Wild Blue Yonder didn't continue on, they offered me a solo recording contract. With my dad as co-signer, I was a minor, I signed my first 'record deal' at the age of 17. I was quite unsure of myself as an artist. I wasn't sure what to do without a band behind me. I was afraid to venture out on my own. But, I wanted desperately to be involved in every aspect of the process...from photography and art to songwriting to recording... (I spent my time at the studio doing homework or sleeping, when I wasn't singing, but at least I was there!) but I was a novice and didn't have a clear vision, creatively. Brian and I were not yet married, but knew that we would be someday. He worked very closely with me on that first recording. He pushed me to write lyrics and music. He was always encouraging me to create and think and relax and do the things I was afraid to. Together we penned a small handful of songs on that first project, 'Beyond the Charade' (1987), and that teamwork has continued on through the years. After recording 2 more albums for Frontline, 'Joy' (1988) and 'Let Love In' (1990), Brian and I began to have these hopes and dreams of our own record label. Apparently God had the same idea, he'd planted it in our hearts, and Metro One was started in 1992.
Just before Metro was fully up and operational, I veered off on a new, brief, venture into the world of television. Benny Hester, a well-known Christian singer/songwriter in the 80's, was signed to Frontline Records during the same time I was. His fiance, Rita Sheffield, was a T.V. producer/director. They had been working on the development of a musical variety show for several years and as it happened, were getting ready to 'shop it' to various companies. The show was called 'Roundhouse', and was unlike any other show on T.V. It was also unlike my first bout with teen-musicals, this show was my chance to linger in the spotlight. It was a cross between 'The New Mickey-Mouse Club' and 'In Living Color' (an edgy Saturday-night-live type comedy on the Fox network). The combination of music, dancing, singing and comedy was unique and Nickelodeon had high hopes of the show becoming 'the next big thing'. I was given the opportunity to film the pilot for Nickelodeon and then film the first season of 13 episodes. While I lived and worked in Orlando, FL filming and recording constantly, Brian remained in California getting himself acclimated to the life of a Record Company owner...not as glamorous as it might sound. This living arrangement went on for the duration of 4 months, until the end of the season. At that time, Brian and I felt that, in the interest of our marriage, we could not continue this way. We determined that if Roundhouse was to continue filming in Florida, then I would not be able to continue as a cast member. However, Nickelodeon gave the green light for the show to move it's whole operation to Los Angeles...where the entire cast of 12 were from. This should've been great news, but neither my husband or myself felt peace about it. So we prayed and prayed and when some legal complications arose, due to a simple error, the doors were, quite obviously, flung wide open for my departure.
Concurrent with the Roundhouse experience was the adventure of our first recording on Metro One.
Neither Brian nor myself had ever been completely in charge of an entire recording project before. There had always been the involvement of the label, which would have included A&R guys: whose job it would be to make sure we had the 'right' songs, we were progressing on time and operating within the budget. Then there would be the producer: whose job it would be to hire all the musicians, singers, arrangers, locate and book the studios, then tell everyone what part to play or sing, etc.
Now, however, all of this responsibility was on our shoulders alone.
So we rolled up our sleeves and got to it. We had the tremendous advantage of friendship with the folks from the Vineyard church in Anaheim. They allowed us the practically unlimited use of their (make-shift) studio. It was a bunch of warehouse space in the process of being converted into a studio. We attended that church at the time and were involved with a bunch of other musician-types who were connected to the churches 'New Breed' label. Being supportive of our efforts, as friends and as fellow musicians, they gave us a great deal on the use of the studio.
There were many nights that Brian and I found ourselves alone in the studio loading tapes reels onto the machine and pushing buttons and adjusting microphones. We didn't really know what we were doing, but we figured things out as we went along!
'Remember' was the result of those endless nights of recording. A collection of songs written from our hearts out of scripture and longing and wonder and a place of newness. We were walking down a new road, one we knew God was leading us on. One that suggested independence and separation from what was becoming the mecca of Christian Music, Nashville. (More on that later)...
We really had a wonderful time putting that record together, as we did for the albums/projects that followed. 'The Bride' was next (1993), followed by 'Hymns: My life' (1994).
In between 'The Bride' and 'Hymns' came a baby boy, Solomon. He was born at the end of 1993. I had no idea how much a child would change my recording schedule! We managed to integrate Solomon into our lives seamlessly though. He spent lots of time in the studio, as you can imagine. (He still does, actually. He has his own (mini) set-up at home...at 10!)
Another 'side-project' that came into being with the creation of 'Metro One' (1992) was the addition of the Spanish language being integrated into the recordings. This was an idea that had been placed on our hearts before we started our label. We had actually brought the idea up to the label I had previously been signed to, but for some reason it was never put into action. Anyway, once we started Metro, we decided to pursue this idea of a record in Spanish. We thought the best way to go about this would be to write all the songs, record them in English, find someone to translate them into Spanish then record them in Spanish. Well, our intentions were good! We didn't know anyone connected with the Christian Spanish music market. So we just asked a girl we met once that spoke Spanish to translate the lyrics. And though I had taken Spanish language classes all through jr. high and high school, I lacked true skill and fluency. We learned our lesson. I got so many complaints from Spanish speaking friends and listeners (I can't understand you, that doesn't make sense, that's not the right way to say it...) that we found another translator and re-recorded the whole thing!
Thank you Jesus for Torre Fuerte! We met Heriberto and Hector Hermosillo and Alvarro ? in Guadalajara. We were all there with Pastor Mike MacIntosh and Horizon Christian Fellowship (San Diego, CA) for 'Festival de Vida', an evangelistic event where we held a rally in an amphitheatre for free. Mike spoke, Torre Fuerte performed and I sang too...in Spanish. This was my first time to do anything in Latin America. Well, we made fast friends with the Hermosillo brothers and quickly began a great relationship that included many more invitations to places like Mexico City, Costa Rica and Vera Cruz. Through Torre Fuerte we've become acquainted with more wonderful people involved with Spanish Christian music, including Ronnie Huffman who has been my language coach (and engineer) in the studio for the last few years (he is also a great singer songwriter in his own right) and an amazing husband and wife team that travel and sing together, but also are tremendous translators! They've played a huge part in the translating and interpreting of our last few recordings. We have recorded 7 albums in Spanish to date. This is something that thrills my heart to be able to do.
After 'Hymns: My Life' Brian and I stood at a crossroads. I had sung on a song with Brian Duncan (who was signed to Myrrh Records) and had become acquainted with Dan Posthuma, who worked in A&R (Artist Relations) for Myrrh. Apparently, it was his influence that put me in the studio with Mr. Duncan. This new acquaintance led Brian and I to begin discussions that would eventually lead to a contractual relationship with Myrrh. This was a huge decision for us. I mean, we worked so hard to establish our own label. We spent long hours in prayer and conversation trying to decide if this was the right thing. We eventually concluded that it was and we signed a marketing and distribution deal with Myrrh. (It was unheard of in the industry. Usually the contractual agreements would not include the involvement of an independent label. You would simply sign directly to the big label as an artist) and were given a remarkable amount of creative control. Metro One remained not only intact, but continued to play a part in the deal. We stayed in California and recorded there, with Dan flying out to participate in the producing aspects of the project.
We began the recording/creating/birthing process of what would prove to be a pivotal project in my career:
'Beauty For Ashes' (1996).
I won't go into as much detail with the other records we recorded (believe me they each have their own story!), but this one was so unique.
Here we are treking through new territory once again, and low and behold, I am pregnant! I was endlessly emotional and uncomfortable during the whole process. And like working with your husband in a creative way isn't difficult enough, now we've got this guy from Nashville (the very place we've avoided) in the studio with all his ideas and suggestions! (Don't forget I'm emotional...and pregnant!).
And it was Christmas time and Solomon's birthday is 2 days before Christmas and, well, I was a mess! I am a firm believer in spiritual warfare and let me tell you, I was under attack! The enemy was fully aware of the 'damage' we were about to do! The truth and freedom we were preparing to 'inflict'!! And he let me have it! But "Greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world"!!!!!! And we won! (And my daughter Isabella was born!!!) The songs got recorded, and thanks to our new relationship with Myrrh, they got played on the radio!!! So much so that 'Beauty for Ashes' (the song) became ASCAP's song of the year and 'Beauty for Ashes' (the album) went Gold. This was something we at Metro One could never have done on our own!
With all the radio airplay and sales (and 'political' connections that came with being involved with Myrrh, yes they exist in Christian music) came Dove Award nominations and awards.
The next Album was 'Gold', which led to a year long tour with Avalon. One of the greatest years of my life! Jodi, Michael, Janna, Nikki, (and eventually Cherie) became dear friends. My kids loved them and we all just really clicked! We really connected! Touring can be incredibly difficult and draining, but we had such a great time together that the time just flew by.
About this time I was introduced to Kirk Franklin. I was performing at a GMA week event (GMA stands for Gospel Music Association and GMA week takes place in April every year in Nashville. It is a time for industry people to come together and learn more about the industry, talk together, showcase new artists and a time for current artists to showcase new material).
Apparently, as I was singing, Kirk's assistant called him on her cell phone and held up the phone so he could hear me. She said something like, "This is the one we need for 'Lean On Me'."
For those of you who don't know the song, 'Lean On Me' is a song written by Kirk and meant to encompass a variety of artists from a variety of genre's. To make a long story short, I was chosen to represent Contemporary Christian Music. Bono of U2 was selected to represent the pop/rock arena, Mary J. Blige represented R&B and R. Kelly was chosen to represent rap/hip-hop.
This was a big deal. That is an understatement!
The song was nominated for several Grammy awards which led to our performing of the song live on the Grammy Awards show in 1999. That event was one that will go down in my own personal history as one of my favorite nights ever!!! To be able to see historical performances by amazing artists (Lauryn Hill, Celine Dion, Andrea Bucelli, Madonna, Ricky Martin (like 'em or not, they were historical performances)). And then to be a part of a performance that was giving out the message of life was beyond explanation!! It was one of those once-in-a-life-time experiences.
The 'Lean On Me' adventure led to many more opportunities to work with Kirk Franklin. He has been a faithful friend and has consistently involved me in many of his projects. It is predominantly his influence that has allowed me access into the world of gospel music. Largely due to my connections with him, I have been invited to and included in many events that I otherwise would not have been, including a performance on the 'Essence Awards' in New York (where Prince, Magic Johnson and Lauryn Hill were in the audience among many other of my favorite artists) and a performance on the BET Gospel Special in L.A.. In addition, I had the chance to record 4 different songs for 4 different movie soundtracks in L.A., Chicago and London. Incidentally, only 1 of the songs was used (for the movie ?) but the experience of working with R. Kelly, Michael Kamen and David Foster was thrilling, and that was enough! Kirk has also graciously taken part in a couple of my projects as well, producing background vocals on 'Fearless' (2000) and working with me on some vocal stuff too. He is a tremendous talent. A Godly example as a husband and father and a loyal friend. I am so grateful to God for causing our paths to cross.
Well, the aforementioned 'Fearless' was the first project we produced after amicably ending our relationship with Myrrh in 2000. It was a difficult album to make due to what I felt was intense spiritual attack. We fought through it though, and once again, God prevailed. We completed the project, it sold well, and we took the whole deal on tour. 'Fearless' remains one of my favorite projects, despite the difficulty making it. I loved working with Kirk and Jyro Xhan (who co-wrote with me a bit and provided all programming... Genius.) and just that feeling of being in the saddle and at the helm again. Plus, several of the songs from that album continue to find their way onto my set-lists for concerts even today (Satisfied, One Man, Trust Me).
In November of 2000 we released 'Holiday' . This was one of those projects that I had waited and wanted to do for a long time. My first collection of Christmas songs. I was incredibly fortunate to have the chance to work with brilliant arranger/pianist Alan Pasqua. What an amazing gift this guy has! Both of my kids play piano and the three of us have sat stunned on numerous occasions as we watch Alan's fingers fly as fast as lightning up and down the keys. In addition to Alan's furious fingers were the hands and feet of renowned drummer Peter Erskine. I can't tell you how many people have said to me upon finding out that Peter has played with me both on the record and live..."Peter Erskine. You got Peter Erskine. No way! " Peter has played with Joni Mitchell among many, many other well known artists and is not only one of the greatest drummers of our time but also an incredibly nice, humble guy! The third member of our little jazz trio of musicians is the talented Dave Carpenter. Dave played the acoustic, or upright, bass. This is a difficult instrument to master, but you'd never know it listening to Dave play. He makes it seem easy. He seems to play effortlessly but with obvious enjoyment. This was the kind of Christmas record I'd always wanted to record. A jazz flavored collection of great, historically significant songs.
Following 'Holiday' was 'More' (2001), a greatest-hits type compilation of songs from 'Beauty for Ashes', 'Gold' and 'Fearless'. It also included 3 new songs, 'More' and 'I Guess', written by Brian and I, and 'Like a Child', written by Chris Lizotte (my brother-in-law). These 3 songs, I must say, are favorites of mine. I recorded them with musicians that were not only hired guns, but dear friends as well. We had toured together and played numerous shows and when it came time to record, well, it was a new step for me to hire my band. Typically I've hired various musicians from L.A. but this time was different. We had a united front, musically speaking, having spent so much time on, and off, stage together. And it just worked. It was the right time, right songs. We recorded a live show in my home town of Anaheim, CA shortly after 'More' was released, 'More Live' (2002) which is available on CD as well as DVD.
The most recent addition to the archives is 'Holy, Holy, Holy' (2002), a collection of hymns that I had grown up singing in my church. These are songs that have made, and continue to make, a difference in my heart. Like the Word of God itself, I believe music drawn from the Word is 'living and active'. It remains alive and able to convict, consume and create a spirit of humility, growth and awareness of God's supernatural presence and power. 'Holy' marked yet another change for us. (As technology changes and advances, we are benefiting tremendously!!)
Three-quarters of this project was recorded in either my living room or guest room with simply a MAC laptop and some extra attachments. We only entered the studio for the big choir session and instruments. I was able to record my vocals at home! (How nice this would have been when my kids were babies!) Anyway, with Jyro once again taking a huge amount of responsibility on with programming and arranging everything, we fought our way through moving, cold's, construction (on our house), and kids (it was summer and they were out of school), and recording. It was, as it always is, a struggle. But one with a happy ending. A happy during too, actually, because as a believer you trust in the middle of the struggle that God is in control.
Now, for today. We are currently working on new songs for a new project. I think that will always be the case! I don't think as an artist, one of those creative-types, you are ever at the end. There is always the next thing to do. What that next thing is, isn't always clear right away. It's like a puzzle. There are all these pieces and you just start gathering them up, arranging them in groups, fitting them together. Eventually the whole is there. I am happy and humbled that God has put me in this place, of pieces and puzzles. Music and words.