Tony Cummings charts the complicated history of award-winning CCM group AVALON
There is a long tradition in vocal harmony groups both white and black, Christian and secular, whereby the name of the act goes on for decades while individual singers, exhausted by the gruelling demands of the road are scattered like confetti at a wedding. Avalon have been CCM hitmakers since 1996 and show no signs of letting up - their latest album 'Another Time, Another Place' is currently nestling high in the US Christian charts - yet of the original lineup only Janna Long (she was called Janna Potter when Avalon formed in 1995) remains in the group. Janna told the JesusFreak website recently, "Change is always challenging and we've had our share of member changes. However, as we believe God has been the orchestrator of this ministry from the beginning, he has been the glue to hold us together. He continues to provide opportunities and we keep going."
Janna and founder member Jody McBrayer both sang in long-time CCM act Truth. Under the guidance of A&R director at Sparrow Records, Grant Cunningham, Avalon were formed with Janna, Jody, Michael Passons and Nikki Hassman (who later became Nikki Anders). After their hit albums 'Avalon' and 'A Maze Of Grace', Nikki left to pursue a solo career with Sony Records. Her replacement Cherie Paliotta (now Cherie Adams) joined for the next three Avalon albums 'In A Different Light', 'Joy: A Christmas Collection' and 'Oxygen' as well as the remix project 'O2: Avalon Remixed' before she too left to be replaced by another former member of Truth, Melissa Green. After the release of 'Testify To Love: The Very Best Of Avalon' in 2003, Michael Passons left to go solo and was replaced by Janna Long's husband, one-time solo CCM singer Greg Long.
Avalon albums 'The Creed' (2004), 'Stand' (2006) and a hymns project 'Faith' (2006) followed before during the summer of 2007 it was announced that Jody McBrayer would have to depart the group due to a heart condition. Before he left he recorded one last album with Avalon, 'Another Time, Another Place'. Now newest member Jeremi Richardson has been performing with the group since November 2007.
Christianity Today asked Jeremi whether he felt it difficult to adjust to joining Avalon? "It was a huge adjustment. For the last several years I have worked at Walt Disney World, so transferring from a theme park environment to a travelling group like Avalon is about as night and day as possible. The rest of the group made the transition very smooth and within a few weeks I felt at ease. I have been a fan of Avalon since they started, and I'm a major fan of Jody's work - with Truth, with Avalon and as a solo artist. It is an honour to continue the work that he was doing and to make a place for myself at the same time. Audiences have responded with open arms to my being in Avalon. I have been overwhelmed with the feeling on being welcomed and supported."
'Another Time, Another Place' is subtitled 'Timeless Christian Classics' and features such songs as Twila Paris' "God Is In Control" and the title track originally recorded by Sandi Patty and Wayne Watson. Janna Long was asked why the group chose to do an album of cover versions. "We've wanted to do a CCM tribute record for a while, as we all owe so much to those who have gone before us in music ministry. Avalon has toured with several of the artists represented on this record and they were instrumental in the music we've made." Jeremi Richardson added his thoughts, "Life is defined by memories. Everyone has a time and place that they can hear the songs on this album and reflect on life and their Christian walk. I call these happy places. It's great to pay tribute to some of the pioneers of Christian music and to their music."
Janna's favourite song on the album is "Another Time, Another Place". "It's such a lovely song that describes our continued struggles here on earth, keeping the faith to endure this life and most importantly, looking forward to the hope of glory. I have always enjoyed [singing] with Jody and I'm really pleased how the duet turned out." Jeremi plumped for the Michael W Smith hit "Place In This World". "When I was a teenager there was a very memorable evening for me - a defining moment, actually - that I associate with this song. It led me to question why I am who I am, and why I believe what I believe. That night and this song changed my life."
Richardson was asked where did he see Avalon in the next 10 years? He replied, "I haven't been in Avalon long enough to know what all my dreams and aspirations for the group are. However, I do know that God has gifted and called us for such a time as this. If he chooses to continue that calling for another 10 years, then we will be right there singing and worshipping God through the gift of music." Janna responded that she wanted Avalon "to continue for however many years God has left for us to do so. This has been an amazing journey I've been on since 1995, and it has gone beyond my greatest dreams. I could not be more sincere when I say that I am honoured to still be doing this after so many years and changes. I'm grateful people continue to show up week after week. We are all so blessed to be a part of this ministry."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.