How does a down home girl raised in Dollywood, Tennessee with a heart for God cope with the star making demands of the CCM industry? Tony Cummings examines the career of award winning CINDY MORGAN to find out.
Cindy Morgan has in her three albums brought out all that is good and bad in Nashville's CCM star making machine. The good is that Word Inc's efforts have brought to the fore an exceptional singer whose ducks and swoops owe a bit to black church, a bit to country music, and a bit to Top 40 radio -a voice which is able to coax passion and pathos from everything it sings. The bad is that Cindy, like many before her, was all but engulfed in the image-making mechanisms of CCM marketing and it has taken a huge effort on the singer's part to retrieve her own identity and find reality again within her Christian walk.
As Cindy recounted recently to American journalist Gregory Rumburg, "I think that I lost myself in this whole music thing. Somewhere between recording 'Reason To Live' and part way into 'Under The Water Fall' probably... I realised that I had lost myself. I became consumed with what people wanted me to be. I grew up being an overweight girl who never had a date. I'd go lock myself in my room and write poetry. That's all I ever wanted to do. I started writing when I was 10 years old and all I ever wanted to do was sing and write songs. I didn't go to games; I didn't go on dates. I really always liked people but I was much better at examining them from a distance."
Then the small town girl moved to Nashville. "I came here and we were doing the first record and (the record company) said, 'Let's do this kind of dance record.' I had never sung anything except for the songs that I had written, which were all ballads. Then at the photo shoot they brought in this hair and makeup artist from LA or New York, and he was just awesome. He made me look like this person that I've never seen before in my life! Suddenly, I was 'someone', and I was like, 'Okay, how do I do my hair again? How did he do that makeup?'
"And then, too, it was like - people get this expectation because you're an artist. They want you to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. And that's okay, sliced bread is a good thing. I like wheat bread myself. It's all exciting, it's all so much fun 'cause you feel like these people are making your dreams come true."
In fact, her dreams were coming true. And this was real life! "So, here I'm going along in real life. . . I do the 'Young Messiah Tour' and I'm peeing my pants, because I'm singing on stage with Sandi Patty and Larnelle Harris! There were 15,000 people there every night! And then I got my first tour with Steven Curtis Chapman - 'The Great Adventure Tour' - and that's like 40 cities. And then I won (a 1993 Dove Award for) New Artist Of The Year.
"But what happens is, the attention is suddenly on you and everyone is so nice to you and serving you. You start believing your own press. I started trying to be the image of Cindy instead of being me. It was bad. I met myself coming, and I didn't recognise myself.
"In the midst of all this, I also had some vocal problems, which is not a big surprise because a lot of people do in their first year and a half. You're getting used to singing all the time. But I had some serious vocal trouble. I didn't even want to sing anymore. I was just worn out by the whole thing.
"I remember the day (I knew I had to change). I had found this old, old - like years old - demo tape that was sent to (the record company). I was driving down the road and I listened to it, but I didn't recognise my voice. It wasn't the same voice. I was just so upset. The difference was I was singing from my heart on that tape, but I was singing from my head at this point (in my career). I told (my record company), 'I can't go on with another record until I know that I'm where God wants me to be.'
"That's when I just tried to make the changes, and God is so faithful. He wanted me to recognise that it wasn't me and that it isn't me. That my voice and the songwriting, the piano, that those are all gifts from God. My guitar player Drew was telling me that he heard Tom Petty say that songs are just borrowed from God. You know, they are!"
Cindy began down the road back to real life by making some practical changes. "I wanted to do some things that weren't focused on me. I took down some of the mirrors in my house. I tried to make a conscious effort not to be so consumed with my appearance. I tried to make some steps to where if I was in a conversation with someone that I really focused on what they were saying, instead of waiting until they shut up so I could talk.
"I'm so much happier 'cause I know that it's not up to me. I don't have to be perfect. I mean it's a struggle - the struggle between the flesh and the spirit - to know that it's not you. It's God. Sometimes I read the letters that people write me, and I feel very guilty because I think there's a certain amount of idolatry in it. I don't want to promote that. Man, I want people to sing along with me. If I do a concert, I want them to come and be encouraged and relieved, and maybe feel like they can take a step in the right direction. But by no means do I want them to walk away going, 'She is great, and if I could just be like her,' because you have no idea... you don't wanna be just like me and I don't wanna be you because we can't. I mean, why wish for things that can't be?"
Cindy was born in Cincinnati, Ohio 27 years ago. At a young age Cindy and family moved to Tennessee. "We lived in a log house. It was beautiful. We had horses, chickens, a goat, a pig, a mule and snakes...lots of snakes." Music soon began to reckon in young Cindy's life. "I started writing and playing piano and singing when I was about 11. My mom and dad were both songwriters and singers, and my dad was a guitar player. I was real accustomed to music and it was just a part of me from the beginning."
With music such an integral part of her life, it only seemed natural that she would follow that dream and enter a contest at Dollywood, a contest she won giving her the opportunity to work at the East Tennessee theme park. "I was doing mostly country music except for one show, a gospel jubilee. When I started doing that I realised that I really wanted to do Christian music just because of the difference that I felt between doing country cover tunes versus 'How Great Thou Art'. I felt a different way and the way I felt doing Christian music felt right."
It wasn't long before the desires" of her heart led Cindy to quit Dollywood. In a Knoxville studio, she began singing on sound-alike tracks to gain recognition and experience. But it didn't work out quite as she had hoped. "Sometimes I would sing 12 songs a day, just for hours and hours and hours. I felt like a prostitute of music. I got to where I didn't enjoy it any more so I quit. I didn't sing anything for a year."
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