In our continuing series documenting the roots of Christian music we highlight easy listening pioneer EVIE.
The easy listening style of Christian music dubbed "inspirational" by American radio execs has an intriguing pedigree, evolving from the sacred solos and hymnody of the '50s and '60s. By the '70s the style had evolved into the sweet concoction much loved by many of today's middle of the road church-goers. A seminal figure in the development of the inspirational music style was a sweet-voiced singer who was one of Christian music's best selling artists of the '70s, Evie Tornquist. Born to Norwegian parents in Rayway, New Jersey, Evie grew up singing in church, performing with her mother in churches and schools. It was while singing at a camp meeting in Norway when she was 14 a TV director spotted her and asked her to appear on the Norwegian version of America's Tonight Show. From there, little Evie was catapulted into Scandinavian superstardom.
Evie soon returned to the States, where she was an average high school student who liked bike riding and needlework. But Scandinavia wouldn't let Evie rest. She spent one week every month across the Atlantic, singing at churches, youth rallies and more television programmes. Soon her fame in Scandinavia spread to the USA, where she later became the object of much discussion in a small town in Texas. Waco-based Word Records, then the largest Christian record company in the world, signed 17 year old Evie to a recording contract in 1974. Her first album for the company, 'Evie', became an immediate bestseller.
As CCM magazine commented, "In the midst of a me-first generation she was a modest teenager, exemplifying a Christ-centred life." Touring Canada, Australia and Europe, Evie's sweet toned singing won over huge audiences while her albums 'Evie Again' (1975), 'Gentle Moments' (1976), the Swedish language 'Du Skulle Vara Med & Sangen' (1976) and 'Mirror' (1977) all became best sellers. She sang in Carnegie Hall before the King of Norway and sang at the White House for the US president.
In 1977 Evie enjoyed her biggest ever success with the Christmas album 'Come On Ring Those Bells' with the title song today considered a yuletide classic. More albums for Word followed but getting engaged to Pelle Karlsson, a pastor of a church in Stockholm, Sweden, meant Evie gradually slipped from the public eye. The singer officially retired from full time ministry in 1981. Evie's last Word album 'Unfailing Love' topped America's CCM charts. Two concept albums with husband Pelle, 'Teach Us Your Way' and 'Restoration' and more recently a children's project 'Songs For His Family' credited to Evie & The Karlssons were Evie's last releases. But it seems that Evie is happy in her role as pastor's wife. In 1982 she told CCM magazine, "As a wife I see my ministry first of all to my husband and our child. Nothing is more important. If we travelled around the world ministering to hundreds of thousands of people and yet those closest to us suffered, we're talking about hay, wood and stubble. I think God requires of us that we take care of first things first."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.