Michael attended college at Marshall University in West Virginia but after one semester dropped out to move to Nashville and pursue a career in music. (side note trivia: In 1992 Michael received an honorary Doctorate of Music degree from Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi, West Virginia.)
The years 1979-1981 are best written by Michael himself in his book It’s Time To Be Bold. From chapter 1, we read:
While playing keyboards for the group Higher Ground, I signed my first songwriting contract with Paragon/Benson Publishing Company. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I was knocking down $200 a week to do something that I loved. Writing songs for a living meant that I didn’t have to wait tables anymore, or work at Coca-Cola, or plant shrubs with a landscaping company.
I thought my life had peaked and God didn’t have to do anything else for me. I wasn’t looking for a record deal, a higher salary, or even a girlfriend – and especially not a wife. Writing music, I was as content as I’d ever been, and I labored at it sixteen hours a day. Then one afternoon while I was working in my office, Deborah Kay Davis walked by.
I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. When she passed by, it was all over for me. I was blown away. Totally head over heels in love. I frantically picked up the phone and called my mother in West Virginia.
“Mom, I can’t believe it. You’re not going to believe this, Mom. I just saw the girl I’m going to marry.
“What’s her name?”
“I don’t know, Mom. I haven’t met her yet. But I gotta go. I’ll find out and call you back.”
My poor mother! She must have thought I’d lost my mind. But I’d never been so clearheaded in my life.
I left my office and went searching for this girl in the warehouse. Sherlock Holmes couldn’t have done a better job of tracking her down, and eventually I found myself standing outside the ladies’ restroom, waiting for her to emerge. She walked out. I introduced myself. We were engaged three and a half weeks later – and married four months after that!
In 1982, Michael was asked to play keyboards in a band that was backing up young artist Amy Grant. He also continued to write songs for himself.
The story goes that Amy’s managers, Mike Blanton and Dan Harrell could not find a Christian record label that would sign Michael or a young New Yorker named Kathy Troccoli. Believing so much in these two young talents, they started Reunion Records.
Michael made his very first record in 1983 and it was called “Michael W. Smith Project.” Michael wrote all the music and wife Debbie wrote the lyrics. The now famous song “Friends” debuted on this album. Michael continued to tour with Amy, now as her opening act.
From there – the records kept coming, and then the books as well:
• 1984 – the album “Michael W. Smith 2”
• 1985 – the video “Michael W. Smith Live in Concert”
• 1986 – the album “The Big Picture” and Michael’s first book Old Enough to Know
• 1987 – the album “The Live Set” and the video “The Big Picture Tour”
• 1988 – the album “i 2 (EYE)”
• 1989 – the album “Christmas”
• 1990 – the album “Go West Young Man” which saw the song “Place in This World” hit the top 5 in pop charts, and helped earn him American Music Award’s New Artist of the Year.
• 1992 – the album “Change Your World”
• 1993 – the album “The First Decade” (a best-of album) as well as a limited edition 2-cd boxed set entitled “The Wonder Years.”
• 1995 – the album “I’ll Lead You Home”
• 1997 – the book It’s Time to Be Bold and the book Friends Are Friends Forever
• 1998 – the album “Live the Life” and the book Your Place In This World and at Christmas his second Christmas album “Christmastime”
• 1999 – the album “This Is Your Time,” the book This Is Your Time, as well as a cookbook with his mom entitled Cooking with Smitty’s Mom and a children’s book co-authored with wife Debbie entitled Where’s Whitney?
• 2000 – the album “Freedom”
• 2001 – the book I Will Be Your Friend and the album “Worship”
• 2002 – the book Worship, the book The Price of Freedom the vhs/dvd “Worship” and the album “Worship Again”
• 2003 – the CD box set “The Gospels Come to Life” (narration of the four gospels), a DVD “The Bigger Picture” and the album “The Second Decade” with a limited edition DVD
• 2004 – album “Healing Rain”
• 2006 – the movie and soundtrack “The Second Chance
• 2006 – the album “Stand”
• 2007 – the album “It’s A Wonderful Christmas”
• 2008 – the album “A New Hallelujah”
• 2009 – the live dvd “A New Hallelujah”
In the midst of 20 albums and ten books as well as the awards (Dove awards and Grammy awards among them), Michael and Debbie were blessed with five children: Ryan, Whitney, Tyler, Emily and Anna; and more recently 2 wonderful Grandchildren and 1 on the way (as of October 2009).
In 1994, Michael founded a teen club called Rocketown in an effort to provide a place for teens to gather in a safe, loving environment. A warehouse in the Cool Springs area of Brentwood, TN was converted into a dance floor, rooms with pool tables and a coffeehouse. After three years, the club closed. The leadership continued to build a ministry devoted to kids, and a new site in downtown Nashville that reopened in 2003. Visit Rocketown at http://www.rcktwn.com.
In 1996, Michael founded Rocketown Records with Reunion executive Don Donahue and launched their first artist, Chris Rice. Michael and Don shared a dream to be part of a label where great songs were the focus, where artists, not acts, were developed. They wanted a label that felt like a family. And what a family it is! Go to http://www.rocketownrecords.com to learn more!
In 1999, a prayer group of Michael and Debbie’s that had been meeting at their farm, had blossomed into what they felt had become a church body. Gathering up some leadership, Michael and Debbie helped start New River Fellowship with close leadership by Pastor and mentor Don Finto, former senior pastor of Nashville’s Belmont Church where Michael and Debbie had attended for many years. Visit New River Fellowship at http://www.newriverfellowship.com. Throughout his career, Michael has had the opportunity to sing for Presidents and national leaders, and counts among his friends the Reverend Billy Graham and his son, Franklin Graham. He is active in Billy Graham Crusades as well as The Samaritan’s Purse, the ministry headed by Franklin Graham.
But for all of Michael’s accolades, for his involvement in his teen outreach Rocketown, leadership in his local church body, the business of being an artist, an author and a record label executive, Michael sums up his life as this, “to be remembered as a God-fearing man who loved his wife and kids well.
• 2007 Grammy Nomination – Stand
• 2006 Grammy Nomination – Healing Rain – Best Christian Pop Album
• 2004 Grammy Award – Worship Again – Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album
• 2003 Gospel Music Association Summit Award for service to the Christian music industry
• 2003 Worship Again – CBA Retailers Choice Award for Praise and Worship Album of the Year
• Worship Again, released on 10/22/2002 RIAA Certified Gold Worship DVD-Video/VHS RIAA Certified Platinum
• Performer and Presenter on 44th Annual GRAMMY Awards live telecast.
• Worship, released on 9/11/2001, RIAA certified Gold in just 14 weeks.
• Fastest selling album in Christian retail (year to date sales charts and overall sales) – 2001 AND 2002.
• 28 Number One Songs
• Career sales over 10 million
• 3 Platinum certifications (Change Your World, Worship, Worship DVD)
• 9 Gold certifications (Michael W. Smith Project, I 2 (EYE), Go West Young Man, The First Decade, I’ll Lead You Home, Live The Life, This Is Your Time, Worship, Worship DVD, Worship Again
• Winner of 40 Dove Awards
• This Is Your Time generated the highest first-week sales for a recording by a Christian artist in the history of SoundScan
• I’ll Lead You Home shipped Gold and certified RIAA in two months, making an unprecedented Christian debut at #16 on * Billboard’s “Top 200” Chart
• 2002 Worship Leader Magazine Reader’s Choice Award for Project of the Year, Worship Again
• 2001 Performed at 54th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service
• 2001 and 2003 Performance at National Day of Prayer
• 2001 Nashville Symphony’s Harmony Award for his contribution to the Nashville music world
• 1997-1999 “Amy Grant Christmas” Tour
• Founded Rocketown Records
• 1994 Founded Rocketown Ministries
• Named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People”
• National Spokesperson for Compassion International
• 1999 ASCAP “Golden Note” Award
• 1998 “Friends” named #1 Song of all Time – CCM Magazine 20th Anniversary Issue
• Nashville Music Award for Pop Album, I’ll Lead You Home
• American Music Awards Favorite New Artist, Adult Contemporary