Steven Curtis Chapman
"I wasn’t Steven Curtis Chapman. I wasn’t a star," he said. "I was just Steve Chapman, a kid who sat in a college rehearsal room and wrote songs."
Steven Curtis Chapman’s decade-long music career has earned him quite a collection of titles. "The Most Honored Christian Artist," "The Crown Prince of Christian Music," and "Artist of the Year," just to name a few.Of course, with three Grammies and 35 Dove Awards under his belt,you might expect him to be dubbed with a few grandiose names.
What you probably wouldn’t expect is to find that the artist himself is an honest, down-to-earth man who is humbled, and even embarrassed at times, by his stellar success.
Steven Curtis Chapman was born in the small town of Paducah, KY. His father owned a music store, so rhythm and rhyme were an integral part of Steven’s life from the beginning. He got his first guitar as a gift when he was eight years old, and began to write his own songs. Though he had no idea at the time, these early strummings were to be the seeds of a vibrant musical career.
Steven began to hone his musical talents at Anderson College in Anderson, Ind. It was during his junior year that he discovered that there is "More to This Life" than just music. A freshman named Mary Beth happened to share Steven’s last name and therefore, his mailbox.
They were bound to meet, and when they did, the two hit it off immediately. Friendship flowered into love and by the end of that year, they were engaged. What still fascinates Steven is that Mary Beth never loved him because of his wealth of talent and potential, she loved him for the person he was.
"I wasn’t Steven Curtis Chapman. I wasn’t a star," he said. "I was just Steve Chapman, a kid who sat in a college rehearsal room and wrote songs. Mary Beth would study then fall asleep on the floor, as I wrote on until one o’clock in the morning. The songs would flow out of me, and she loved me for who I was, not what I did. And that’s how I loved her too."
In the fall of 1984, they married and immediately headed to Nashville, where Steven had been hired as a staff songwriter for Benson Music.
So, with their hearts full of dreams and their cupboards empty, the two started their new life together.
Like many newlyweds, the Chapmans struggled with their finances in those early months. "I remember checks coming in just days after we would pray," Steven told Marriage Partner Magazine. "They were just enough to cover our bills with a little left over."
Along with the challenges, that first year came a joyous surprise, Mary Beth was pregnant. As their family began to grow, so also did Steven’s career, and the two were able to scrape enough together for a down payment on a home.
Just after little Emily was born, they took a day to look for their new home. They weren’t prepared, however, for the devastation that awaited them in their old home.
"I can still remember coming home, rounding the bend and seeing all the fire trucks," Mary Beth recalled in a Marriage Partner interview. "We didn’t say a word. But as we got closer, Steven yelled out, ‘Those fire trucks are at our apartment!’"
The Chapmans lost almost all their possessions and were forced to move in with friends.
A Rising Star
In the midst of this hardship, however, God blessed them and Steven’s career started to climb. His album "First Hand" was all about the trials and joys he had been facing in life: the fire, a new baby, new opportunities.
With his next album "Real Life Conversations," Steven began to see his touring schedule and his audiences grow. Of course, this success brought its own share of trials and Steven and Mary Beth soon learned that fame made a difficult partner in marriage. Looking back, Steven still wonders: " You see so many people who just short-circuit and burn out due to the expectations. Can human beings naturally cope with those pressures?"
Steven was often gone from home, jetting around the country or going for days on end without sleep in the quest for the perfect song. The stress of a musician’s life, along with the challenges that any marriage faces, combined for a difficult few years. Then news from Steven’s parents came that was to change his relationship with his wife forever. Steven’s parents were getting a divorce.
"We had looked to my parents’ marriage as the kind we wanted to have," Steven recalled in a 1997 Marriage Partnership article. "My folks seemed so committed to us and to the Lord."
This shock galvanized Steven and Mary Beth to find ways to strengthen their own marriage. It was out of this determination to love and cherish his wife that Steven wrote "I Will Be Here," a song that has now become his hallmark.
"I wrote ‘I Will Be Here’ as a cry of faith. No matter how awful, no matter how terrible it gets, I will be here. I did not write it as a gushy, romantic song. I wrote it as a commitment, even a painful commitment," Steven said.
With the momentum of that heartfelt song, Steven’s star rose even higher and he was nominated for ten Dove Awards, taking home an almost unprecedented five, including Artist of the Year.
As he began gearing up to write the songs for "The Sake of the Call," Steven began asking himself some tough questions. "What does it mean to call myself a Christian? How will that show itself in my life?"
These questions led him to the only true source answers, his Bible. He was led to sing about discipleship and the challenges of living out faith. This theme then led naturally into his next release, "The Great Adventure." With his "Greatest Hits" album out, Steven can’t help but think over the past 10 years with wonder over the sweeping changes that have carried him and Christian music as a whole. New bands, new excitement and new doorways.
What hasn’t changed is Steven’s dream, hope, and prayer that started him on this road a decade ago. "I write to make Jesus known," wrote author Bob Briner. This is Steven’s purpose as well.
"That’s why I started doing this 10 years ago, when I didn’t know if anybody was going to buy the record, didn’t know if anybody was going to play the song on the radio." He said. "I wrote those songs to make Jesus known. Can that still be said of me? God, that’s where I want to be tomorrow. That’s where I want the next 10 years to be."