Few could have foreseen
the widespread and poignant impact of these words part of the
lyrics of last year's holiday hit, "The Christmas Shoes."
The country's No. 1 song (topping Billboard's Jan. 6, 2001 Adult
Contemporary Singles chart) recorded by Reunion Records artist NewSong
brought tears to millions of listeners tuning into their local Christian
and mainstream AC, pop and country radio stations.
calling in to their radio stations," recalls NewSong's Eddie Carswell.
"They told stories of how their mothers had sacrificed their lives
and had always made Christmas special with very little. Everyone seemed
to make it their own."
radio personality DC Chymes remembers the first time his nationally
syndicated show, "Steve and DC in the Morning," played the
song: "For six hours after the show, our switchboard was jammed
with listeners calling in," he says. "They were openly weeping
on the air telling their own Christmas stories and what this song meant
accessible on the radio dial, the song that espoused the true meaning
of Christmas to the nation became hard to find in stores as demand for
the recording grew. The surprise hit, written by Carswell and former
group member Leonard Ahlstrom, and sung by veteran member Billy Goodwin,
was a Christmas bonus track on NewSong's October 2000 non-seasonal album,
Shoes" is now also the title cut of NewSong's first Christmas album
in the group's 20-year history. The song was inspired by a Christmas
story Chymes found on the Internet. For the past few years, he and his
on-air partner have read the tale during their show. Repeatedly, the
switchboard lights up, and fills with listeners impacted by the story.
A NewSong fan, Chymes asked Carswell to write a song based on the narrative.
Carswell and Ahlstrom began working on it four years ago.
"We would read
this story, and we knew something was there," Carswell recalls,
"so we kept stabbing at it, kept coming back to it"
When the band was
recording Sheltering Tree last year, Carswell pitched the unfinished
song, but the producer passed on the cut. With the Sheltering Tree
album complete, Carswell played a rough version of "The Christmas
Shoes" for Chymes. His enthusiastic response convinced the two
writers to finish the song and the record label to add it. In a mere
seven days, the second verse and bridge were complete, and "The
Christmas Shoes" was on the album.
The song highly
requested at NewSong concerts gave the five-member group its
first No. 1 mainstream radio hit. This year, Zomba Music Group's Jive
Records plans to re-service the song to Adult Contemporary and Country
radio outlets in October. No doubt, the moving story will again be front
and center on the airwaves this Christmas. Moreover, in October, New
York publisher St. Martin's Press plans to release The ChristmasShoes, a novella by Nashville-based author Donna VanLiere. And
a NewSong Christmas tour is also in the works.
While the success
of "The Christmas Shoes" is somewhat unfathomable to NewSong,
group co-founders Carswell and Goodwin are even more amazed that the
troupe they formed 20 years ago is still making relevant music, traveling
the country hosting their long-running, multi-artist "Jam"
concerts and ushering in child sponsorships for Seattle-based hunger
relief organization, World Vision.
during a NewSong concert is their devotion and commitment to their World
Vision affiliation. Since signing on with the organization in '94, NewSong
has motivated more than 20,000 people to sponsor a needy child. Each
night, the group chronicles its own personal experience, urging concert
attendees to follow suit.
The group that started
out as a nine-man band singing in the members' Morningside Baptist Church
in Valdosta, Ga., gradually branched out to other churches. In 1981,
four of the nine Carswell, Goodwin, Eddie Middleton and the late
Bobby Apon made the life-changing decision to pursue music and
"I don't think
we ever thought we'd be doing this for 20 years," Goodwin comments
on the group's longevity. "The commitment that we made was, 'God,
we'll do this as long as Your hand is on it, as long as we see You working.'
One of the joys in my walk has been learning that God is faithful even
when things look impossible."
It was at a high
school assembly, Goodwin says, when the four sensed the turning point.
"In a real
way, God sort of just showed up there," he recalls. "We just
gave a concert and at the end, by a show of hands, virtually every student
in the place had made a decision for Christ. We asked a coach if we
could ask students to come forward, and suddenly there were 700 kids
walking toward us. The whole community was changed. We knew it wasn't
a question of 'if,' but rather 'when.'" The "when" came
sooner than they thought, as the fledgling group resigned their jobs
May 1, 1981, loaded up Goodwin's '73 Dodge Aspen station wagon and set
out to carry the Gospel nationwide.
has released 12 albums and scored 17 #1 songs, including '97's record-setting
"Miracles," which stayed at the top of The CCM Update's
Adult Contemporary chart for five weeks. The song was named American
Songwriter magazine's '97 Christian Song of the Year. That same
year, NewSong was voted 'Group of the Year' by industry trade journal
Christian Research Report. Among numerous other accolades for
the band, NewSong has garnered six Gospel Music Association Dove Award
nominations throughout their tenure.
the past 20 years have brought several changes for the group. The transitions
have given way to mentoring relationships as the veterans walk face
to face with their younger counterparts. With a strong foundation beneath
them, former NewSong members Russ Lee ('94-'99) and Charles Billingsley
('94) have moved on to successful solo careers.
Matt Butler, one
of the newest additions to the group, reflects on his NewSong experience:
"I have grown a lot in the last year and in my walk with the Lord
as I've watched these guys," he says. "I'm the only single
guy on the road, and I've seen how they live their lives as they're
away from their wives and kids. I see the integrity. That's been the
biggest influence on my life."
Always at the forefront,
echo all five members, is the ministry of expressing their faith through
that exceedingly well via its live shows. For the past six years, the
group has organized and pioneered the Summer Jam and Winter Jam Tours.
Featuring a multi-artist bill and an unusually low-ticket price in the
range of $5 to $7, the events could be called NewSong's signature effort.
The Jam events have galvanized the Christian music industry, as a diverse
lineup of artists such as Rebecca St. James, Audio Adrenaline, Margaret
Becker, Anointed, Clay Crosse and Big Tent Revival, has realized the
benefits of a multi-artist bill. The events consistently draw large
crowds, some as big as 15,000, to major venues like 1999's record-setting
concert in Greenville, S.C.'s Bi-Lo Center. Last year's Winter and Summer
Jams drew a collective total of 116,00 people, catching the attention
of corporate sponsors like Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.
No doubt, the group
that has logged more than one million road miles has a passion for reaching
youth. In addition to the Jams, NewSong has hosted winter and summer
Xtreme Youth Conferences since 1995. Each year, they sing in the New
Year with a three-day Xtreme event in Gatlinburg, Tenn., as well as
other winter Xtreme events in Branson, Missouri, and Columbus, Ohio.
The summer always includes Xtreme Youth Conferences in Panama City Beach,
among other locations.
The goal of NewSong's
Jam and Xtreme events, says Carswell, is "to fill audiences with
the message of Jesus Christ." And by the end of each night, that
goal is reached, evidenced in the number of people who come forward
to pray or profess their belief in Jesus Christ during an altar call.
you see it all come together," says Reischl. "There's no way
to describe it. It's just amazing to be on stage and look out and watch
a sea of people stream forward, people who are responding because God
has used us. All the hard work, the nights on the road away from our
families it's all worth it, then."
like God just continues to expand our ministry," Carswell concludes.
"We're still doing this for the right reasons and carrying the
Message we started out with. We'll continue making music and traveling
the world until He decides to do something different with our lives.