Rich Mullins

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This article is about the Christian musician. For the desert rock musician, see Rich Mullins (bassist).
Rich Mullins
Rich Mullins black and white short hair.jpg
Background information
Birth name Richard Wayne Mullins
Born (1955-10-21)October 21, 1955
Richmond, Indiana, United States
Origin Nashville, Tennessee
Died September 19, 1997(1997-09-19) (aged 41)
Bloomington, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Contemporary Christian
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • piano
  • guitar
  • hammered dulcimer
Years active 1981–1997
Labels Reunion
Associated acts A Ragamuffin Band
Website richmullins.com

Rich Mullins (October 21, 1955 – September 19, 1997) was an American contemporary Christian music singer and songwriter best known for his worship songs "Awesome God" and "Sometimes by Step". Some of his albums were also considered among Christian music's best, including Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth (1988), The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume One (1991) and A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band (1993). His songs have been performed by numerous artists, including Caedmon's Call, Five Iron Frenzy, Amy Grant, Carolyn Arends, Jars of Clay, Michael W. Smith, John Tesh, Chris Rice, Rebecca St. James, Hillsong United and Third Day.[1]

Mullins is also remembered for his devotion to the Christian faith. He was heavily influenced by St. Francis of Assisi. In 1997, he composed a musical called Canticle of the Plains, a retelling of the life of St. Francis set in the Old West.[2]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Mullins (third from right) performing in 1979, seen here with his band Zion

Richard Wayne Mullins was born to John Mullins, a tree farmer, and Neva Mullins who was associated with the Quakers.[3] He had two sisters and two brothers. The family called him by his middle name, Wayne, which he went by until college, when his friends called him Richard. Mullins grew up attending Arba Friends Meeting, a church in Lynn, Indiana.[4] The Quaker testimonies of peace and social justice later inspired many of his lyrics. When Mullins was in elementary school, his family moved and started attending Whitewater Christian Church, where he went until he graduated.[5] Mullins was baptized when he was in the 3rd grade.[6] His great-grandmother had taught him to play hymns in four part harmony when he was very young;[7] he began to study classical piano with a Quaker teacher while in elementary school. He graduated from Northeastern High School in 1974.[8] Mullins was inspired when the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. The event helped Mullins understand the influence of music.[9] He was a fan of the Beatles, and he was able to identify with John Lennon in particular, despite philosophical differences.[10] In his song "Elijah", written around the time of Lennon's assassination, he included the phrase "a candlelight in central park." This was a reference to the candlelight vigils head in the wake of the event.[9] The places of the vigils went on to become a permanent memorial to John Lennon.

An important part of Mullins' early musical experience was being the pianist, songwriter and vocalist for the New Creations Choir in Richmond, Indiana which was started by Tim and Bonnie Cummings in the early 1970s. The choir toured numerous states in its own bus and even produced a record album. New Creations is a church and school for teens and Mullins was a contributing factor in its beginning.[5]

From 1974 to 1978, Mullins attended Cincinnati Bible College. He worked in a parking garage to help pay for his schooling. During this time Mullins performed with the band Zion, who released one album, for which he wrote all the songs.[11] From 1975 to 1978, he was the Youth Pastor and Music Director at the United Methodist Church in Erlanger.[12] During this time, Mullins was focusing on his duties in the church, and performed minimally in the public. He considered his music a hobby. His views on his music continued this way until 1978, when he brought a group of the teens from his church to the Ichthus Music Festival in Wilmore, Kentucky. He said that during this trip he witnessed the effect of music on young people and decided to start pursuing music full-time.[13]

Beginnings as a recording artist[edit]

Mullins start in the industry occurred in the summer of 1981 when Amy Grant recorded his song "Sing Your Praise to the Lord."[14] The decision was made to stop touring as "Zion," and for Mullins to start his Solo career. Mullins moved to Bellsburg, Tennessee,[15] approximately 45 minutes from Nashville, to begin his professional recording career.[16] Mullins got engaged sometime between the late '70s and early '80s and had written the song Doubly Good to You (recorded by Amy Grant on her album Straight Ahead) for his upcoming wedding. However, his fiancée broke off the engagement in 1982.[17] In response to the break up, Mullins wrote Damascus Road.[18][19]

Years later Mullins shared thoughts about his relationships and personal life in a radio interview with Rick Tarrant:

I would always be frustrated with all those relationships even when I was engaged. I had a ten-year thing with this girl and I would often wonder why, even in those most intimate moments of our relationship, I would still feel really lonely. And it was just a few years ago that I finally realized that friendship is not a remedy for loneliness. Loneliness is a part of our experience and if we are looking for relief from loneliness in friendship, we are only going to frustrate the friendship. Friendship, camaraderie, intimacy, all those things, and loneliness live together in the same experience...[20]

In 1987, Mullins spent time teaching conversational English in a South Korean seminary. After this time in Korea, he served briefly as a missionary in Thailand. He served in a town approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) from the Thailand-Chinese border. In Thailand he became involved with a ministry teaching trades and providing medical care to Chinese refugees.[21] He wrote the song The Other Side of the World about his time in Asia.

Move to Navajo Nation[edit]

The location of the Navajo Nation Native American territory in the United States.

During the late 1980s, Mullins desired change and formulated a plan to leave Tennessee.[9] He took steps to become a Music Teacher on an Indian Reservation he had visited before.[14][22] In 1988, Mullins moved from Bellsburg to Wichita, Kansas where, in 1991, he began pursuing a degree in Music Education at Friends University. During this time he lived with his best friend, David Strasser (a.k.a. Beaker). As part of his degree program, Mullins served as the choir director at West Evangelical Free Church. While in Wichita, he also regularly attended Central Christian Church. He graduated with a bachelor's degree (BA) in Music Education on May 14, 1995.[23] His 1991 song "Calling Out Your Name" included a reference The Keeper of the Plains, a 44 ft tall sculpture in Wichita, Kansas.[24]

You have to figure out where you're most alive, most vital, and go there. For some people, that's a music career or being a housewife. For me, it's being here.

Mullins on his move[25]

After graduation, he and Mitch McVicker moved to a Navajo reservation in Tse Bonito, New Mexico to teach music to children. Rich and McVicker lived in a small hogan on the reservation until Mullin's death in 1997.[26]

In a 1996 at the Ichthus music festival, Mullins cited personal reasons for his move. He was asked if he made the move because God had called him to proselytize and convert the Native Americans. To this Mullins responded: "No. I think I just got tired of a White, Evangelical, Middle Class perspective on God, and I thought I would have more luck finding Christ among the Pagan Navajos. I'm teaching music."[27]

Philosophy and philanthropy[edit]

The profits from his tours and the sale of each album were entrusted to his church, which divided it up, paid Mullins the average salary in the U.S. for that year, and gave the rest to charity.[28] Mullins was also a major supporter of Compassion International[29] and Compassion USA.[30]

His philosophy can be understood by a quote he gave at a concert shortly before his death. He stated that:

Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you've done it to me. And this is what I've come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they're just wrong. They're not bad, they're just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted...[6][31]

Music career[edit]

Mullins had a distinctive talent both as a performer and a songwriter. His compositions showed distinction in two ways: unusual and sometimes striking instrumentation, and complex lyrics that usually employed elaborate metaphors.

Mullins did most of his composing and performing on piano and acoustic guitar, but he also had a prodigious talent for obscure instruments. He displayed arguably virtuoso skills on the hammered and lap dulcimers (in "Calling out Your Name" and "Creed") and the Irish tin whistle (in "Boy Like Me/Man Like You" and "The Color Green").

Beginnings with Zion[edit]

Mullins (second from right) pictured with his band Zion c. 1976

Mullins formed his first band in 1976–77 while attending Cincinnati Bible College.[16] His musical career formally began with Zion Ministries in the late 1970s, where he wrote music and performed with a band called Zion.[16] The band released one album in 1981, Behold the Man.[16] While working for this ministry, Mullins wrote a song called "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" which was recorded by singer Amy Grant in 1982 and became an immediate hit on Christian Radio.[16] In 1983 Debby Boone recorded Mullins' "O Come All Ye Faithful" (first presented on January 19, 1977 during a concert entitled In Worship of the Coming King), for her Surrender album. In 1984, the song was also featured in a TV movie called Sins of the Past.[16]

As Rich Mullins[edit]

In 1986, Mullins released his eponymous debut album, followed in 1987 by Pictures in the Sky.[32] Neither album sold very well,[29] but the Christian radio hit "Awesome God" on his third album, Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth, brought his music to a wider audience. The song "Awesome God" was written at a Christian camp, "Rock Lake Christian Assembly", near Vestaburg, Michigan.

In the early 1990s, Mullins released a pair of albums entitled The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume One and Two.[33] These albums featured more of a stripped-back, acoustic feel than his earlier work, with nods to Irish music. "Step By Step", a song written by his friend Beaker and included on volume one, and incorporated into "Sometimes By Step" with additional lyrics by Mullins on volume two, became an instant hit on Christian Radio, and, like "Awesome God", it became a popular praise chorus. Both during and after Mullin's college years, Beaker was a substantial influence to Mullins and his music. Beaker co-wrote, performed, and toured with Rich Mullins for several years. The first song they wrote together was "Boy Like Me, Man Like You", a 1991 hit for Mullins. Rich penned his hit song "Let Mercy Lead" as a song for Beaker's son Aiden.

The Ragamuffin Band[edit]

In 1993, Mullins assembled a group of Nashville musicians (including Jimmy Abegg, Beaker, Billy Crockett, Phil Madeira, Rick Elias, and Aaron Smith) to form A Ragamuffin Band, whose name was inspired by the Christian book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. The band recorded A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band, which was later named the No. 3 best Christian album of all time by CCM Magazine. Liturgy was a concept album that drew its inspiration, in part, from the Catholic liturgy. The Ragamuffins also appeared on Mullins' 1995 record Brother's Keeper.

The Canticle of the Plains[edit]

In 1997, Mullins teamed up with Beaker and Mitch McVicker to write a musical based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi: The Canticle of the Plains.[2] Mullins had great respect for St. Francis, and even formed "The Kid Brothers of St. Frank" in the late 1980s with Beaker.[34]

The Jesus Record[edit]

Shortly before his death, Mullins had been working on his next project, which was to be a concept album based on the life of Jesus Christ and was to be called Ten Songs About Jesus. On September 10, 1997, nine days before his death, he made a rough micro cassette recording of the album's songs in an abandoned church. This tape was released as disc 1 of The Jesus Record, which featured new recordings of the songs on disc 2 by the Ragamuffin Band, with guest vocalists Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Ashley Cleveland, and Phil Keaggy. "Heaven in His Eyes" was not a new song, but had been written more than two decades earlier, a beloved favorite of Mullins'.

Mullins recorded a duet called "I Believe" with Hokus Pick on the album Brothers From Different Mothers in 1994. In addition to his vocals, Mullins performs on the lap and hammered dulcimers.[35]

Death and legacy[edit]

On September 19, 1997, Mullins and his friend Mitch McVicker were traveling southbound on I-39 north of Bloomington, Illinois, to a benefit concert at Wichita State University in Kansas, when they lost control of the Jeep. They were not wearing seat belts and were both ejected from the vehicle.[36] When a passing semi-trailer truck swerved to miss the overturned Jeep, Mullins, who was too injured to move out of the path of the oncoming truck, was hit by the truck and instantly died at the scene.[37] McVicker was seriously injured but survived.

His funeral was open to the public and had a very large gathering. He is buried at the Harrison Township cemetery in Hollansburg, Ohio, alongside his brother, who died in infancy, and his father.

Mullins's interest in Saint Francis of Assisi led to an attraction to Roman Catholicism in his final years. There was no daily Protestant service on the Navajo reservation, so Mullins frequently attended daily Mass. He never converted, and there is dispute over his intentions.[38][39][40]

The year that he died, Mullins declared,

A lot of the stuff which I thought was so different between Protestants and Catholics [was] not, but at the end of going through an RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults] course, I also realized that there are some real and significant differences. I'm not sure which side of the issues I come down on. My openness to Catholicism was very scary to me because, when you grow up in a church where they don't even put up a cross, many things were foreign to me. I went to an older Protestant gentleman that I've respected for years and years, and I asked him, "When does faithfulness to Jesus call us to lay aside our biases and when does it call us to stand beside them?" His answer to me was that it is not about being Catholic or Protestant. It is about being faithful to Jesus. The issue is not about which church you go to, it is about following Jesus where He leads you.[41]

In 1998, the tribute album Awesome God: A Tribute to Rich Mullins was released, featuring favorite Mullins songs reinterpreted by his Christian music peers.

Mullins' family founded The Legacy of a Kid Brother of St. Frank to continue his mission to develop programs of art, drama and music camps for Native American youth and provide a traveling music school serving remote areas of the reservations.[42] On April 29, 2014, Mullins was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.[43] His brother, David Mullins, was on hand to accept on behalf of the family.[44] Color Green Films with Kid Brothers of St. Frank Co. developed a full-length feature film, as well as a documentary, based on Mullins' life and legacy. The feature film, titled Ragamuffin[45] finished filming in October 2012.[46] It premiered in Wichita, KS on January 9, 2014.

Discography[edit]

Awards[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Steven Curtis Chapman
GMA's Artist of the Year
1998 (awarded posthumously)
Succeeded by
Michael W. Smith
Preceded by
"On My Knees"
David Mullin, Nicole C. Mullen, Michael Ochs
GMA's Song of the Year
1999 (awarded posthumously)
"My Deliverer"
With: Mitch McVicker
Succeeded by
"This Is Your Time"
Michael W. Smith, Wes King
Preceded by
Steven Curtis Chapman
GMA's Songwriter of the Year
1999 (awarded posthumously)
Succeeded by
Michael W. Smith

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Rich Mullins song list". Kidbrothers.net. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Mullins Takes Risk with Show on Saint, But Fans Keep Faith". 
  3. ^ An Arrow Pointing to Heaven Smith, JB (2000) B & H Publishing Group Nashville, Tennessee ISBN 978-0-8054-2635-9 p. 12, 13
  4. ^ Selleck, Linda (April 3, 1998). "A Ragamuffin Music Man: Rich Mullins". Quaker Magazine. 
  5. ^ a b "The Life of a Ragamuffin". A Candle to the Sun. Retrieved May 25, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b "Lufkin Texas, July '97". 
  7. ^ Lewis, Jack (September 19, 2002). "Danny Carlton – alias "Jack Lewis": In memory of Rich Mullins". Jacklewis.net. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Ind. art museum to feature film on late musician". Evansville Courier & Press. December 29, 2013. Retrieved May 25, 2016. 
  9. ^ a b c Newcomb, Brian (June 13, 1992). "Step By Step, A Conversation with Rich Mullins". CCM Magazine. 
  10. ^ Rich Mullins - Michigan Interview, 1988. 
  11. ^ "Rich Mullins Mailing list 103". kidbrothers.net. April 17, 1995. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  12. ^ erlangerumc.org/mullins Archived October 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ Rich Mullins discusses college, youth ministry and Zion Ministries. 
  14. ^ a b Yonke, David (November 18, 1995). "Rich Mullins 'cartoons' in catchy tunes". Toledo Blade. Retrieved May 5, 2016. 
  15. ^ Rich Mullins - Michigan Interview, 1988. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Rich Mullins timeline 1 – audiori.net". 
  17. ^ Rich Mullins - Michigan Interview, 1988. 
  18. ^ "Brothers Keeper radio special". Kidbrothers.net. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  19. ^ Rick Tarrant (October 11, 1997). "20: the Countdown Magazine remembers Rich Mullins". Kidbrothers.net. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  20. ^ An Arrow Pointing to Heaven Smith, JB (2000) B & H Publishing Group Nashville, Tennessee ISBN 978-0-8054-2635-9 p. 131, 13
  21. ^ Rich Mullins - Michigan Interview, 1988. 
  22. ^ "Christian Rocker Finds New Life in the Desert". Chicago Tribune. April 25, 1996. Retrieved June 1, 2016. 
  23. ^ Denison, Paul (October 29, 1995). "Stepping Out in Faith". Eugene Register-Guard. Retrieved May 26, 2016. 
  24. ^ An Arrow Pointing to Heaven Smith, JB (2000) B & H Publishing Group Nashville, Tennessee ISBN 978-0-8054-2635-9 p. 104
  25. ^ "Christian Rocker Finds New Life in the Desert". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 1, 2016. 
  26. ^ "Christian Rocker Finds New Life in the Desert". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 1, 2016. 
  27. ^ Rich Mullins Interview – Ichthus Festival, 1996. 
  28. ^ "Homeless Man video transcript". kidbrothers.net. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  29. ^ a b "Music and More Interview with Jon Rivers". 
  30. ^ "Rich Mullins Mailing List 143". kidbrothers.net. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  31. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQnFU5JvuWY&mode=related&search= (The quoted speech begins at 7:40 of this video reference.)
  32. ^ "Rich Mullins timeline 1987 – audiori.net". Audiori.net. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Rich Mullins timeline 1992 – audiori.net". Audiori.net. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  34. ^ "richmullins.com/kidbrothers". Richmullins.com. Archived from the original on May 29, 2010. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  35. ^ Hkous Pick (1994). Bothers From Different Mothers. Liner Notes: Vision Artists. 
  36. ^ "Christian singer killed in accident". Herald-Journal. September 22, 1997. Retrieved May 26, 2016. 
  37. ^ "Christian singer killed in accident". Sarasota Herald-Tribune – September 23, 1997. September 22, 1997. Retrieved May 26, 2016. 
  38. ^ "Catholic World News : Christian Singer Rich Mullins Dies; Planned To Become Catholic". Cwnews.com. September 22, 1997. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  39. ^ "Rich Mullins, Enigmatic, restless, Catholic". gospelcom.net. Retrieved June 1, 2016. 
  40. ^ An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, James Bryan Smith, pp53-54[dead link]
  41. ^ Radio Interview with Artie Terry, "The Exchange," WETN, Wheaton, Ill., April 1997, quoted in An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, James Bryan Smith, p54
  42. ^ "Kid Brothers – Kid Brothers of St Frank". Richmullins.com. Archived from the original on May 29, 2010. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  43. ^ "Take 6, Dr. Bobby Jones among Gospel honorees". The Tennessean. April 29, 2014. Retrieved October 13, 2015. 
  44. ^ "Gospel Music Association (GMA) Announces Rich Mullins as 2014 Hall of Fame Inductee". ChristianCinema.com. April 14, 2014. Retrieved October 13, 2015. 
  45. ^ Grant English (January 9, 2014). "Ragamuffin (2014)". IMDb. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  46. ^ "Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]