With Christmas a little more than a month away, Amy Grant is getting busier as the holiday draws closer. The “Baby, Baby” singer is currently on the road for her annual holiday tour with Michael W. Smith and The Voice winner, Jordan Smith; she’ll be kicking off her Christmas at the Ryman show with husband Vince Gill on Nov. 30; and she joined forces with Cracker Barrel, under their Spotlight Music Program, to release her fourth Christmas album—her first in almost 17 years—Tennessee Christmas.
“I’m turning 56 this month. When you’re a kid, you imagine what the arc of your life would look like and I’d never imagined that I would have the opportunity to do one of my favorite things at 56,” Amy tells Nash Country Daily. “I love the earlier music that I’ve recorded, but life changes your perspective on everything. This record is all about welcoming and trying to create a sense of family for just one listener because a lot of people spend the holidays alone. You discover more about other lives. I did come from a big family and there was always somebody at the top of their game and somebody barely hanging on, but it was such a sense of community. Just through my years of touring, I’ve been introduced to people and it’s the hardest time of the year for them. It’s changed my perspective.”
Tennessee Christmas contains 13 new offerings of holiday classics and a few of Amy’s favorite originals, including the title track, “Tennessee Christmas,” co-written with her ex-husband, Gary Chapman, more than 30 years ago. “The first Christmas song I ever wrote was with Gary. We met for coffee and I got to give him the good news that I had recorded that song again and we toasted with our coffee cups. It was so, so wonderful.”
The response Amy is receiving from the release of her album has also been wonderful. Accomplishing exactly what Amy had hoped it would, the album focuses on bringing people together and helping those who feel sad and lonely during the holidays.
“I’m not a big social media participant, but when things are posted that really create a ripple effect, they always are brought to my attention,” Amy says. “When this record first came out, someone bravely said,’I’ve spent the last three Christmases alone, sitting in a wheelchair, not talking to anyone.’ A very brave thing to put on social media.
“The first person to respond to that said, ‘I have had the exact same experience the last two Christmases.’ Then somebody else responded and then, suddenly, the beautiful side of social media is this community came together saying, ‘Why don’t we check on each other this year?'”
Recorded in her home studio in Nashville, Amy enlisted the voice of her husband, Vince Gill, to accompany her on the Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and collaborated with producers Mac McAnally (Martina McBride), Marshall Altman (Frankie Ballard) and Ed Cash (David Crowder Band) to create the yuletide feel of Tennessee Christmas. Of the six original tunes, Amy co-wrote four, including a special song, “To Be Together,” that reflects the current state of her life.
“Chris Eaton and I wrote a song ‘To Be Together’ and I feel like as we were writing it, I knew it was special,” says Amy. “It’s about how our perspective changes with every year. When you’re a child, you’re filled with anticipation. When you’re parents of young children, you’re in total sleep deprivation, that’s what Christmas means. Then you get middle-aged, back half of life, and no kidding, I just think, ‘Can I just see your face?’ I just want to see your face. I was just thinking about our family that has morphed. When I was in college, five generations of my family lived in Nashville. My great-grandparents, grandparents, my mom and dad, my generation, my older sisters were already having kids. Now, as I’m speaking, I have a niece in Mongolia with the Peace Corps, I have family in New York, I have family in London, I have family in Ohio. We’re just going, ‘Okay, who’s coming home? Who’s coming home?’ It kind of gets your heart racing. I know one niece coming in with her three kids, her car is so funny, it’s just car seats in the back. The song stars off, Chaos in the car seats, heading south on 65. It was just so specifically written for Mimi and her kids. But it’s all about being together with our dysfunction and our function.”
Christmas in the Grant-Gill house will be a merry one this year. While not all of them will be able to be together, there are traditions that Amy and her family will keep going.
“As years have gone by, I try to keep it very simple. We don’t try to have a big holiday meal. Breakfast, together, Christmas morning, is our big meal. We open presents Christmas morning. The kids are so much more excited about what they’re giving than what they’re getting. I loved watching them cress that hill. You would notice it because it would go from a flurry of tissue paper to, ‘What package is that?’ And they watch the package go all the way to the recipient and talk stops. Their eyes are just riveted on that sibling.
“The other tradition we have is I take photographs. We have five kids, blended family, and the oldest is married, so now there are six in that generation and one grandchild. Everybody grabs a cup of coffee and I just say, ‘Sit anywhere you want, but in a line,’ and I photograph them. We’ve gone from the youngest member of that picture having a pacifier in her mouth to now she is driving a car.”
As Amy celebrates the holiday with her family, she can’t help but find herself enamored with the fact that our entire culture “celebrates wonder and possibility and how we can love each other.”
“Yes, it’s covered in commercialism, it’s covered in all kinds of pressure for decorating, but it also intersects so poignantly with faith that a lot of us carry,” adds Amy. “That this is all a trickle down for God so loved the world, he sent his son. I love that. That’s everybody. You don’t have to be loving him back to be loved. I think that’s why I started doing Christmas music in the first place because it’s such a natural intersection of I love music and I just felt the most joyful when it included some celebration of faith.”
You can catch Amy on tour through Dec. 18 and featured on CMA Country Christmas airing Nov. 28 on ABC. Tennessee Christmas is available today through all Cracker Barrel locations and on their website.
Tennessee Christmas Track Listing
Photos by Russ Harrington