Five-time Gospel Music Association female vocalist of the year winner Natalie Grant is known for pop-leaning Christian Airplay hits including “King of the World” and “Held,” but this powerhouse vocalist distinctly remembers being four years old, with tears streaming down her face, listening to the Gospel sounds of Mahalia Jackson.
“Listening to her sing, it just made me feel so deeply,” Grant says. “I’ve always been so influenced by Gospel music. Gospel performers sing with everything they have.”
On her new album, Seasons, out Friday (Oct. 6), nine-time Grammy nominee Grant pays homage to — and collaborates with — several of Gospel music’s top stars, along with pop and country music luminaries, covering songs that have served as musical cornerstones in her own life. CeCe Winans, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Mary Mary, Jekalyn Carr, Jonathan McReynolds, Cory Asbury, CAIN and Country Music Hall of Famer Dolly Parton all join on the new project.
Grant is quick to note that unlike some covers records, this isn’t run-of-the-mill — these are the songs she leaned on through heartbreaks, triumphs, battles with thyroid cancer and anxiety, and more.
“Sometimes you hear the word ‘cover record,’ and it has this connotation of ‘Oh, it’s a filler record between the last originals records and whatever’s next,’” Grant says. “But there’s no filler record with this — this is my life record.”
Gospel music icon Winans sing with Grant on a version of the 1972 Andraé Crouch-written and recorded classic “My Tribute (To God Be the Glory).”
“Andraé has forever marked Christian and Gospel music and his legacy is forever,” Grant says. “CeCe Winans has been my hero since I first heard her when I was 11 years old. I went to the BeBe and CeCe Winans ‘Heaven’ tour. CeCe has so influenced me, not just her music, but her — she’s one of the most truly beautiful people you will ever meet, inside and out. So hearing us answering each other’s verses on this song, it was just a surreal moment for me. She didn’t have to be part of this, but she chose to do that, and that speaks again to how wonderful she is.”
Grant teams with Gospel sibling duo Mary Mary on a refreshed version of their 2000 hit “Shackles (Praise You),” which reached No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“That was one of those songs that I remember just crossed all barriers — it didn’t matter whether you listen to gospel, pop, CCM — everybody loved that song. They’ve never remade the song in 20 years — why would they choose to remake it with an additional person? That just speaks to how amazing they are. We had so much fun singing this and just living our best lives.”
The album includes the Simon & Garfunkel standard “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with Cobbs Leonard, the Sandi Patty classic “Another Time, Another Place” (which Grant performs with McReynolds), and a version of the 2000 LeAnn Rimes hit “I Need You,” which marks another full-circle moment as Grant sang the original demo for the song before it made its way to Rimes.
Grant makes another country connection on the project, welcoming Parton to join her in covering a Whitney Houston classic — no, not the Parton-penned “I Will Always Love You,” but rather Houston’s version of Annie Lennox’s “Step by Step,” which was included on the soundtrack for Houston’s film The Preacher’s Wife.
“This song is so special to me,” Grant says, recalling the mid-1990s when she was working a desk job handling Medicare in Nashville while pursuing music. “I would blast this song while driving my Volkswagen Golf to work. I wanted to do music but I had to do what I had to do to pay the bills.”
The recording follows Parton and Grant sharing the stage earlier this year at Parton’s Dollywood themepark, where they sang the hymn “Just a Little Walk With Jesus.”
Though Parton initially turned down the opportunity to record “Step By Step” due to scheduling conflicts as she was working on her album Rock Star, Grant says that weeks later, she received a personal letter from Parton — on hot pink Dolly Parton letterhead — asking if she might still be able to sing on the song.
“It was just such a bucket list moment,” Grant says. “Who does that? Dolly Parton does that. I was blown away that she gave her time and talent to do that.”
The album closes with a full family moment on a version of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” on which Grant’s husband, producer-writer Bernie Herms, recorded Grant’s 83-year-old mother Gloria singing in Grant’s childhood home. The track also features the couple’s daughters singing background vocals.
“I remember hearing that song and thinking, ‘If I could write words to my girls, it would be these.’ And to have the whole family singing on it and their grandmother, it’s a gift.”
The new album is steeped in influence from Gospel music, as was Grant’s 1999 debut self-titled album, though after moving from her native Seattle to Nashville, Grant recalls being bewildered at how separated the white-dominated CCM and the Black-dominated Gospel music industries were at the time, calling it “an eye-opening experience that some of those racial lines were very hard and fast lines.”
“I would hear back from CCM radio programmers who would say, ‘We don’t want to play this; it sounds too Gospel,’ or ‘Why is she singing like that? And why is there a Gospel choir on there?’ I was just like, ‘I’m just singing,’” she says.
In the past few years, the Christian Airplay radio charts have increasingly featured more artists of color and more Gospel influences, including Winans, Wells, Jon Reddick, Blessing Offor and Maverick City Music. “Now, 20-something years later, people are more welcoming of diversity,” Grant Says. “They go, ‘I would love to see a collaboration with a Gospel artist or a Hispanic artist.’ All of a sudden, radio and the industry is looking for those moments. But honestly, we still have a long way to go.”
Conversely, Grant says she has seen her collaborations with Winans and Cobbs Leonard included on Gospel-only playlists on Apple Music and Spotify, and in August, she honored Winans with a performance at The Stellar Awards on BET.
“That was a dream come true for me. But even the fact that they invited me when they didn’t have to. We didn’t have any songs on the Gospel charts that the time — or any that had come out yet. But they welcomed me with open arms and I was so moved by that.”
In addition to dominating GMA Dove Awards Gospel and urban music categories, Black artists have garnered wins in top overall GMA Dove Awards categories over the decades, even if radio has historically seemed divided. Among the winners have been Larnelle Harris (male vocalist), Nicole C. Mullen (songwriter of the year and song of the year for “Redeemer”), BeBe and CeCe Winans (new artist and group of the year), Wells (new artist of the year/contemporary Christian artist of the year) and Take 6 (group of the year, new artist of the year). In recent years Lecrae and CeCe Winans have made history on the GMA Dove Awards stage; in 2015, Lecrae became the first pure hip-hop artist to win the coveted artist of the year honor, while in 2022, Winans made history as the first Black solo female artist to win artist of the year.
Grant lauds the work Jackie Patillo has done since taking on the executive director role at the Gospel Music Association in 2010, to have the GMA Dove Awards performances further reflect the breadth of sounds and styles within Christian music.
“Jackie has worked so hard to blur those lines and have inclusion and you see that when you look at the Dove Awards now — you can see those years of investments paying off,” Grant says. “We still have a ways to go, but we are leap years ahead of where we were and I’m grateful to be walking with people in making those strides.”
Earlier this year, Grant was among a group of talented women who led the all-female It’s Time worship tour alongside Cobbs Leonard, Naomi Raine and Taya, offering a soul-stirring mix of CCM and Gospel hits, along with classic hymns. Grant is hopeful these moments are just the beginning of long-lasting change.
“I think you will see a lot more tours come together — you will see worship with hip-hop, CCM with Gospel. I think you will see a lot of that in the near future.”
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