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Smith takes no fee, rallies crowd to pray for national election

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Grammy-winning musician Michael W. Smith urged an audience in eastern Tennessee to vote in November but stopped short of endorsing a candidate for U.S. president.

Despite a population of millions of eligible voters and worthy candidates, Smith said in a question-and-answer session before a fund-raising concert, the race “is down to these two people.”

Sitting perched on a stool, legs cross, Smith dropped his head, took a long pause, and groaned, “You’ve got to vote.”

“The biggest thing you can do is pray,” Smith said, adding that he knows the end of the story because he read The Book. “That’s the best hope of all.”

The audience at First Baptist Church Cleveland hooted in agreement.

Smith charged no fee for the 90-minute concert to benefit the Cleveland’s YMCA Community Action Program, which raised an estimated $20,000 for the $250,000 annual budget, according to Y-CAP’s Andy Smith.

Before the concert, Smith said the 1999 Columbine High School massacre where 12 students and one teacher were murdered re-ignited his desire to help at-risk youth, prompting his contribution to Monday’s fundraising effort to help nearly 30 at-risk students who depend on Y-CAP for spiritual direction along with meals and vocational training.

Former U.S. Rep. Zachary Wamp (R-3) helped organized the benefit concert and praised Smith’s family life — marriage to wife Debbie, his five children and 13 grandchildren — and Smith’s consistency as a public person who is the same as a private person.

“In our narcissist times, he’s the real deal,” Wamp told the crowd.

Despite the crush of praise, Smith deflected the adulation from the audience who talked of Smith’s musical role in a first-date, interest in involvement in Christian music or worship in general.

Smith told the audience of nearly 1,000 that he is six-feet tall but “because of Him, I feel 6-3.”

He shrugged off the idea that he pioneered the genre of contemporary Christian music and attributed his success to his father, who died nine months ago. Smith said he couldn’t recall his father saying anything negative but supported him in his youthful baseball pursuits and his music that resulted in at least 29 records and about 250 songs, Smith said.

He said knowing his father helps thinking about God the father and recalled a time shaving when he looked in the mirror and sensed God saying, “I love you but I’m also extremely fond of you.” Smith thought of that moment as the time God spoke to him as a papa.

He told the crowd that if someone didn’t have a good Dad, God could be a good dad for him or her.

Smith brought the crowd to its feet more than once. The audience sang along, cried along, laughed along and gave above the $20 gate price for the concert fund-raiser.

Smith ended his concert with his 1987 crossover, “Friends,” adding, “I didn’t think I’d ever have to sing this one again.”

As he played the piano and the in-house camera zoomed in, Smith and his audience swayed a little and sang as one, “Though it’s hard to let you go in the Father’s hands we know that a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends. No a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.”

— by Michael Ray Smith, contributor

Editor’s note: Michael Ray Smith, no relation to Michael W. Smith, is a communication professor by day and a freelance writer by night. He’s written seven books including “7 Days to a Byline that Pays.”

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