NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: a musical comeback.
For 12 years Jody McBrayer was a singer in the Christian music group Avalon. In the late 1990s the group sold more than 3-point-5 million albums, took home numerous Dove Awards, and earned three Grammy Award nominations.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Avalon still performs today. But McBrayer walked away from his music career at the height of the group’s success. And years later, he’s back making music in Nashville.
McBrayer talked to WORLD Radio’s Myrna Brown about the personal battles that have given him a new voice.
MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: Jody McBrayer has learned a lot since the soaring Avalon days.
MCBRAYER: I just think about how much God has taken me through and how much I have learned in the past 15 years. And boy, how I would go back and tell that 30-year-old a thing or two.
But he’s not sure his former self would have listened.
McBrayer helped Avalon produce more than two dozen No. 1 Christian hits, including the song “Testify to Love.”
Success proved intoxicating.
MCBRAYER: I think back when I was so consumed with the idea of making records and recording and getting songs on the radio. It was a machine, and I think in my heart and my spirit it was a machine to me, too. And there wasn’t a whole lot of substance and there wasn’t a whole lot of Jesus in it for me.
In 2006, McBrayer was diagnosed with a genetic, degenerative form of heart disease. The following year, he left Avalon. A degree in business management helped him land a job at a corporate marketing and advertising firm. He did that for seven years, enough time for him to reflect on his music.
MCBRAYER: This is a lot more than just you singing songs. This is about changing the world and you need to take it seriously.
In 2013, a friend asked him to serve as a guest musician for an overseas tour.
MCBRAYER: It was a Wednesday, and he said, “Can you be in Uganda by Friday?”
That request propelled McBrayer back into music. But the next year he faced what he calls a crisis of belief.
MCBRAYER: When it was a business before, it was just easy. I was like a robot. I just did it. And now I was in this place where I don’t know how to take all that God has done and given me and make it mean something. That coupled with being sick and the challenges of life, I got diagnosed with clinical depression.
A Christian counselor helped him work through that crisis.
MCBRAYER: And my doctor always looked at me said, ‘The only responsibility you have right now is to wake up in the morning and keep breathing.’
MUSIC: [Keep Breathing]
That advice became his mantra. In 2016 he recorded “Keep Breathing,” the title track of his first full-length album in nearly a decade.
Eight months later, McBrayer released another album.
MUSIC: [Christmas Time is Here]
MCBRAYER: This record is really a dream come true for me. I’ve always wanted to do a Christmas album.
MUSIC: [Ave Maria]
MCBRAYER: My father was a Baptist pastor but my mother is from Spain and her family is Catholic. So, I used to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and I would sing Ave Maria at midnight mass.
McBrayer’s return to music has also helped him connect and build memories with his daughter. Sarah was 11 years old when she asked her dad if she could sing a song on his new Christmas album.
MUSIC: [Count Your Blessings]
MCBRAYER: At 45 years old, my life has taken on this whole new meaning. You know, it should have been that way 20 years ago. I feel like I could charge hell with a water pistol. My doctor, he’s surprised really that I’m still doing what I’m doing, but as long as God wants me to do this, He’ll give me the strength to do it.
MUSIC: [Silent Night]
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Myrna Brown.