MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Friday, June 12th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World And Everything In It: That first summer job!
BASHAM: For me it was waitressing. And I wasn’t especially good at it. Let’s just say I was kind of lacking in the arm strength department and was known to drop a tray or two!
What about you?
EICHER: Well, I started in fast food. Of course, I wasn’t especially fast, but I have to say the food wasn’t especially food.
But hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere.
WORLD Reporter Myrna Brown talked to two Christian artists about how they got their start.
SONG: [Stop By the Church]
MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: In 1996, Babbie Mason recorded the song, Stop By The Church.
SONG: [You oughta stop by the church sometime…]
One year later it earned her a Dove award from the Gospel Music Association. Ryan Stevenson’s award-winning break happened in 1997, with the release of this song.
SONG: [Your love surrounds me… In the eye of the storm you remain in control…]
Between the two of them, 60 years of Christian music experience. But while music is all they’ve ever wanted to do, it’s not all they’ve done.
STEVENSON: I grew up in a farming community nestled in the foothills of the cascade range in a little town called Bonanza, Oregon. I grew up in a little 940 square foot, single wide mobile home trailer. My dad worked at a local farm. My mom was a stay at home mom.
A women’s Bible study connected Stevenson’s mother with the wife of a local Dutch family. That family owned a dairy farm and at the age of 5, Stevenson became one of their youngest employees.
STEVENSON: After school, probably three days a week, I would ride the bus home out to the valley and work at the dairy. Anything from milking cows to herding cows. Straight up manual labor. You are using your body. You are shoveling. If there’s anything to do on a dairy, there is a lot of cow manure.
Stevenson says all through elementary, junior, and high school, hard work and a no-nonsense boss shaped his work ethic.
STEVENSON: His name was Bill. He was a tough dude. But a good man, fair and just. He would always say, don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today. Man that stuck with me so much.
SONG: [Amazing grace…]
Babbie Mason spent her childhood in the midwest.
Her father was the Reverend George Wade, pastor of the Lily Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson, Michigan. He was both daddy and boss.
MASON: And so one Sunday morning about 15 minutes before the Sunday worship service, daddy said,, today you’re gonna play. It was just like that. That was how I got hired and I was nine years old and they actually paid me $8 a week.
Along with the pocket change came life-long skills that helped Mason as a leader, both on and off the stage.
MASON: I had to learn how to play from the piano and direct the choir from the piano. Play with my left hand and direct with my right hand.
But as Mason got older, she longed to discover her own voice. Part of her journey included frequent trips to nearby Detroit, Michigan the home of Motown.
MASON: I wanted to sing R&B my own music. I was beginning to write my own songs. But when I would go into a club, I’d feel convicted. And when I would go to church the next day, I’d feel convicted.
Mason says she lived in that tension until she accepted a full scholarship to a local Christian college.
MASON: What that did was nurture my gifts and talents in an environment that was outside of my daddy’s church. It was like a fresh view on life and faith. It was there I decided to give my life to the Lord and pursue gospel music.
Back in the Pacific Northwest, Stevenson was also preparing for college, and nurturing a newfound love, initiated by his youth pastor.
STEVENSON: Just randomly showed up at my house one day and dumped it, an acoustic guitar in my lap.
Stevenson joined a college band and dreamed of a career in music. But when the band dissolved, he turned to education. After a few years of teaching Spanish and high school English, he and his college sweetheart moved to Idaho. There, he made another career change and rekindled his love for music.
STEVENSON: It was like the Lord totally set that up. He let me be a paramedic, let me make some money every week and gave me five days a week to go play music.
Stevenson says he wasn’t prepared for how the two vocations would intersect. The former paramedic helped revive a lightning strike survivor, who eventually became one of his biggest supporters.
STEVENSON: So she helped get me into that recording studio, and that demo got me my first record deal.
SONG: [Just For You Dear Lord]
In 1977 Mason recorded her first gospel album. She sold all 500 copies. After college, she got married and moved to Georgia. For three years Mason says she juggled teaching middle school music and English and singing at weddings and church services on the weekends. One invitation stood out.
MASON: When Cliff Barrows was introduced. He stepped to the microphone and he said, would you consent to being a guest at the next Billy Graham crusade in Tallahassee, Florida?
SONG: [World of Difference]
Mason spent the next 15 years traveling around the globe with the Billy Graham Crusade. She’s recorded nearly two dozen albums. In 2012 Stevenson was nominated for a Grammy Award. The 41 year old says it’s a testament to what God can do through a kid with a shovel.
STEVENSON: I think something that’s good for every single one of us is once a day we should have to go outside and pick up a shovel for about half an hour to dig and just remember where we came from.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Myrna Brown.