NASHVILLE-After 25 years with Sparrow Records, Steven Curtis Chapman is exiting the EMI Christian Music Group label Sparrow to sign with Provident Music Group, Sony's Christian division. His label debut, Joy, a Christmas collection, will release this fall and he's also writing for a new studio album.
"I'm incredibly grateful for the 25 years I've had the privilege of calling Sparrow my home and my family," Chapman tells Billboard exclusively. "Sparrow is the nest I was born in and the nest I grew in. That will always be a big part of who I am."
With 57 Gospel Music Assn. Dove Awards, Chapman is Christian Music's most awarded artist. His tally includes seven artist of the year titles, an industry record. Chapman has also won five Grammy Awards and sold 6.7 million albums since SoundScan began tracking sales in Christian bookstores in 1995. The Paducah, KY native's Sparrow debut, First Hand, bowed in 1987 and his 17th and final studio album on Sparrow, re:creation, released last year. Chapman is known for such anthems as "For the Sake of the Call," "The Great Adventure," "Heaven in the Real World," "Cinderella" and "Dive."
"I have known Steven for many years," Provident Music Group president/CEO Terry A. Hemmings tells Billboard. "We have never worked together formally but our families are friends, our children went to school together. His character and integrity are evident in his life. His talent and gifts are obvious and he has much more to say through the experience of his loss, woundedness and struggle."
In the past few years, Chapman's life and art have been colored by the May 21, 2008 death of his five-year-old daughter Maria, who was accidentally struck in the family's driveway by an SUV driven by his teenage son. Chapman says his contract with EMI CMG ended with his 2007 album This Moment, but after writing and recording "Beauty Will Rise," which dealt with the tragedy Sparrow felt like the right place to release the emotional collection.
"When we lost Maria, I didn't know if I was going to make any more records or if I did what that was supposed to be," says Chapman. "I made the Beauty Will Rise record without any conversations with any record label . . . I knew I needed to record those songs and share them with the people who had prayed for us and loved us. I played that record for them [executives at EMI CMG] and I felt like it was so important, with the long history we had, to do this together."
Likewise with 2001's re:creation, which was predominantly new recordings of his classic hits, Chapman felt Sparrow was the right label home because of the history he and those songs had with the label. However, as he began working with producer Brent Milligan on a new Christmas album, Chapman decided to explore other options. Provident execs were excited about the Christmas album and willing to rush to get it in the system for release this fall.
"Because people move around [to different labels], when I walked in Provident and looked at faces, I knew most of the people in the room, and I've worked with a large number of those people over the years," Chapman says.
He very nearly started a label with Hemmings while on vacation in Florida in 2002. Chapman, Hemmings and Mark Miller decided to launch Beach Street Records with the discovery of Georgia worship band Casting Crowns. Chapman decided not to become a partner in the label because of his already busy career and family life, but was instrumental in co-writing and co-producing Casting Crowns' platinum debut. "I just didn't feel like it was something that as a partner I was supposed to get involved in [because of] the time it was going to take and the commitment," he says. "I had so much going on with my own career and my family."
In addition to his music career, Chapman is a well-known philanthropist and advocate for adoption. He and wife Mary Beth founded Show Hope, a non-profit organization that helps families who wish to adopt. In July 2009, they opened Maria's Big House of Hope in Luoyang, China, a medical facility for special needs children.
As he moves forward with his music career, Chapman is excited about being part of the Provident family. His label debut, Joy will be mix of originals penned by Chapman as well as some of his favorite Christmas classics.
"This is a season of new beginnings for me, personally and creatively," Chapman says. "I feel very blessed to be entering this new season with a new partner. Terry is a friend and someone I've admired. I'm really honored to be part of the Provident family."
"Steven possesses the heart, passion and energy to do the work he's been called to," says Hemmings. "Not just in music but in caring for others and utilizing his gifts for so much more. He is humble and aware of his imperfections. His willingness to share it through his songs and story allows him to give to others what has been given to him. People want to be a part of that."