Some of music’s most respected artists join together in tribute to one of the world’s most admired men, the Reverend Billy Graham, for the October 7 release of Billy: The Early Years, the original motion picture soundtrack to the film opening on October 10. A 13-track collection spotlighting artists from the worlds of gospel and contemporary Christian music, country music and beyond, the soundtrack thoroughly captures the mood and spirit of the film’s portrait of Graham’s early life and ministry.
Brooks & Dunn join Third Day’s Mac Powell to open the film and soundtrack with their rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Over the Next Hill,” produced by Tony Brown with Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, who also produced or co-produced four of the album’s tracks.
Country songstress Sara Evans delivers the album’s first single, “Low,” which goes to country radio in late September. The joyful energy of the song, whose message, Evans observes, is “actually the opposite of what the title says,” mirrors her enthusiasm over participating in the album. She remarked, “Billy Graham is an icon. He’s one of my all-time idols, and he’s an amazing man. I’m so proud to be part of this project that celebrates that and tells the story of Billy; his wife, Ruth; their love; and his early years.”
With dozens of major awards and more than 15 million albums sold, Michael W. Smith has become contemporary Christian music’s premier solo artist, and he also shares the special distinction of being a personal friend of the Reverend Graham. Smith remarked, “Anyone who knows me knows of my immense respect for Billy Graham. I wanted to be a part of this project to, in some small way, pay tribute to him – and to Ruth. There is a very small handful of people who actually impact culture and society. Without a doubt, Billy did that. I hope this project gives people a glimpse into his life and into what made him the man he is.” Smith celebrates his friend’s life and ministry here with the soaring “Amazing Love,” performed with season six American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle.
Among other tracks, Patty Griffin gives voice to the beautiful “Ruth’s Prayer,” a poem written by Graham’s late wife, Ruth Bell Graham, and set to music by Alan Jackson, who was inspired to write the song after first seeing the poem in his copy of the Reverend Graham’s biography. Jackson himself sings the sweetly romantic love story, “Look at Me,” written by Jim Collins and Paul Overstreet, while Griffin’s songwriting appears on the soundtrack in the form of “Heavenly Day,” recorded by Brandon Heath, this year’s GMA Dove Award winner for New Artist of the Year.
Making his film debut is multi-million-selling recording artist Josh Turner, whose rich baritone brought to life the role of Gospel Music Hall of Fame member and longtime Graham musical partner, George Beverly Shea. Turner says, “It was an easy decision to make, accepting the part of George Beverly Shea. Billy Graham and everyone that took part in making those crusades happen … going all across the world, the people they’ve influenced … it’s just unbelievable what they have accomplished.” Turner’s rendition of the gospel classic, “Almost Persuaded,” is featured on the soundtrack.
Also contributing to the album and the film is sixteen-year-old bluegrass star Sierra Hull, who portrays Graham’s sister, Catherine, as a young woman. The album includes Hull’s performance of “Just as I Am,” joined by an all-star choir of John Cowan, Harry Stinson, Ronnie Bowman, Ronnie McCoury, and John Wesley Ryles.
Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” – a Top 10 classic from 1963 – is featured on the album, as are tracks from noted artist Gregory Page (“The Great Wild Beyond”) and newcomer China Edelman, accompanied by Sam Bush on mandolin for the Buddy & Julie Miller composition, “Shelter Me.”
Four-time GRAMMY Award winners The Blind Boys of Alabama deliver a rousing version of the traditional “Free at Last,” while Brad Paisley – this year’s GRAMMY winner for Best Country Instrumental Performance – provides a beautiful instrumental rendition of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
Released by Arista Nashville and Essential Records, Billy: The Early Years was helmed by album producer Anastasia Brown, for whom the project was also very meaningful. “Growing up as the daughter of a preacher and an admirer of Ruth and Billy Graham, this project was particularly special for me,” she said. “From working with John Carter Cash to Alan Jackson having a co-write with Ruth Graham to working with my husband Tony Brown for the first time, this album was all I’d hope it would be and so much more. The Grahams have consistently set the bar extremely high, and it’s the mark that we were aiming for while creating the music.”
A track listing appears below:
“Over the Next Hill” – Brooks & Dunn/Mac Powell
“Low” – Sara Evans
“Look at Me” – Alan Jackson
“Shelter Me” – China Edelman featuring Sam Bush on mandolin
“Ruth’s Prayer” – Patty Griffin
“Heavenly Day” – Brandon Heath
“Free at Last” – The Blind Boys of Alabama
“The Great Wild Beyond” – Gregory Page
“Amazing Love” – Michael W. Smith with Melinda Doolittle
“In Dreams” – Roy Orbison
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” – Brad Paisley
“Almost Persuaded” – Josh Turner
“Just as I Am” – Sierra Hull with All-Star choir featuring John Cowan, Harry Stinson, Ronnie Bowman, Ronnie McCoury, and John Wesley Ryles