I had the pleasure of having my paradigm shifted last month. Over breakfast in a little bistro in Brentwood, TN, I had all of my preconceived notions of what a career as an artist looks like, shattered. Between bites of quiche, I learned how two incredible women, Jodi Marcum and Mary-Kathryn Cunningham, defied and continue to defy the status quo when it comes to a career as an artist. Because I am looking forward to the birth of my first child in July, the stories of the successful careers they developed AFTER the age of 35 AND with kids in tow, were particularly intriguing to me. Growing up, I always assumed that if you wanted to have a career as an artist, you needed to start early; but after hearing these women’s stories I knew I had to share them with those of you feeling like you are too old, too inexperienced or too bound by your role as a mother to pursue the calling God has placed in your heart. So happy Mother’s day, artists, and good news: You are NEVER too old to follow God’s lead. Read on to see how these two did it…
Jodi and Mary-Kathryn started their careers at the ages of 43 and 35 respectively and although Jodi grew up playing piano and married a career musician for the US Naval band, Mary-Kathryn didn’t begin singing until she was 21. Although their paths started very differently, the decision to go into music full-time as an artist was very spiritually directed for both.
For Jodi, it was a serendipitous moment where she, her husband and her two children all came together with the same vision of touring as a family band. “We sat down to discuss doing music as our family’s business and realized that individually, we had all received the same God-given vision. We decided we didn’t want to charge for shows and that we would sell our house to support ourselves in the beginning. We were completely supported by love offerings and eventually made a living through the World Vision Artist Associates program.” Jodi received even more confirmation that this was the direction God was leading her when four shows were booked before the family ever announced their plan publicly. The family toured for several years and home-schooled their two kids until her oldest left for Nursing school, but even as her children left home, she continued to tour with her husband, Jay. They toured the US and Europe as a duo until they settled in Nashville where Jodi took a job with Tom Jackson Productions. They toured for a total of 8 years, largely through word-of-mouth bookings. “We rarely did any cold-calling to book ourselves, God directed our careers 100% of the way.”
Mary-Kathryn had a similar God-moment when deciding to go into music as an artist. She recalls it like this: “I had a conversation with God and He told me He was calling me to be a Psalmist. I asked Him, ‘What does that mean?,’ and He said, ‘The songs I’m going to give you are going to be songs that will bring healing and deliverance and be prophetic in nature.'” What struck Mary-Kathryn as odd was that she wasn’t a songwriter, and although she was leading worship at her church at the time, she had never written a song before in her life. “I didn’t understand it, but I trusted in what He said and after that I started to hear music and melody, so I carried a recorder with me everywhere and recorded the things I’d hear in my head.” She waited another 7 years from that initial conversation before she finally laid down the ‘dream’. “I had been diligently recording the music God was giving me and nothing had happened in 7 years, so I laid it down and told the Lord that if the music He was giving me was just for me to simply worship Him–I was OK with that.” Not long after that, her husband Elliot found an old business card for a music producer in San Antonio and encouraged her to give him a call. She was hesitant since she’d never been in a studio or recorded music before, but once she got those headphones on, she fell in love with the recording process. Once that first album was completed, Elliot helped her rehearse her set every Thursday night in preparation to go on the road with their 6 and 2 year olds in tow. “Elliot’s Grandpa was a church planter, so we got a list of all the churches in Oklahoma and booked 50 shows that first year.” Mary-Kathryn continues to tour and is currently working on her 5th album due out later this year.
Both women agree that aside from a clear direction from the Lord, the common denominator in their success has been a supportive spouse. They admitted to experiencing feelings of guilt from time to time when bringing their children on tour, but never any regrets. Touring as a family or with children in tow can be hard work, but as Jodi put it, “The most important thing is that the children see their parents living in Christ, loving each other and living their life with passion for what Christ has given them to do.”
“Be faithful in the small things,” Mary-Kathryn advises, “You may think that what you have is not that special, but be faithful. Keep record of it, write it down, share it with your friends; whether you think its going to be HUGE or not, do it anyway! Scripture reminds us that we cannot rule over anything until we are faithful in the small things.”