A conversation with Andrew Greer for CCM Magazine—As part of continuing coverage of Sandi Patty throughout the month of May (watch an exclusive in-studio performance of Sandi Patty singing “Forever Grateful,” co-written with Nichole Nordeman, by clicking the “play” button above or scrolling to the bottom of this article!)
Jason Roy is the fiery front man for one of modern Christian music’s most electric, and endearing, gold-selling bands. Nichole Nordeman is a widely respected wordsmith, penning some of the most poetic albums in recent contemporary Christian music history and honored with a slew of Dove Awards as a result. And if you asked them which artist has considerably influenced their professional and personal lives, the unanimous answer would be … Sandi Patty, of course.
So when I heard Roy and Nordeman share an adoring respect for and heartfelt friendship with this month’s CCM Magazine cover girl and one of gospel music’s most awarded and deeply beloved legends, I seized the opportunity to moderate the love, sparking a discussion with the two popular artists about the indelible impact Patty’s musicianship has bestowed upon their art, and how her legacy is helping shape the legacies they too want to leave behind through music.
CCM: Nichole, in a recent Facebook post, you paid tribute to Sandi Patty, saying, “She was my hero.” How did she impact you as a young musician?
Nichole Nordeman: I loved all kinds, and sang all kinds, of music growing up. My mom was a church pianist, choir director and music teacher at my school, and exposed my brother and me to a lot of different genres. I sang every Amy Grant song backwards and forwards, knew most musical theater soundtracks, Juice Newton and The Oak Ridge Boys taught me how to harmonize, and I practiced endless hours of Bach and Mozart for piano lessons.
But as a very young musician and follower of Jesus, Sandi’s music was where I first experienced how emotional music about my faith could be, how transcendent. When she sang “Via Dolorosa,” I could feel the anguish of Jesus’ walk to Calvary. When she delivered “We Shall Behold Him,” I could feel those clouds unfolding. She’s still having the same effect on audiences today. You can’t listen to her in the background.
CCM: Jason, you too were shaped by Sandi’s music as a kid. And I hear the two of you became friends during Women Of Faith final tour. So, in what ways has Sandi Patty influenced your life?
Jason Roy of Building 429: When I was five years old, my parents divorced. I had grown-up in the same small town my whole life. When my mom remarried, we moved from Mt. Pleasant, Texas, our small little hometown, to Dallas.
Our house was full of southern Gospel tapes, records, and stuff like that, [but] during the move there was only one tape in our car. Sandi Patty’s tape. We listened to it over and over again, in a very difficult time in my life, when I was leaving my father and all my friends behind. The music of Sandi was this comfort in the midst of the struggle. I never in a million years believed I would meet her.
Literally, thirty years after my whole world fell apart, my mom came on stage and sang “Amazing Grace” a capella with Sandi and the band. It kind of hit me. There was a lot of weight to it. It often takes thirty years to make sense of the struggle you’re in the middle of [now].
CCM: Nichole, over the last twenty years, Sandi Patty has been candid with audiences about the demise of her first marriage and following restoration. As a woman who has also chartered the rocky terrain of divorce, has Sandi’s friendship influenced your story?
NN: To be clear, I don’t think Sandi treated me with such kindness and loved me as well as she did simply because we have both walked the painful road of divorce. She just loves people really well, period. But there is a certain understanding between two friends who walk with the same limp.
We never had any deep, intense conversations about [divorce], but she had a “knowing” when I needed a little encouragement. She’d leave me a simple text or voicemail, just to remind me who I was in Jesus or say that she was praying for me that day, reminding me that she was here for me if I ever needed a safe place to fall apart. It moved me to know that God had placed me on her heart occasionally, and she’d always reached out to let me know.
CCM: Jason, we talked about Sandi’s influence on you and so many others. Now, as an artist influencing thousands through your music, what do you hope listeners take away from Building 429’s growing platform?
JR: We have always been focused on making sure people know we are not here because of any extraordinary talent. It’s because of the grace of God that we get to stand where we do. And because of that, we get to point back to Him.
In all things, the more things you give away the more you receive. So the more you give glory to God in a situation where you could take the glory, the bigger that stage tends to get. So for us, we hope people come to a Building 429 show, feel encouraged and uplifted, and remember to give glory to the Lord. And be ready to get used by Him to do amazing things.
We are all a part of this huge story. Hopefully, we leave fans [knowing they are] called to be Christ-like and unashamed of the Gospel. So go and change the world.
CCM: Speaking of, you guys launched the #iamunashamed campaign last year. What is the campaign about?
JR: “I Am Unashamed” is about being unashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the things I ran into in my own life was some of the hidden things in my past. I was afraid if I faced them I would be ashamed of them. It is interesting. You cannot be unashamed of the Gospel without being unashamed of your past, without recognizing that the struggle sets you up beautifully for the grace of God to change your heart from the inside out.
“I Am Unashamed” is about getting people to take a real look at their own lives, to admit their failures, and to move forward and walk in the knowledge and grace that has set them free. And freely share that grace. It’s not us against the world. It’s Jesus for the world through us.
CCM: Nichole, you personally helped Sandi Patty pen the title track of her last record, “Forever Grateful,” a song commemorating her legacy. What a gift! What message do you hope your catalog of music leaves behind for singers, songwriters, storytellers and listeners?
NN: It was such a privilege to help Sandi write this song of gratitude and goodbyes for her farewell album. I cried a lot. Cried the first time she asked. Cried when she sent me a little voice memo of just her and her piano at home, hammering out some ideas. Cried when I first wrote the lyric, realizing I was both the writer and the audience, an adoring fan whose life had been so shaped by her music. Cried again when she said she felt like maybe God had given me a lyric that spoke to both of our lives.
My own legacy certainly will not include the kind of accolades and accomplishments Sandi’s includes. The scope and impact of her ministry puts her in another league entirely. But I hope that my legacy is similar in other ways. I hope when people listen to my music, long after I’m gone, they will feel known. And understood. And less alone. Even though Sandi’s voice can transport you to the very heavens, it’s her heart that people are drawn to. If my songs feel like actual friends, even a small percentage of the time, I’d be pretty happy with that legacy.