Nominated five times as country music’s top male vocalist and author of more than a dozen chart-topping songs, Collin Raye has been a popular country performer for 20 years. Now he is putting his talents toward the cause of life, recently signing on as national spokesman for the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, which seeks to raise awareness about euthanasia and the care of persons with disabilities. The network is run by Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri; her feeding tube was removed by court order in 2005.
Raye, 51, was born in Arkansas and grew up in Texas, first performing on stage with his mother at age 7. After performing for years with his brother, he began his solo recording career. He became a Catholic at age 23 and has recorded songs with strong faith themes. In April 2010 his granddaughter Haley, died at the age of 9 of a neurological disorder she was born with. On his most recent album, Raye performs a tribute to her, She’s With Me, in which he celebrates her life as filled with love and meaning though she needed constant care.
Register correspondent Maria Caulfield spoke with Raye.
Do you come from a musical family? When did you start playing music and singing?
Yes, I come from a musical family, but I’ve never had any formal musical training. In the 1950s, my mom, Lois Wray, opened the shows of artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. After that, she did solo acts and would sometimes bring my brother, Scott, and me up to sing with her. Later on, in the early 1970s, Scott and I started a country-rock band. I launched my solo career in the late 1980s and released my first hit record in 1991.
Did you always know you wanted to be a country singer?
Country was what I knew growing up, so I think it came naturally. I first performed with my mom on stage when I was only 7 years old.
Tell us about your religious upbringing in the Bible Belt and what brought you to the Catholic Church.
As I was growing up, I felt that there was much more than what I experienced in the many different Protestant churches that I visited. I was 18, when, one day, in a club in Portland, Ore., where I used to play, I noticed a couple that went to my shows regularly. The woman wore a small cross around her neck, and I figured out that they were Catholics; and I asked, out of curiosity, if I could go to Mass with them one day. That became the beginning of an exciting journey, and I found convincing answers to all my questions. Discovering the Catholic faith, for me, was like stumbling across a treasure.
Tell us about your granddaughter’s life and the song that you wrote for her.
I lost my little baby granddaughter April 3, 2010. She had an undiagnosed neurological brain disorder. She couldn’t do anything and was totally helpless in every way by the time she died, but I always felt honored to take her places and say, “She’s with me.” She was on a ventilator and extraordinary means to keep her alive, and the Lord decided to take her.
As for the song, She’s With Me, I wrote it in a matter of 20 minutes while on a plane. At the time, I wasn’t writing every week, but I had been thinking about the song for a while; and I was so overwhelmed when I wrote it, but it just came out so easy. It was on my album Never Going Back.
Haley was the most perfect human being I ever encountered, and I have no doubt she went straight to heaven. Like I say in the song, I hope she’ll be standing there at the gates of heaven with me, and when God looks at me and says, “Hey, I’m not sure yet about you …” I hope that because she’s with me and because I was her representative in this world, that she’ll say to God to let me in because “Hey, he’s with me.”
In so many ways, Haley’s death validated my faith. To this day, I love that child so much, and I can’t wait to be with her again. Because of Haley and others close to me, I know all about life and death and that it is up to God to create life and end life.
What motivated you to become a spokesman for the Schiavo Life & Hope Network?
Terri’s story was captivating, and what happened to her and her family was brutal and inhumane. She was cognitively impaired, but no extreme measures were being taken to keep her alive. She only had a tube for food and water, and, other than that, she was fine; yet her husband wanted to kill her out of “compassion.” It was because of Terri’s story, my own experience with my granddaughter, and my faith that I was motivated to join the Life & Hope Network. And how it all came together in the end was divinely inspired, and I’m so happy to represent them to the public.
Did you follow the story of Terri when she was alive and the battle over her treatment?
Yes, I did, but I got the side of the story that the media wanted to tell us, and that was not the whole truth. After I met the Schindlers and read the entire story, I understood the heinous crime of brutal, state-sanctioned starvation that was imposed upon her.
What is the main message you want to send regarding end-of-life issues?
God alone has the right to decide when we are born and when we die naturally.
You have combined a strong social message with your country music. Do you think music should be more than just entertainment, that it should express a viewpoint?
Absolutely. I think it’s important to touch on issues. Particularly, my songs Little Rock [alcoholism and recovery], What If Jesus Comes Back Like That [seeing God in the outcast] and I Think About You [the problem with exploitation of women] were songs that allowed me to become accepted as making statements. And I’m driven now, more than ever before, by what my music means to people.
There is so much more to making music and entertaining than I thought. I’ve come to realize that it’s about entertaining people one minute and healing them the next. It’s kind of like a ministry. That’s actually what inspired me to record a new Catholic inspirational CD that will be released Oct. 15 and will include classic and original hymns.
Register correspondent Maria Caulfield writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.