Arts & Entertainment
Meet the 'Johnny Cash of Catholic Music'
Singer-Songwriter Randy Albright Is a Little Bit Country and a Whole Lot of Church
BY Barb Ernster
March 27-April 9, 2011 Issue | Posted 3/18/11 at 11:23 AM
Randy Albright has written top-selling songs for such legendary country-music artists as Tammy Wynette, Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea and Diamond Rio. After landing a publishing deal with Acuff Rose in the early ’80s, he recorded his first million-seller song, “Christmas Memories,” for the group Alabama and went on to write multiple award-winning songs that landed on the top of country-music charts.
But it is his more recent Catholic music career that has meant more to him than all the Gold and Platinum earned in Nashville. Inspired by the Divine Mercy message in 2002, he started singing his own version of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy while driving in the car one day and recorded his A Musical Celebration of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy CD two years later. After a series of referrals and phone calls, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception invited him to perform at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005. That set him on a course of being a Catholic songwriter and singer.
“I had started walking away from country music at that time, realizing that music with more meaning was what I wanted to do. My Catholic music offered that fulfillment, and there was no turning back after that,” says Albright, who has recorded two Catholics CDs, with two more scheduled for release in 2011.
After his successful performance at the shrine, he promised the Lord he would honor his Mother and wrote his second CD, a 14-song tribute to Mary. He took his music on the road in 2010, performing in parishes and at Catholic events around the country and, more recently, in the Holy Land, where he accompanied Our Sorrowful Mother’s Ministry, which is based in Vandalia, Ill.
A man who likes to wear black when performing, Albright has been dubbed the “Johnny Cash of Catholic Music.”
Ironically, the songwriter never even considered himself a singer until he started writing Catholic music.
“I enjoyed having other people sing my songs because I really didn’t care for my voice,” he says.
Yet his voice is drawing fans from as far away as Poland. And, after his 2010 tour, his CDs are getting into more people’s hands and making their way onto radio stations. His Divine Mercy CD left one woman “speechless.”
“What a fantastic way to start your day 17 minutes on the way to work, and the words stay with you all day,” she wrote on his online guestbook.
Another wrote, “The Queen of Heaven is smiling from her abode. God bless you for sharing your talent and honoring our Queen and Lady.”
Adds Father Mark Innocenti, pastor of Lady of Lourdes parish in Little Falls, Minn., who invited Albright to sing at the parish last May (and will be returning there in May for a second visit): “You can tell Randy has spent time in prayer with Mary and meditated on her place in salvation history; it shows in the lyrics of his songs. His devotion was evident to all, and his show left people inspired. ... I was impressed.”
His wife Laurie, a country-music fan who gave him a lot of input on his songs, also found her professional singing voice in Catholic music; she accompanies him on tour as a backup vocalist. The couple, who reside in White House, Tenn., look at their new Catholic music ministry as a gift from God that has many spiritual benefits.
“If I’m going to be representing Mary in my music, then my life needs to be an image that reflects that,” says Albright. “I lead a life of prayer more than I used to, plus I get to hang out with a lot of neat monks, priests and sisters.”
Albright was adopted at birth in 1957 by a Polish-American Catholic family in Bronson, Mich. The family was always very musical, and Albright had set a goal early in life to make his living writing songs. His adoptive mother had taught him to play the guitar and encouraged him to write his first song.
“She was trying to put me on the path that she thought I might be on otherwise,” he says, which was later confirmed to him.
While growing up, his adoptive mother always told him that when he was older she had something to give him. When he finally asked her for it, she went into her bedroom and came out with an old newspaper clipping dated 1966. There was a picture of a young lady sitting at a piano, and she had won an award. His adoptive mother told Albright that she suspected that was his real mother, because she had made a connection between the woman in the picture and the names of his godparents that were listed on his baptismal certificate.
So Albright made arrangements to meet his biological mother, a singer-songwriter who now lives in California. She was a young woman of 19 when she became pregnant with him. Her father wanted her to get an abortion, but she went to live with relatives until he was born. They convinced her to give him up for adoption.
“She had always stipulated that I had to be adopted by a Catholic family,” he says. “I always say I’m a pre-cradle Catholic. Before I was born, I was destined to be a Catholic.”
Hearing the truth about his mother’s plight gave special meaning to the pro-life message for Albright. His song “Let Me Live” came out of him as if the Blessed Mother was right there with him, he says. The song has aired on Eternal Life Radio in Boston and has been used at pro-life events and speaking engagements by Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr.
From Nashville With Love
Albright says he doesn’t miss the country-music recording industry, but it took him a few years to get used to a new lifestyle after being in it for 25 years.
“You’re under a quota and have to write so many songs a year,” he says. “It was really hard for me to think, Gee, I’m not writing any songs today.”
There was a time in the early 2000s when country-music artists started writing their own songs and the songwriters who made their living at it were not getting recordings. The artist songs weren’t selling, however, because they weren’t that good, and country music went into a slump.
“When my publishing deal came up, I stepped away, and I didn’t try to get another deal,” he says.
Paying tribute to the Blessed Mother has drawn him even closer to the Divine Mercy, a message he lives every day.
Barb Ernster writes from Fridley, Minnesota.
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