Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena was abuzz with friends Tuesday evening (4/30) as Country and Gospel’s brightest acts gathered to celebrate three-time GRAMMY® Award winner Michael W. Smith. The tribute honored Smith’s 35+ years in the music industry and his contributions to multiple genres, spanning pop, classical and Christian music.
Although Smith admitted he never wanted to be the center of attention at a tribute event, the 45-time Dove Award winner was visibly touched as more than 50 artists and celebrities praised his work and performed his 35 No. 1 hits during a concert that will later air on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).
Smith is an anomaly of sorts, seamlessly fitting into different circles thanks not only to his talent, but also his philanthropic efforts. Throughout the night, evangelist Franklin Graham (the son of Rev. Billy Graham), former President George W. Bush and U2 frontman Bono personally thanked Smith for his friendship, character and generosity of spirit via video greetings. The singer has been at the forefront of the AIDS crisis and was recently asked to perform at funerals for both Billy Graham and George H.W. Bush.
Although Smith’s core discography finds its place in Christian music, his reach extends deeply into Country music. He’s performed on CMA Country Christmas numerous times, and in 2014, the father of five released The Spirit of Christmas, a holiday album that found him collaborating with Country’s finest acts, including Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, and more.
His impact in Country music was obvious at last night’s event as evidenced by the long list of Country artists who paid tribute to the songwriter. Rascal Flatts performed a stirring rendition of “Pray For Me” from Smith’s first Platinum record, I 2 (Eye). The Gatlin Brothers and The Oak Ridge Boys each performed popular worship ballads written by Smith. The Isaacs joined Ricky Skaggs on an ovation-worthy a cappella performance of “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” Charlie Daniels surprised the audience with a performance of “How Great Thou Art” before, at Smith’s request, launching into “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” Randy Travis even made an appearance to honor Smith.
In addition, New York Times bestselling author/speaker Bob Goff, Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton and Nashville’s newest resident Kathie Lee Gifford all appeared to add their warm wishes. Naturally, many of Christian music’s brightest stars also turned out to honor their longtime friend. Steven Curtis Chapman, Jars of Clay, Matthew West, Natalie Grant, Point of Grace, Francesca Battistelli, Avalon, CeCe Winans, Matt Maher and Jason Crabb were just a few of the names who performed Smith’s biggest hits. Moreover, American Idol alum Jordin Sparks and The Voice winner Jordan Smith joined forces for powerful holiday standout “All Is Well,” and Brian Littrell (Backstreet Boys) honored Smith with “Place In This World,” one of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame member’s landmark songs.
The evening wouldn’t have been complete without Amy Grant, Smith’s longtime creative collaborator and the first artist Smith ever toured with. To this day, the pair continue to enjoy performing together—especially during their annual Christmas tour.
As the final guest of the evening, Grant asked Smith to accompany her as she sang two selections they penned together: “Find A Way” and “Thy Word.” In a fitting finale, all of the artists joined Grant, the guest of honor and his wife, Debbie, on stage to sing “Friends,” the song that has undoubtedly defined his career.
Last summer, Smith was back at Bridgestone Arena hosting a one-of-a-kind citywide worship and prayer gathering, which was recorded and released as a live album, Awaken: The Surrounded Experience, this past February. He continues to write, record and tour the world, extending his already-impressive 35-year legacy.