The country music superstar discusses his first gospel album and the ways his Christian faith has shaped his life
Around 25 years ago in the town of Hannah, South Carolina, a teenage Josh Turner felt a passion for country music and prayed to God for guidance because he wanted to pursue it as a career. During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, he recalls God giving him this answer: “If this is what you want, I’ll give it to you as long as you trust Me.”
That’s exactly what Josh did, even during some very difficult times. Today, he is a country music superstar with an immediately recognizable baritone voice. And he’s just released his first ever full gospel album, “I Serve a Savior,” along with a 90 minute live performance DVD, produced in association with the legendary Bill Gaither.
Josh has always included faith-based songs on his mainstream albums (“Long Black Train” and “Me and God,” for instance), so in 2018 he finally decided to work on the Christian record that had long been on his “to do” list – and for which fans had been asking for some time.
On “I Serve a Savior,” Josh wanted “a wide variety of songs,” so the album includes originals such as the title track, classic hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art,” country classics like “I Pray My Way Out of Trouble,” and even an a capella version of “Doxology” (aka “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow”).
Josh notes that faith in his home growing up wasn’t just a Sundays and Wednesdays thing, but rather “a daily walk” that involved his mother singing gospel songs around the house and his father reading the Bible.
That being said, Josh didn’t choose to get baptized until age 12. He explained, “There was a trend when I was growing up of a lot of my friends getting baptized because a lot of their friends were getting baptized. There wasn’t a whole lot of thought or heart being put into it. So for me, I have to know exactly why I’m doing something. I’m not going to do something because somebody else told me to or somebody else did something. I wanted to know all there was to know about…what does it mean to be a Christian.”
Josh spent time reading the Bible, along with an illustrated collection of Bible stories that his grandparents gave him called “The Book.” He said, “It made me understand that we serve a real, living God. He loves us and He wants the best for us, and He wants to have a relationship with us. That’s basically what I started to do. I started to develop that relationship with Him before I went down front and made a public profession of faith because I wanted it to be real when it happened.”
Josh’s aforementioned conversation with God happened a few years later, and he set about to trust in the Lord as he’d promised. That trust met its first real challenge when the aspiring singer developed a lesion on his vocal cord.
He said, “I was dreaming of moving to Nashville and getting a record deal. All of a sudden, I get this lesion on my right vocal cord that basically shut me down. I practically lost my voice for quite some time, and it scared me half to death. I was sitting there thinking, ‘Lord, why would You conjure up this passion within me and why would You tell me that You’re going to get me someplace when You take away the one thing that’s going to get me there?'”
But, continued Josh, “I kept thinking back to [God] saying, ‘Hey, just trust Me.’ So, that’s what I did. I walked through it, endured the hardship part of it, and I did the work that was required of me, and it actually became a blessing in disguise. Once I went through everything at the Vanderbilt Voice Clinic in Nashville, and the Classical vocal training, and going to Belmont University and continuing that training, I started noticing that my voice kept getting healthier and bigger and stronger and richer. Had I not gone through that time, I would never have the voice that I have now.”
With all the success Josh has had since the success of “Long Black Train” in 2003, he could certainly have a big ego. But he doesn’t. Instead, he remains a humble man who is always open to learning from others and from the lessons God puts in his path.
Part of that stems from Josh’s natural affinity for his elders. He said, “When I was growing up, I would rather sit around the table with my parents and my grandparents and listen to them tell stories than be outside [playing] football with my brother – no offense to my brother. But I just loved hearing the perspective of people older than me. I felt like there was so much I could learn from them. That’s basically been carried on throughout my life. I’m attracted to older men and women who have lived a full life and have so much wisdom to offer.”
One of the pieces of wisdom Josh has picked up along the way has to do with men and the idea that they don’t need anyone in life, that they can be completely self-sufficient.
He said, “[Self-sufficiency] is an illusion. It’s a lie from the enemy. He makes us think that, ‘Oh you’re strong, you’re in control, you can handle all these things that are coming your way by yourself.’ That’s so far from the truth. We’re made to have community. We’re made to have fellowship with one another. There’s no shame in taking part in that. Some of the healthiest people I know have a good community. They have fellowship with other men, and so that’s something that I strive towards.”
One of the ways that Josh serves the wider community is through the Josh Turner Scholarship Fund, which was inspired by his own background: “I went to a small rural school in South Carolina, and we didn’t have a lot of music programs or art programs. The ones that we did have kind of came and went. We just didn’t have a lot of opportunities to learn about music or art. When I got my record deal and started traveling around, I started realizing I wasn’t the only one without all these kinds of opportunities. My wife and I started this fund back in 2005 with our own money, and we’ve watched it grow exponentially. We’ve had quite a few recipients of this fund, and we’ve watched them go on to the college of their choice and pursue music and art. It’s been very fulfilling and gratifying to see how that platform has been able to help somebody.”
And along the lines of helping somebody, Josh has the same wish for people who listen to “I Serve a Savior.” He concludes, “I hope [listeners] feel encouraged. I hope they feel some peace and some joy from listening to this record. I hope that it’s thought-provoking and intriguing for them to where it will encourage them and prompt them to dig a little deeper into their own life and into their own belief system.”
(To listen to my full interview with Josh Turner, click on the podcast link):