Born May 8, 1954, in Oklahoma City, OK; son of Dick and Jimmie Margaret Talbot; married Nancy, 1971 (divorced, 1978); children: Amy Noel. Religion: Catholic. Singer, guitarist, banjo player, and lay brother in the Order of Secular Franciscans. At ten, began playing in regional bands with older brother, Terry; by 12, had become a seasoned rhythm guitarist and vocalist; member of country-rock band Mason Proffit, 1969-1973; performed Christian music, 1976; released first album as a monk, The Lord's Supper, 1979; has performed with the London Chamber Orchestra; founded The Little Portion Hermitage, Eureka Springs, AR.
"My music changed radically when I became Catholic...," John Michael Talbot, a Third Order Franciscan friar who has sold more than two million records, told L. Katherine Cook in the Christian Century. "That experience ... put me in touch with a broader spectrum of artistic experience." When the singer, who in his teens had played guitar and banjo with the country-rock band Mason Proffit, donned St. Francis's traditional brown robe, he wanted to make one more record. Assuming the album would be his last, Talbot released The Lord's Supper in 1979. The irony is that this recording was only the beginning for the rich tenor's contemplative, inspirational music. "I had a definite call on my life," the monk Talbot related to Carol Azizian in a People profile. "They say you are born a Franciscan and later you find out where you belong."
Talbot's spiritual journey began in the sixties when Mason Proffit was an opening act for singer Janis Joplin. "I saw her drinking Southern Comfort like soda pop," he disclosed to Azizian. The drug and party scene dismayed Talbot, whose searing social consciousness eventually would lead him, after his conversion, to found a hermitage in the Arkansas Ozarks. In the twenty-year pilgrimage since he played a fundraiser concert for Jerry Rubin, one of the notorious "Chicago Seven," Talbot divulged to Evelyn Bence in Publisher's Weekly that he felt "God wanted him to use the gift of music as a tool of reconciliation." Reviewing Talbot's albums in Christianity Today, Michael G. Smith wrote, "I no longer give away books. Instead, I pass on the records of John Michael Talbot. His music conveys the vision of the kingdom of God better than some of the best prose of the theologians."
Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on May 8, 1954, to musically talented parents, Talbot grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father, Dick Talbot, had performed the violin in the Oklahoma City Orchestra. His mother, Jimmie Margaret, played the piano and raised her three children on stories about her father, the Reverend James Cochran, an itinerant singing Methodist minister. John, along with his older brother Terry, and sister Tanni, played several instruments, including banjo, guitar, cello, and tambourine. "There was, shall we say," related Talbot in his biography Troubadour for the Lord, "a not quite active, but not really passive drive toward music--it was just part of our family life--it was simply there."
A musical prodigy, Talbot began playing in regional bands with Terry when he was ten years old. Two years later, he was a seasoned vocalist and rhythm guitarist. In 1968 Terry and John, veterans of a series of well-received regional bands, decided their latest group was ready for national exposure. Changing the band's name to Mason Proffit, they dressed like American woodsmen in buckskin and leather and let their hair grow. Their "message" music, laden with social commentary, fit the nature of the Vietnam era. Audience response to their albums, including Two Hangmen and Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream, induced Warner Bros. to sign them to a contract. The members of a very good band, Terry and John Talbot, Tim Ayres, Art Nash, and Ron Scheutter, were on their way to becoming a great band when drugs and artistic differences split the group.
When the band broke up, Talbot, who had married at age seventeen in 1971, had a wife and daughter to support. Tutored through his high school years while on concert tours with the band, he had never received a high school diploma. Life was rough when his savings ran out, but Talbot's embrace of extreme fundamental religion was more a factor in the breakup of his marriage in 1977. When the former Methodist sought spiritual guidance at Alverna, a Catholic retreat center in Indiana, he discovered peace in the 800-year-old teachings of St. Francis of Assisi.
Although Talbot had ventured into Christian music with his brother Terry prior to his conversion to Catholicism as a Third Order Franciscan lay brother, he assumed his vow of chastity and poverty would end his musical career. Over the years, his release The Last Supper has sold 300,000 albums and garnered critical praise from theological circles. "His rendition of the Apostle's Creed is one of the strongest affirmations of faith set to music--some would say it rivals even the conviction and power of the "Credo" in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis," Smith's review stated. In 1980 his brother Terry joined him with the London Chamber Orchestra to make The Painter. Troubadour of the Great King (1982), Light Eternal (1982), Empty Canvas, and Few Be the Lovers (1987), among other recordings, captured Talbot's Franciscan contemplative tone and medieval leaning. The Christian Century, noting that his music does not fit the rock-oriented, contemporary Christian music scene, stated: "In every case, though, the music constitutes worship."
Earnings, including over $2 million from his previous albums, go into the various charities and the maintenance of The Little Portion, a Franciscan hermitage Talbot founded at Eureka Springs, Arkansas, in 1982. Built near the site of the 1973 Ozark Mountain Folk Fair, where Mason Proffit had performed a hit act for over 10,000 people, the religious community of more than a dozen men and women consecrate their efforts toward renewal and reform through a prayerful life. Talbot performs concert tours one week out of the month and spends the rest of his time at the retreat working for "the gentle revolution," an awakening transformation of spiritual identity. Talbot told Cook that "his role as a musician" was "to bring people into an authentic relationship with Christ." "I don't do the challenging myself," he confessed in the Christian Century. "I just present Jesus to them as real, and Jesus challenges the socks off them. The music just prepares the way for that to happen."
by Marjorie Burgess
John Michael Talbot's Career
- Selective Works
- Reborn, Sparrow, 1972.
- John Michael Talbot, Sparrow, 1976.
- Firewind, Sparrow, 1976.
- The New Earth, Sparrow, 1976.
- The Lord's Supper, Sparrow, 1979.
- Come to the Quiet, Sparrow, 1980.
- The Painter, Sparrow, 1980.
- Beginnings, Sparrow, 1980.
- For the Bride, Sparrow, 1981.
- Troubadour of the Great King, Sparrow, 1982.
- Light Eternal, Sparrow, 1982.
- Songs for Worship, Vol. 1, Sparrow, 1983.
- No Longer Strangers, Sparrow, 1983.
- The Quiet.
- Be Exalted.
- Empty Canvas.
- Few Be the Lovers, 1987.
- Heart of the Shepherd, 1987.
- With Mason Proffit Two Hangmen.
- Moving toward Happiness.
- Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.
- Rockfish Crossing.
- Bareback Rider.
- Come and Gone.
- O'Neill, Dan, Troubadour for the Lord, Crossroad, 1983.
- Christian Century, March 18, 1987.
- Christianity Today, February 1, 1985.
- People, June 8, 1987.
- Publishers Weekly, September 30, 1983.