Born on September 11, 1969, in Orange County, CA; daughter of a minister; married Brian Ray, 1988; children: Solomon, Isabella. Addresses: Record company--Metro 1 Music, 2815 Villa Way, Newport Beach, CA 92663, website: http://www.metro1music.com. Website--Crystal Lewis Official Website: http://www.crystallewis.com.
Beginning her career as a teenage musical theater performer, Crystal Lewis has gone on to become a prolific Contemporary Christian singer. After a stint fronting the rockabilly Christian group Wild Blue Yonder, Lewis's solo career has spanned more than two dozen albums, including six Spanish-language releases. She reached a milestone in being awarded the Dove Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1998, one of three Dove Awards Lewis received that year. The following year she won her fourth Dove Award for her Spanish-language album Oro, and also received a Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Group Performance for her track "Lean on Me" included on Kirk Franklin's The Nu Nation Project. Lewis returned to her roots in the theater in 2000 by appearing as Mary in a touring production titled Child of Promise, which portrays the story of the birth of Christ.
Lewis was born on September 11, 1969, in Southern California and grew up in Orange County. Her father was a pastor and Lewis began singing in his church from the age of four. By the time she was 15 she was appearing in the musical review Hi-Tops; the following year Lewis joined a Christian rockabilly outfit called Wild Blue Yonder, which released one album during its short career. When Lewis went off to college she was still unsure that a professional career in music was in her future; as she told Zik Jackson of the Phantom Tollbooth website, "I was away at college and I was thinking, 'What am I doing here?' I was of the mind set that I needed to have something to fall back on in case the music thing didn't work out.... I just began to realize that this is something I guess I'm supposed to pursue." When Lewis was 19, she married longtime boyfriend Brian Ray, whom she had met while working in Wild Blue Yonder. The couple began working together on her career. As she explained to Jackson, "It was a revelation from the Lord that, like being a pastor and a pastor's wife, we're in this together, side by side."
Lewis had already released a solo album before her marriage, 1987's Beyond the Charade. For the next five years she continued to release albums for the Contemporary Christian music market, although none had commercial impact, and also appeared in the first season of the television series Roadhouse, which aired on cable television's Nickelodeon network. In 1992 Lewis and Ray decided to take a more active role in managing her recording career by forming their own label, Metro 1 Music, based in Newport Beach, California. "We wanted to branch out," she explained on her website. "Since we're not in Nashville, like most of the Christian music scene, we're able to maintain our independence. It's beneficial in many ways." Her album Bride appeared on the Metro 1 label in 1993, and her Remix Album followed in 1994.
Lewis continued to release albums on Metro 1 throughout the 1990s, but she also entered into a recording contract with Myrrh Records in 1995. "We came to a conclusion that as a smaller record company, there was only so much we could do. We were really enjoying our freedom creatively, and we wanted to see if there was some way we could combine that with a bigger sales force and marketing and promotions team," the vocalist told Billboard. "We feel that we have the best of both worlds--maintaining our freedom and control over certain things but at the same time having great marketing and promotion people."
The Myrrh deal gave Lewis far greater exposure than she had previously enjoyed and also represented a commercial breakthrough for her releases. Her Hymns: My Life arrived in 1995, accompanied by a Spanish-language version, Himnos de mi vida. Beauty for Ashes followed in 1996 and Lewis's next Myrrh album, Oro, was released in 1998. Oro, the Spanish-language version of her album Gold, received the Dove Award for Spanish-language Album of the Year in 1999. By that time Lewis already had three Dove Awards: in 1998 she was named Female Vocalist of the Year; her release La Belleza de la Cruz was named Spanish Language Album of the Year, and she added a third Dove Award for Special Event Album for her participation on Exodus.
While Myrrh helped make Lewis into one of the top artists in the Contemporary Christian market, the deal was a mixed blessing for Lewis. "It's like going to an event with someone important," she reflected in Billboard. "You couldn't get in without that person, and once you get in, you are on the arm of someone fairly well known, and you can walk around and meet people you've never met. That was Myrrh." On the other hand, Lewis added, "There are different places you find yourself, and one is the center of this really political place as far as allowing someone else to have control over what you look like, what kind of promotion you do, what kind of songs you release to radio, and the kinds of records you make." Lewis decided to end her contract with Myrrh after Oro, and subsequently released albums on the Metro 1, Interscope, Sony, and Word labels.
Through Metro 1, Lewis and Ray have gone on to release records by a number of other new Contemporary Christian acts, including Spoken, Priesthood, and Dicky Ochoa. She has welcomed the challenge of bringing the acts to a wider audience, as she told Deborah Evans Price in Billboard. "The difficulty of an independent label is wanting so desperately to provide a platform for these artists to do what they do. They reach people that other people can't." In 1998 Lewis also branched out with an appearance on Kirk Franklin's The Nu Nation Project, performing on the track "Lean on Me" with Bono, Mary J. Blige, and R. Kelly. The project was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best R&B Group Performance category in 1999.
In addition to the critical respect she earned for "Lean on Me," Lewis reached another artistic milestone with her 2000 album Fearless. Noting that the album has an edgier sound than her past releases, Lewis likens the creative process on Fearless to childbirth. "Making an album is really similar to having a baby," the mother of two explained in an interview with Release. "It's excruciatingly painful, but thirty seconds later you are holding this baby in your arms, and you have completely forgotten the pain. Then, later on down the road, you want to have another one." According to Lewis, this process was particularly evident on Fearless. "The spiritual warfare was so intense during this project," she told Release. "I think it has to do with the content of the record. I think the enemy knows that I am saying some important things, and he was doing everything he could to thwart those efforts. I was the most discouraged I ever remember being during a recording. The words I wrote to those songs, I really needed to finish the album."
Like other Americans, Lewis was forced to confront a tangible evil while witnessing the terrorist events of September 11, 2001. She was so moved by the tragic events in New York City and Washington, D.C. that she immediately went into the studio to record lyrics she had written based on a Bible verse about dealing with adversity through prayer. Within 72 hours of the attacks Lewis and Ray had recorded, remixed, and posted the song "When God's People Pray" on her website. She hoped that her action would help the country heal and move in a new direction, as she told Jen Waters on Crosswalk.com: "[Our leaders] are moving in the right direction. But when all of this is over, I hope it sticks and that it does in fact turn the country toward God for the long term, rather than just temporarily." Lewis was also honored to meet President George W. Bush during a February 2002 Washington, D.C. meeting sponsored by the Campus Crusade for Christ, where she sang "When God's People Pray." "Getting to hear President Bush speak intimately about his heart was overwhelming," she told Crosswalk.com. "He was candid and compassionate and real! His strength was clear and his passion and love for our country obvious. Getting to see and hear President Bush in person multiplied our respect and admiration for him by a hundred!"
by Timothy Borden
Crystal Lewis's Career
Made stage debut in Hi-Tops, 1984; vocalist with Wild Blue Yonder, mid-1980s; released debut album, Beyond the Charade, 1987; actress in Roadhouse television series on the Nickelodeon cable television network, 1990; formed Metro 1 music label, 1992; signed with Myrrh Records, 1995; released Fearless, 2000; toured in stage production The Child of Promise, 2000.
Crystal Lewis's Awards
Dove Awards, Female Vocalist of the Year, 1998, Spanish-Language Album of the Year for La Belleza de la Cruz, 1998, and Oro, 1999, and Special Event Album for Exodus, 1998.
- Selected discography
- Beyond the Charade , 1987; reissued, Frontline, 1997.
- Remember , Light, 1992.
- Recuerda , Myrrh, 1992.
- Bride , Metro 1, 1993.
- Remix Album , Metro 1, 1994.
- Hymns: My Life , Myrrh, 1995.
- Himnos de mi vida , Metro 1, 1995.
- Crystal Lewis's Greatest Hits , Metro 1, 1995.
- La Belleza de la Cruz , Myrrh, 1996.
- Beauty for Ashes , Myrrh, 1996.
- Joy , Metro 1, 1997.
- Let Love In , Metro 1, 1997.
- Gold , Interscope, 1998.
- Oro , Myrrh, 1998.
- (With others) Kirk Franklin: The Nu Nation Project , Encore Music, 1998.
- Live at the Woodlands , Metro 1, 1999.
- Fearless , Interscope, 2000.
- La colección , Metro 1, 2000.
- Holiday!: A Collection of Christmas Classics , Interscope, 2000.
- More , Sony, 2001.
- More: Live , Word, 2002.
- Holy, Holy, Holy , Word, 2002.
- Billboard, July 8, 1995, p. 64; September 28, 1996, p. 46; July 15, 2000, p. 57; August 11, 2001, p. 16.
- Release, June-July, 2000.
- "CCM Community Responds to Attack on America," Christian Music, http://www.christianmusic.com/crystallewis/bio.html (April 15, 2002).
- "Crystal Lewis," Crosswalk.com, http://news.crosswalk.com/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID74088%7CCHID194343%7CCIID871838,00.html (April 16, 2002).
- "Crystal Lewis: In Her Own Words," Phantom Tollbooth, http://www.toolbooth.org/2002/features/clewis.html (April 15, 2002).
- Crystal Lewis Official Website, http://www.crystallewis.com (April 15, 2002).
- Family Christian, http://www.familychristian.com (April 15, 2002).