Born in 1958; daughter of Oren (a minister, musician, and songwriter) Paris; married Jack Wright; children: Jack Paris (J.P.) Wright. Addresses: Record company--Sparrow Records, P.O. Box 5010, 101 Winners Circle, Brentwood, TN 37024. Management--Proper Management, P.O. Box 150867, Nashville, TN 37215. Website--Twila Paris Official Website: http://www.twilaparis.com.
Often compared to famed songwriter Fanny Crosby for her musical homage to God, Twila Paris is among "modern inspirational music's most prolific singer-songwriters," according to Thom Granger in the All Music Guide. She has frequently been referred to as "the modern-day hymn-writer" and has written and recorded many charting singles in Christian music since the early 1980s, including more than 30 number-one hits. Her songs are gentle prayers put to music, with an up-tempo soft rock sound that closes the gap between traditional and contemporary inspirational music.
Virtually every Paris song focuses on relationships of a spiritual nature rather than earthly intimacy between two people. While not overly powerful, her voice has an ethereal quality that is well-suited to her choice of musical genre. In discussing Paris's Sanctuary album in 1992, Robert L. Doerschuk wrote in Keyboard that Paris has a "beautiful vocal timbre, which compensates for an apparently limited range."
Many Paris recordings have enjoyed long stays on the Christian music charts, and their success has made her a perennial nominee for the annual Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Awards. A number of her compositions are printed in hymnals used in churches around the world, among them "We Will Glorify," "Lamb of God," "How Beautiful," and "Faithful Men."
Comes from Religious Family
Devotion to God runs deep in the Paris family, with a dedication to ministry going back four generations. Her great-grandparents were itinerant preachers in Arkansas and Oklahoma who held outdoor revival meetings and established churches. Paris recounted this experience in "Seventy Years Ago," a song on her Beyond a Dream album. Musical talent also runs in the Paris family. When Twila Paris was a little girl, her grandmother wrote religious songs that were passed out at evangelical meetings. And her father, Oren Paris, is a minister as well as an accomplished musician and songwriter.
Paris sang at church before she was old enough to attend school. She began developing her instrumental talent at the age of six, when she started taking piano lessons. By the time she was performing in her high school choir, Paris was determined to become a choral teacher. She began to consider songwriting after attending a Christian discipleship school, where she decided that music would be a perfect way to express her feelings about God. Paris spent two years working full-time with Youth with a Mission (YWAM), a project directed by her father and founded by her uncle, Loren Cunningham. "I began to realize how much hollowness and self-righteousness there had been in my Christianity, growing up as a preacher's kid," she said in the Wall Street Journal. "It was like God was doing major surgery on my heart.... With all that happening so fast, I needed an outlet. As a musician, I very naturally began to write songs."
Musical success was not instant for Paris. She needed to take out a bank loan to pay for her first recording; it took four years of selling cassettes to pay it off. Before long, however, her message had begun to break through. Starting in 1984, she received a string of nominations for the Gospel Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year--a hefty nine nominations in all. Her first album, Knowin' You're Around, was released in 1981 on Milk & Honey Records, and from that point on she averaged about an album a year into the mid-1990s. Every one of her songs celebrates love of God, and her continuing dedication to Christian missions led her to write the theme song "Carry the Light" for Target 2000: "The Great Commission Torch Run" in 1989. Paris has also performed a number of times with the Young Messiah Tour.
After a string of triumphs in the 1980s, a high point for Paris came in 1990 with the release of Cry for the Desert. Her first album produced by Brown Bannister, this release on the Star Song label helped to spark new development in her musical creativity. As she told Billboard in 1992, "Things changed with Cry for the Desert. My own musicality was involuntarily awakened. For the first time, I was on the road a lot when I'd usually write. I began to write more than ever, but it was away from the piano.... I began writing things I never would have written at the piano because I've been afraid to use the full range of my imagination at the piano--mostly because I'm such a limited pianist!"
Hit Career High with Souther
In the early 1990s, Star Song's Darnell Harris introduced Paris to musician-producer Richard Souther at Paris's Arkansas home. The meeting led Souther to produce, arrange, and play on Paris's 1991 album Sanctuary, which many critics considered her best to date. In Billboard, Bob Darden called the album "one of 1991's best," adding, "It is a brilliant, haunting piece of work." Critics made note of Souther's important "New Age" influence. Granger wrote in the All Music Guide that the album "set new musical standards in the inspirational field for arrangement and production ideas." And Doerschuk asserted in Keyboard, "Throughout Sanctuary, Souther's wispy fills, beautifully designed and unerringly placed, never fail to shine." Paris herself praised Souther's contribution to the work. "It is difficult to say enough about Richard's arrangements and production," she told Billboard. "[Sanctuary] is more accurately called a collaboration between us than a solo project of my own."
Paris's goal in recording Sanctuary was to create "a worship album for people who like Cry for the Desert." As she explained in Billboard, "I thought, 'What have I done for people who want to be in a contemplative frame of mind?' Sanctuary is for them, whether they're listening in their car on a country road or listening while they read their Bible. At the same time, we wanted it to be something artistically that could inspire and challenge people who like contemporary music or cutting-edge music."
Hot Name at the Dove Awards
After years of extensive touring and album production, Paris retreated from performing and recording during the first half of 1992 so that she could spend more time with her husband, Jack Wright. That year she was nominated for seven Dove Awards, and her Sanctuary album became the top-selling album of her career to that date. She won the coveted Dove Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in both 1993 and 1994. Paris helped spread the gospel even more by joining up with the Chapel of the Air radio program in 1994. The program featured her songs in 70 nationwide conferences, as well as in videos and printed materials meant to enrich the worship experience through music.
In 1994 Paris also performed at the White House with Michael English, Steve Green, Carman, Daryl Coley, and other Gospel Music Association performers. That same year she released Beyond a Dream, which continued her trend toward "modernization." "Paris spun a few heads with this one, featuring her most contemporary material to date, and a bit of a new and more confident vocal approach to match it," wrote Granger of the album in the All Music Guide. "This album is very current," said Paris of Beyond a Dream in a Sparrow Communications press release. "It talks about how to face what's going on in the world, not from the point of me being some sort of an authority, but from the struggles that I'm going through and writing as I go through them. It was also the biggest stretch for me so far, artistically." Many of the album's songs assure Christians of their security in a world of confusion, emphasize God's mercy, and address other religious themes. Other songs pay homage to Paris's spiritual, ethnic, and geographic roots.
Paris has appeared on numerous magazine covers and television programs showcasing her talents as a performer of Christian music. By 1995 she was continuing to chart on the Contemporary Christian top 40, never wavering from her musical praise of the Lord. "We sing about the Atonement, but it cost the Lord something to give us that," she said in the press release. "We can have fun with the music; that's okay. But on another level, that respect should always be there--concern for the message, and concern for those to whom we would deliver the message." Paris won two Dove Awards in 1995, for Female Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year for "God is in Control."
Paris released Where I Stand in 1996, and the successful album became her best-selling record. After taking 1997 off, she released Perennial: Songs for the Seasons of Life. The album was a spiritual follow-up to her 1991 release, Sanctuary. Continuing her prolific output, she released True North in 1999. Around this time, Paris's husband was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a disease he had been living with undiagnosed for nearly a decade. This cast a shadow over their desire for children, and they attempted to deal with his disease before making future plans.
Hit Children's Album
In early 2000, with the help of a Christian nutritionist, they were able to improve Wright's health through nutrition, exercise, and vitamin supplements. Twila, 40 years old by now, had begun to accept the fact that children might not have been God's plan for her. She began recording an album of children's songs that she'd had in her head for almost a decade. A month into the project, Twila received the news that she was pregnant. Her son, Jack Paris (J.P.) Wright, was born in early 2001.
The children's album Paris was working on, Bedtime Prayers: Lullabies and Peaceful Worship, was released in 2001 to critical acclaim. Christianity Today praised it as "simple and obvious, yet beautiful and true," which was exactly what Paris was aiming for. She often refers to the album as "Sanctuary for children," as she did in Christianity Today, music that was meant to "fill vulnerable minds with foundational truths." The songs came to Paris quickly, as many of her biggest hits also did. "I wonder if God didn't give me the songs because they contain messages I so often need to hear," she said in Christianity Today. "Usually there is something that is very much in my heart, what God is doing, what He's saying. I'm just sort of a heart writer, very dependent on that moment of inspiration."
by Ed Decker
Twila Paris's Career
Began singing in church choir as a preschooler; spent a year at a Christian discipleship school; served two years as staff member with Youth with a Mission (YWAM); recorded first album, Knowin' You're Around, 1981; wrote "Carry the Light," theme song for world evangelism project Target 2000: "The Great Commission Torch Run," 1989; worked with producers Brown Bannister and Richard Souther, 1990s; began serving as spokesperson for the Parable Group stores, 1993; joined Young Messiah Tour, 1993; began work on the Chapel of the Air radio program, 1994; performed at the White House, 1994; released Beyond a Dream, 1994; signed to Sparrow Records; released Where I Stand, 1996, Perennial, 1998, True North, 1999, Bedtime Prayers, 2001, and Greatest Hits: Time and Again, 2001.
Twila Paris's Awards
Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Award, Praise & Worship Album of the Year for Sanctuary, 1992; Dove Award, Female Vocalist of the Year, 1993-95; Dove Award, Song of the Year for "God is in Control," 1995; Dove Award, Best Children's Album for Bedtime Prayers, 2002.
- Selected discography
- Knowin' You're Around , Milk & Honey, 1981.
- The Warrior Is a Child , Milk & Honey, 1984.
- The Best of Twila Paris , Milk & Honey, 1985.
- Cry for the Desert , Star Song, 1990.
- Sanctuary , Star Song, 1991.
- Beyond a Dream , Star Song, 1994.
- Where I Stand , Sparrow, 1996.
- Perennial: Songs for the Seasons of Life , Sparrow, 1998.
- True North , Sparrow, 1999.
- Bedtime Prayers: Lullabies and Peaceful Worship , Sparrow, 2001.
- Greatest Hits: Time and Again , Sparrow, 2001.
- Selected writings
- (With Robert Webber) In This Sanctuary , Star Song Communications, 1993.
- Erlewine, Michael, Chris Woodstra, and Vladimir Bogdanov, editors, All Music Guide: The Best CDs, Albums & Tapes, Miller Freeman Books, 1994.
- Billboard, February 22, 1992; March 21, 1992; February 25, 1995.
- Keyboard, March 1992.
- Today's Christian Woman, May/June 2002.
- Wall Street Journal, January 6, 1993.
- "Baby Talk," Christianbook, http://www.christianbook.com/html/Offshoot/feature_paris.html/38809096 (September 20, 2002).
- "Twila Paris Biography," Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/artists/twilaparis.html (September 20, 2002).
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Sparrow Communications publicity materials.