Born Nancy Henigbaum on April 11, 1952, in Davenport, IA; married John Richard "J.R." Miller (a minister), 1990; children: William. Addresses: Office--Honeytree/Windsong Ministries, 6087 Stoney Creek Dr., Fort Wayne, IN 46825. Website--Honeytree Official Website: http://www.honeytree.org.
It would be slightly inaccurate to call Honeytree one of the pioneers of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), for at the peak of her career in the 1970s that term had not yet been coined. Honeytree was one of a group of artists who made what was called Jesus music--the first music to match Christian lyric themes to the folk-rock and soft-rock styles of the day. Honeytree was one of very few women active in contemporary Christian music at this early stage, and she is regarded as a CCM pioneer.
Such Honeytree songs as "Clean Before My Lord" and "Rattle Me Shake Me" were well known among newly converted Christian young people in the 1970s, but her name is less familiar today. "My feelings are complicated because I am totally unknown to most people in CCM, so of course, I feel odd about that," Honeytree told the One Way website. "It's like a Pharaoh has arisen who doesn't remember Joseph. My theory is that a generation in the music business only lasts seven years, and then you've got a whole new youth audience to cater to." New business for Honeytree in the 1990s and 2000s included an extended outreach to world audiences, and a nomination for induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2005 paid tribute to her historical contributions.
Translated German Surname
Honeytree was born Nancy Henigbaum in Davenport, Iowa, on April 11, 1952. Henigbaum means "honey tree" in German, and the English term stuck with her after Honeytree's high school friends began using it as a nickname. (She has used Nancy Honeytree and, after her marriage, Nancy Honeytree Miller, as full names.) Honeytree's parents were classical musicians and members of the Episcopal Church, and as a high school student she considered a career as an orchestral cellist. But her mother, Mary, a folk music enthusiast, taught her to play the guitar. Honeytree didn't get along with the straight arrows at her high school, and she became involved with the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s. She told Dell Ford of the Fort Wayne, Indiana, Journal Gazette that by the time she was a senior in high school, she was "a hippie and into drugs."
In the spring of 1970 Honeytree's sister, who was studying at the Fort Wayne Art School in Indiana, invited her to come for a visit over the Easter holiday. In Fort Wayne she met several members of the Jesus People movement, a group of hippie converts to evangelical Christianity. They introduced her to John Lloyd, a Fort Wayne youth minister who operated a Christian folk coffeehouse called the Adam's Apple. As a result of her holiday experiences she became a born-again Christian. According to Christian music historian Daniel J. Mount, she briefly started using drugs once again after her conversion but then recovered from her addiction.
Taking a job as a secretary at Adam's Apple, Honeytree became immersed in the growing overlap between rock and Christian music. "That was like college to me," she told One Way. "I worked there for five years right out of high school. Couldn't have gotten a better education." Attending the group's Monday night Bible study sessions, Honeytree began to write original Christian songs. When she was called on to lead a group of singers in worship, she sometimes added one of her own songs to the evening's music. A minister, impressed, borrowed money so that she could record and press her first album, Honeytree, in 1973. Word spread quickly about its unique fusion of Christian themes with the folk-rock trends of the day; Honeytree's stylistic models were not traditional Christian musicians but female stars like Carole King and especially Judy Collins. Honeytree was picked up and reissued by the nationally distributed Christian label Myrrh. One of its songs, the Brazilian-flavored "Clean Before My Lord," was a modest hit, and "Treasures" became a Christian wedding favorite.
Recorded Keaggy Songs
Honeytree's ascent continued with her second album, The Way I Feel (1974). Her original songs included "Hummer Bummer Bashmobile," which likened her faith to her reliable old blue car ("sometimes the things that give the strongest love / are the ones other people don't think much of") and anticipated numerous later CCM songs in its avoidance of any direct reference to God or Jesus. The song was later featured as one of the section-break "Car Tunes" on National Public Radio's Car Talk program. The album also featured two compositions by Christian rock guitarist and important Jesus music figure Phil Keaggy, "Precious Promises" and "I Believe in Heaven."
Keaggy, who lived in Youngstown, Ohio, was a key figure in Honeytree's artistic development, and the interaction between the two showed how rare women were in the world of early Christian pop and rock. The Adam's Apple was on the circuit of venues he played, and he would play duets with Honeytree in the afternoons before he went on stage. "He knew all my songs, and would play along with me. Can you imagine how beautiful that sounded to me?," Honeytree recalled to One Way. "I think he got a kick out of a girl guitar player that could learn some of his licks. Anyway, we were good friends, and when Evergreen came along, he agreed to help me with it."
Indeed, Evergreen (1975) moved Honeytree further in the direction of Christian rock. The album's major hit was "Rattle Me Shake Me," which combined meaty rock guitar riffs from Keaggy with a humorous reworking of Honeytree's counterculture attitude--in the song, her evening walk is "rudely interrupted by a mean old cop" who wants to search her, since anyone as happy as she is must be "loaded." "Rattle me shake me ... search me anywhere you please," she retorts, for she has nothing to hide, and "if I'm happy, it's because I've got the Spirit inside." Honeytree's 1978 album The Melodies in Me added jazz and classical influences to her wide stylistic palette.
Ordained as Minister
Honeytree released several more albums on Myrrh, and in 1981 her holiday album Merry Christmas, Love Honeytree was issued on the Sparrow label. The early 1980s saw the rise of a new generation of commercial Christian stars. Honeytree immersed herself more fully in the work of her home church, Fort Wayne's Calvary Temple, where she was ordained as a minister in 1983. Honeytree organized and toured with a Christian singles ministry called "Singles--A Challenge to Wholeheartedness." She also sang in prisons with the traveling Prison Fellowship ministry of former Nixon administration official and "enemies list" compiler Chuck Colson. Honeytree's status as a single Christian came to an end when she married minister John Richard "J.R." Miller in June of 1990. The couple's first child died shortly after birth in 1995, but they had arranged to adopt another child. Honeytree was able to nurse her adopted son just 45 minutes after he was born.
Honeytree continued to issue new music on her own OakTable Publishing label, frequently in other languages. Honeytree met Mexican missionaries Ruth and Victor Martínez in Fort Wayne in the late 1980s and learned to sing some songs in Spanish for a return visit to Monterey. By 1994 she had released an album in Spanish, Dios ha abierto la puerta (God Has Opened the Door) and was on the way to speaking the language fluently. "The thing I am finding is that Latin American Christians have a tremendous zeal to reach the unreached people ... the Lord is doing something wild here," Honeytree told One Way. By 2005 Honeytree had extended her ministry to the Eastern hemisphere. She performed in predominantly Islamic Pakistan, under heavy security, and learned to sing some songs in the Urdu language. Her 2005 album Call of the Harvest, which featured a reunion with Keaggy, was available in English, Spanish, and Urdu versions. Websites devoted to the history of CCM were beginning to rediscover Honeytree's pioneering music of the 1970s as her reputation spread outward around the globe.
by James M. Manheim
Worked as secretary and performed at Adam's Apple coffeehouse and youth ministry, Fort Wayne, IN, 1970-75; released debut album Honeytree, 1973; album picked up for national distribution by Myrrh label; released The Way I Feel, 1974; featured Phil Keaggy on album Evergreen, 1975; released The Melodies in Me, 1978; ordained by Calvary Temple, Fort Wayne, 1983; performed in prisons as part of ministry of Chuck Colson, mid-1980s; organized ministry for Christian singles; performed in Latin America, in Spanish and English, beginning early 1990s; released album Dios ha abierto la puerta, 1994; released Change You Made in Me, 2000; released album Call of the Harvest, 2005; toured Pakistan, singing in Urdu and English, 2005.
- Selected discography
- Honeytree Myrrh, 1973.
- The Way I Feel Myrrh, 1974.
- Evergreen Myrrh, 1975.
- Me & My Old Guitar Myrrh, 1977.
- Maranatha Marathon Myrrh, 1979.
- Merry Christmas, Love Honeytree Sparrow, 1981.
- Best of Growing Up Myrrh, 1981.
- Single Heart Benson, 1985.
- Every Single Day Milk & Honey, 1987.
- Best of Honeytree Classics Milk & Honey, 1989.
- Resurrection Sunday Milk & Honey, 1991.
- Pioneer: 20th Anniversary Recording OakTable, 1993.
- Dios ha abierto la puerta OakTable, 1994.
- Change You Made in Me OakTable, 2000.
- Call of the Harvest OakTable, 2005.
- Akron Beacon Journal, September 17, 1987, p. C2.
- Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, MI), May 7, 1998, p. T1; May 8, 1998, Weekender section, p. 24; November 9, 2005, p. N5.
- Post-Crescent (Appleton, WI), December 3, 2005, p. E3.
- "About Nancy Honeytree," Official Honeytree Website, http://www.honeytree.org/content/view/13/47/ (March 6, 2006).
- "Interview with Honeytree," One Way, http://www.one-way.org/jesusmusic/index.html (March 6, 2006).