In 2014, when Steven Curtis Chapman signed on for the re-launch of Sam’s Place–Music For The Spirit at the Ryman, a performance series which originally ran from 1994-99 at the Ryman Auditorium, he saw a prime opportunity to become more involved in the Nashville music community he has called home since he moved to Music City to attend Belmont University.
Chapman released his debut album First Hand on Sparrow Records in 1987, spurred by the single “Weak Days,” which would launch a three-decade recording and touring career.
“I enjoy that kind of a role at this point in my career when I can bring others together and I’ve got years of history with lots of artists in Christian and country music, just being in Nashville for 30+ years now,” Chapman tells MusicRow.
Chapman had been a performer when the original series began in 1994, when Sam’s Place was hosted by Gary Chapman. When Chapman’s longtime booking agent John Huie mentioned that there was talk of re-launching Sam’s Place at the Ryman, Chapman jumped at the chance to take part as host.
“I told John, ‘You’ve got to promise me I’ll get a shot at hosting that, because it’s exactly what I would imagine doing.’”
Chapman often reaches out with personal invites to his friends and fellow artists in the music community, and Sam’s Place has again become a unique space for artists to collaborate on duets and cover each other’s songs, creating new artistic memories in a historical music venue.
“It’s kind of an open invitation from me to perform with some of these artists if they have a song of mine or if it’s an artist who has influenced me. Where else would I get a chance to sing ‘What A Difference You’ve Made In My Life’ with Ronnie Milsap, or ‘Everything is Beautiful’ with Ray Stevens, which was one of the first records I remember listening to with my dad”?
Chapman has bobbed and weaved into the country genre throughout his career. He recalls his childhood in Paducah, Kentucky, where, when the weather was right, his father could tune into WSM radio to listen to the Grand Ole Opry. While working at Opryland in his 20s, Chapman performed on the Grand Ole Opry, where Roy Acuff introduced him to the Opry audience. In 2013, in conjunction with Cracker Barrel, Chapman released Deep Roots, a country and bluegrass-tinged collection of classic hymns.
Sam’s Place at the Ryman pays homage to Sam Jones, a businessman and evangelist who headlined a Nashville revival in 1885, where he converted Thomas Ryman. Together, Jones and Ryman built the Union Gospel Tabernacle, which opened in 1892 and was later named the Ryman Auditorium after Ryman’s death in 1904.
After signing on to host the series, Chapman delved into the history of Sam Jones and Thomas Ryman. He made a startling discovery that deepened his connection to his role at Sam’s Place at the Ryman.
“One thing I discovered is that when Sam Jones wasn’t preaching, he was raising funds for an orphanage. How perfect is that?” says Chapman, who in 2003 launched the organization Show Hope to care for orphans and to provide financial assistance to those in the adoption process. Chapman and wife Mary Beth adopted three of their six children.
Sam’s Place at the Ryman is only one outpouring of Chapman’s desire to give back to and connect with his Nashville community on a deeper level.
Earlier this year, Chapman announced he had teamed with former Creative Trust General Manager Mark Mattingly to launch The Stable Collective, which focuses on growing Chapman’s music via brand development, touring, and new partnerships. Prior to The Stable Collective, Creative Trust had handled Chapman’s management for 30+ years, until Creative Trust founder Dan Raines focused the business more on media and internet content branding. Creative Trust still handles business management duties for Chapman.
“I looked at other management companies and other opportunities, but the more Mark and I talked, I thought it would be great to try something completely new and try something from the ground up. It’s about thinking strategically about where I am now in my career.”
This year, Chapman released the memoir Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story, and recently embarked on his SCC Solo Tour, which allows him to display a wider range of his musical influences.
“I would love to do a country album. Maybe an album of songs that influenced me,” says Chapman, who incorporates songs such as George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” into his set. “The question is always, ‘Would anybody be interested in that?’ I definitely hope to do that at some point. Songwriting is my passion.”
That time may come sooner rather than later, given that he has writing dates on the books with songwriters including Luke Laird and Lori McKenna.
Thirty years of recording and touring, 58 GMA Dove Awards, 5 Grammys, 48 No. 1 singles and 10 RIAA Gold or Platinum albums later, Chapman is also certainly in a position to offer words of advice and wisdom to rising artists, something he hopes to do more formally in the coming months.
“I would have the opportunity to begin to pour some of that into other artists. I’ve done that naturally anyway. Even at Sam’s Place or on tours, other artists will say, ‘Your music influenced me to do what I do.’ I’ve heard that for a long time and am encouraged by it. I’ve tried to give advice and counsel when it was asked for but never in a formal way. Just being able to speak into some younger artist’s careers in a formal and more official way will be a really exciting for me to consider doing in the months ahead.”
The next Sam’s Place At The Ryman—featuring performances from Chapman, Jonny Diaz, Amy Grant, Scotty McCreery, and The SteelDrivers—takes place Sunday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.
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