Taking praise songs from the churches and turning them into righteous pop sermons, Michael W. Smith established himself as one of the big stars of contemporary Christian music in the 1980s, packing out stadiums and selling millions of records. Growing up in Kenova, West Virginia, Smith started learning the piano with the help of his grandmother when he was eight and spent his childhood playing in church bands and listening to the likes of Ralph Carmichael and Andre Crouch and the Disciples. After dropping out of college he headed to Nashville in pursuit of a music career, but by 1979 he was waiting tables and dabbling with drugs and alcohol when he had a major breakdown. He turned things around by re-discovering his faith and landed a spot playing keyboards in worship group Higher Ground before working for a music publishing company and penning gospel songs for Sandi Patti, Bill Gathier and Amy Grant, with whom he later toured and recorded with regularly. His wife Debbie wrote the majority of the lyrics featured on his debut album 'The Michael W. Smith Project' in 1983, and Smith crossed over into mainstream pop culture by signing a deal with Geffen Records. Adopting stadium rock guitar riffs, he scored a hit single with the soaring power ballad 'Place in This World', a formula that served him well on his platinum-selling breakthrough album 'I 2 (EYE)' in 1990. Known for transforming Biblical lessons into songs of redemption and spirituality, Smith won Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Gospel Album for 'I'll Lead You Home' in 1995 and 'Worship Again' in 2002, making it to number ten in the US charts in 2014 with 'Sovereign'. There was also a string of successful live albums, acting roles in the movies 'The Second Chance' and '90 Minutes in Heaven', and his festive record 'The Spirit of Christmas' featured duets with a host of huge stars including Vince Gill, Bono and Carrie Underwood. In more recent times he has toured with Amy Grant again and released an album of children's songs called 'Lullaby' in 2018.