Mark Lowry didn't set out to write a Christian classic when he penned the lyrics to Mary Did You Know? more than three decades ago.
In fact, Lowry's goal was rather modest: He was writing the monologue for his church's "living Christmas Tree" program. But when that monologue was paired in 1991 with music from Buddy Greene, it quickly became a hit.
On Wednesday (Dec. 1) at 8 p.m. Eastern, Lowry will host a two-hour special, "Mark Lowry's Simply Christmas," celebrating the 30th anniversary of the song's release. It will stream live at MarkLowryChristmas.com. Lowry will be joined by Jim and Melissa Brady, and Maharmony.
To this date, 99 percent of Lowry's royalty money comes from that one song, which has been covered by artists such as Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Rogers and Pentatonix.
"I had no idea" the song would become so popular, Lowry told Christian Headlines.
The song poses a series of questions that Christians throughout the centuries have pondered, such as: "Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?" and "Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?"
"I wrote this monologue for someone to read that had the germ, the idea. Because I had discussed this with my mother: What was it like raising God? Most of the questions I had for Mary didn't make the song. The only ones that made the song were ones that rhymed," Lowry said, laughing. "... I don't know why it hit such a nerve. But I'm so grateful that it did."
Lowry penned the monologue in 1984, yet it didn't join with a tune until 1991. During those seven years, the song was largely in Lowry's head, he says.
"I tried with other people, but I always let them know that I get to decide if they marry," he said of the lyrics and the tune. "It's got to be a good marriage. And so when I heard Buddy's [tune], I said, 'Done – this puppy is done.' And it was."
Michael English recorded the first rendition of Mary Did You Know? At the time, he and Lowry were members of the Gaither Vocal Band.
"And then the second [rendition] was Kathy Mattea. And the third one was Kathleen Battle, an opera singer. So it jumped three genres after the first recording," Lowry said, referencing Christian, country and opera music.
There even is a disco version, Lowry said.
"I was preaching in discos and didn't even have to leave my Lazy Boy," Lowry said, laughing.
A visit to Walmart during one Christmas season in the 1990s helped Lowry realize he had penned a major hit.
"I picked up Natalie Cole's Christmas CD, and Mary Did You Know? was on it. I picked up Donny Osmond's Christmas CD, and Mary Did You Know? was on it. And I didn't even know they had recorded it.
"... It moves me even today when I sing it," Lowry added. "I've never gotten tired of it."
Photo courtesy: ©©TBN, used with permission.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.