Ralph Carmichael, 'Father of Contemporary Christian Music,' Dead at 94

Milton Quintanilla | Contributor for ChristianHeadlines.com | Thursday, October 21, 2021
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Ralph Carmichael, 'Father of Contemporary Christian Music,' Dead at 94


Christian songwriter Ralph Carmichael, known as the "Father of Contemporary Christian Music," passed away on Monday at the age of 94.

In the 1960s, Carmichael began creating modern-sounding faith-based music that would eventually be termed "Contemporary Christian Music." During his life, he composed more than 300 gospel songs, including "The Savior Is Waiting," "There Is a Quiet Place," "Reach Out to Jesus" and "He's Everything to Me."

According to Relevant Magazine, Carmichael inspired other big-name CCM artists, such as Andraé Crouch, the Resurrection Band and George Beverly Shea. His influence also extended to musical legends like Nat King Cole, the Carpenters, Ella Fitzgerald and Elvis Presley.

Carmichael also composed music scores for several classic films, such as "The Cross and the Switchblade," "4D Man" and "The Blob," and for popular TV shows like "I Love Lucy" and "Bonanza."

In 1968, while still composing his own music, Carmichael decided to start Light Records and Lexicon Music Publishing in the hopes of promoting up-and-coming Christian artists. The late musician also served as president of the Gospel Music Association.

Despite Carmichael's far-reaching influence on the world of Gospel and Christian music, his career was not without criticism. According to a tribute shared on Carmichael's official Facebook page, the trailblazer was often called a "heretic" for attempting to modernize Christian music. At the time, churches primarily exclusively sang hymns during services.

Carmichael, born on May 27, 1927, was the son of a Pentecostal preacher who allowed him to listen to mainstream music on the radio. His music career began at Southern California Bible College (now Vanguard University), where he established a men's quartet that combined classic hymns and contemporary jazz. He also served as head of the school's music department in his early 20s.

In 1951, Carmichael won an Emmy for his "Campus Christian Hour," a local Los Angeles TV program where his school bandmates performed hymns and gospel songs. Decades later, in 1985, Carmichael was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. In 2001 he was also inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

The tribute, which was posted on Wednesday, details Carmichael's long body of work.

"Ralph enjoyed his life to the fullest. He was passionate about the music that flowed from his soul and created it as the consummate professional," the statement reads. "He cared deeply for his family and friends, and he lived out his cowboy dreams with the many horses that he owned along the way. He laughed easily, loved deeply, enjoyed a good joke or a prank, and charmed anyone who came across his path. Undergirding it all was his abiding faith in his Lord Jesus Christ."

Carmichael is survived by his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Photo courtesy: Bogomil Mihaylov/Unsplash


Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.