Sometimes we have to get out of our comfort zone for God to show us new ministry
opportunities. Just ask Michele Pillar. She walked away from a successful career as one
of contemporary Christian music’s most acclaimed female vocalists to nurture her family
and serve God in other arenas. Now He’s bringing her back full circle to music and
providing exciting new avenues for her to use her gifts.
Before stepping away from the spotlight, Michele Pillar had earned a place at the top
of the charts, well known for her compelling voice and passion for spreading the gospel.
A three-time Grammy nominee, she released five acclaimed albums including “The
Misfit,” a Maranatha! Music groundbreaking collection with Erick Nelson, and “Look Who
Loves You Now,” with a title track that currently holds the record for the longest running
No. 1 single in Christian radio history.
Today she’s returning to the spotlight with a variety of new projects underway. She’s
releasing a Christmas CD, (Nov. 28, 2006) I Hear Angels Calling, (335 Records)
produced by her husband, jazz guitar legend Larry Carlton, and she’s writing new songs
for a solo album to be released in 2007. Among the collaborators she’s working with are
the legendary, Mike Reid, Nathan East, BeBe Winans, Allen Shamblin and Chris Eaton.
“Stretching and trying other art forms helped release my desire to write,” Michele says
of her additional experiences as an actor, author, and songwriter.
Michele developed a passion for sharing the gospel at an early age. "I was raised by
alcoholic parents, and suffered physical and emotional abuse. In my early years of
ministry, I shunned my past; tried to ignore it. That was a mistake. Now, I know that God
ordained my childhood, it wasn't some kind of horrible joke. In hindsight, I see that all
things do work for the good to those who love God. I have a grateful heart and love for
those who suffer. My roots made me very thankful to have the safety of God the Father.
He gave me a new beginning and untangled my heritage. For me, that was like being
raised from the dead.”
Michele admits she made mistakes and struggled during her early years as a
Christian, but without those times she wouldn’t have come to understand the power of
God’s mercy and grace. "Becoming like Christ is a lifelong process. In the beginning, I
allowed myself to be lifted up as an example and role model too quickly. I still had major
flaws that needed time to heal. That was rough and confusing and set me up to fall."
Michele’s desire for music ministry began while she was still in college. She was asked
to sing on Praise II for Maranatha! Music. Her young solo voice ushered in the classics, “Thou Art Worthy”-- “Jesus What A Wonder You Are” and “In Moments Like These.”
“The Christian Music industry was just beginning so most of my friends and family
thought I was making a big mistake by dedicating myself to something that seemed so
insignificant. They thought I was actually throwing my career away by going into the
ministry,” she states, “but I felt like I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I felt that strongly
about the fire in my belly. I couldn’t sing about anything else. I couldn’t write about
anything else. I couldn’t have become a pop star if someone had offered it to me on a
platter, that’s just not where my heart was.”
God continued opening doors for Michele in the Christian community. Phil Keaggy
heard Michele on the radio and invited her to sing a duet with him on the song “What a
Wonder” on his Town to Town album in 1981.
That song caught the attention of Billy Ray Hearn, who signed Michele to Sparrow
Records. She recorded three landmark albums for Sparrow—Michele Pillar, Reign on Me, and Look Who Loves You Now. She later recorded Love Makes All the
Difference, another collection that showcased the power in her voice and her insightful
way with a great lyric.
But for Michele, nearly everything in her world came to a screeching halt when her
husband was nearly killed in a drive-by shooting. “We had only been married four
months when he was gunned down in front of our house in L.A. by a gang member,”
says Michele. “It was a random gang related shooting. It took him about a year and a
half to heal. He had to learn to play the guitar all over again. The .357 magnum bullet
went into his neck, and it’s amazing that he lived. It hit his carotid artery, but missed the
spinal chord. It destroyed the nerve to the left vocal chord.”
The doctor couldn’t believe Larry’s injuries weren’t more devastating considering the
type of bullet and area of the impact. He asked Michele about what she and Larry
believed, and she had the chance to share Jesus with the doctor.
Obviously her music career was no longer a priority, and Michele stayed by Larry’s
side during his lengthy recovery.
“When all of this happened, I backed out of music completely. After Larry recovered,
I'd been out of the ministry so long, I wasn't sure how to jump back in. God had moved
That’s not to say Michele was ever idle. The couple moved from Los Angeles to
Nashville. Once Larry was well, she pursued her interest in horses and became a
National Champion equestrian in both U.S. and Canada, three years running.
Then, in honor of her mother, she launched Closer to Home, a non-profit organization
that aids people in need. “I was raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends
meet,” says Michele. “When there was a bump in the road, Mom had a difficult time
putting food on the table.”
Michele, President of the Williamson County, TN based organization, serves on The
Board of Directors. She and Larry raise funds for the foundation by producing a yearly
concert. Vince Gill, Wynonna Judd, Michael McDonald, Ricky Skaggs, JoDee Messina,
Richard Marx, Phil Vassar and Steve Winwood are among those who’ve contributed
their talents to raise money for Closer to Home.
Michele sang on the praise team at her church and studied acting. She’s acted in
national TV commercials for companies such as Bank Of America, Lexus and Levi
Strauss & Co. She also provided voice over work for YWCA, and lent her singing voice
to the animated series The Simpsons.
Though she thought her days as a recording artist might be over, her creative gifts
were awakened when she was asked to write songs for the new musical, Magdalene,
(a fictional story of Mary Magdalene, slated to tour in 2007.) Michele, Broadway
actress/playwright Allison Metcalf Allen and British singer/songwriter Chris Eaton, whose
credits include the Amy Grant Christmas classic “Breath of Heaven” worked together to
complete 27 songs for the play.
“I felt as though God used Magdalene to wake up my music inside of me,” she says.
“That’s the only way I can describe this. I was happy doing other things-- behind the
scenes work and charity work. But something about working on ‘Magdalene’ changed
everything. I just felt this urging and this awakening to do my own music again. I really sought God’s direction on this new idea for some time asking Him, “Lord, I’m I
In time, He made it clear to Michele that she had indeed heard Him calling her back
into music ministry. "As I began writing songs for a new CD, lyrics poured out of me that
were almost shocking, they were so honest. Things I'd long forgotten about and things
that God had carried me though were now very easy to articulate. Very personal things
I'd never have had the courage to speak about before. I knew God was encouraging me
to tell the whole truth this time, so I kept writing."
Michele Pillar has always been a beautiful woman with an amazing voice, but these
days, as she returns to music ministry, she still has those gifts and so much more. “She
says. “I feel free this time.”
Michele says God has urged her not to compare her current ministry to her past one
because He is creating something new. She uses her wardrobe as an analogy for this
next chapter in her ministry.
“If I were to wear something I wore 10 or 15 years ago, it would look ridiculous, for
many reasons!” she says with a bemused laugh. “God is designing a whole new garment
for me to wear now. I’ve survived a lot. We all have. So, it won’t scare me to tell the
whole story this time. The God I serve is much bigger than the One I sang about before!”
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