Keith Green's Music Surfaces 25 Years Later

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Commemorating Keith Green's legacy of music glorifying the Lord 25 years after his death, new recordings of the Christian singer and songwriter will become available to the public for the first time.

Keith Green went home to be with the Lord 25 years ago on July 28, 1982 after a fatal plane crash.

Green's wife Melody handed over his recordings to EMI/Sparrow records, which is sorting through the rediscovered archives to release them after more than a quarter century.

Director of artist development for EMI Christian Music Group, Bryan Ward, said that more of Green's music will be made available after year's end.

Also, iTunes plans to go public with some of Green's never-heard music in August.

The Crash

When asked to give an aerial view of his Last Days Ministries location spanning over a wooded pasture in East Texas, Green loaded up his twin-engine Cessna.

This was the last flight for Green, his two young children, missionaries John and DeDe Smalley, their six children and pilot Don Durmeister.

Just 30 seconds after the plane took off on July 28, 1982, it crashed, with none of the 12 surviving.

Spreading God's Praises to the Masses

Nearly two decades after his sudden death, Green was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 2001.

The bushy-haired singer also played a major role in the Jesus Movement, a Christian counterculture that brought many people to Christ from the late '60s to the early '80s.

The evangelist, who was renown for his heart for Jesus and his unique tenor voice, has many albums still being sold on the market today.

Even though exact numbers are not available, it is estimated by Ward that Green sold anywhere from 560,000 to 1 million records. The artist also distributed a large amount of his music to people for free.

"It's overwhelming how many people refer to his music as being a part of their life and influencing them," added Ward.

After having a relationship with Christ for only seven years, Green went from throwing concerts for 20 people or less to filling stadiums with 12,000 people.

Melody Green helped her husband write a number of songs, including "There Is a Redeemer," and believes that today's improved recording technology has made it the perfect time to unleash more of her loved one's songs.

"I have kept every little thing that Keith's done," said Melody.

Unquestioned Genuine Passion for Christ

Many see Green's music as exploring a deeper relationship with Christ, and his piano instrumentals express his passion and intensity in his Christian walk.

In one of his albums, "So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt," one can hear his admirer Bob Dylan playing the harmonica.

"I think he was one of the best songwriters of the modern era of Christian music," commented president of Nashville's Gospel Music Association, John Styll. "It was vulnerable and transparent and absolutely not contrived."

Styll believes that Green would have never lived a life of stardom, "He would have dropped out completely and become a missionary in Africa or somewhere first."

The heart that Green put into his music is seldom matched.

"I miss so much about him. I think, more than anything, beyond his musical brilliance and energy, I miss his passion - his intense passion for life, - and then when he became a believer, his intense passion for Jesus," said Randy Stonehill, who co-wrote "Your Love Broke Through" with Green and Todd Fishkind. "I rarely met anyone with that kind of intensity."

The late Christian artist shared Christ's compassion for the poor, as he invited people off the streets to live with him at his home, which eventually turned into a commune consisting of seven houses filled with 70 people."

"My life was radically changed by that experience." noted Jerry Bryant, the first pastor of the commune, regarding Green's heart for God's people. "He wasn't playing the game. He was sincere and genuine in every way."

"If he read it in the Scripture, he didn't see any reason not to do it," continued Bryant. "When he became a Christian, he saw where Jesus said to feed the poor and minister to those in need, so he opened his home and started inviting people to live with him."

Green refused let his strong Christian convictions slide, allowing "no compromise" in his faith.

"Christians don't like to talk about hypocrisy any more than turkeys like to talk about Thanksgiving," is a phrase that Green often recited.

He said he would have come to know Jesus earlier if it hadn't been for Christians living double lives.

Green often pushed people beyond their comfort zones, and led a "John the Baptist" type ministry, as he called people to wake up, repent, and live a life that looked like what they said they believed.

"If your praise and worship Jesus with your mouth and your life does not praise and worship him, there's something wrong!"

Not Your Typical Christian Artist

Green liked to consider himself as merely an instrument of God, and never liked being praised for his music. When given accolades for his songs, Green said that it was as ridiculous as praising a pencil for writing a poem.

The artist often criticized the "industry" of Christian music, which grew by leaps and bounds after his death in the early 1980s.

When Green's popularity was at its climax, he came to the belief that the Lord's ministry should not come at a cost. This is when he resolved to balk out of his recording contract and give his music to people for "whatever you can afford."

Lost and Found

At age 11, Decca Records gave Green a recording contract. At this time, the boy from Sheepshead Bay, New York was dubbed "a pre-pubescent dreamboat" by Time magazine, which also said that he "croons in a voice trembling with conviction."

Despite the early acclaim, Green's childhood stardom never came about. Instead, the Jewish boy with a God-gifted voice became involved in drugs and sought to find himself spiritually in other ways. He ran away from home when he was 15.

It was not until the 1970s that Green gave his heart to Christ when he was 21, two years after he married Melody.

"The thing is, he could be abrasive because quite often his spiritual zeal got ahead of his biblical understanding or his personal maturity," said Stonehill, who also noted that Green was deeply relieved "to see where hope lived."

A New Ministry

Moving forward in his ministry, Green began to produce a newsletter for what came to be be Last Days Ministries.

Green moved with his wife from California in 1979 to a small town in Texas known as Green Valley, just east of Dallas. They were now close to evangelists David Wilderson and Leonard Ravenhill, who many associate with "The Cross and the Switchblade."

Going Home to Jesus

On the fateful day of the plane crash, the Smalleys arrived at Green's home on their way to plant a new church in Connecticut. He was to give the family a quick aerial tour in an airplane leased by his ministry.

Even though Keith Green begged his wife to go along, she declined to join him on the brief trip. Melody Green clearly remembers her daughters voice enthusiastically pleading, "I want to go, too!" before she was hoisted into the car and driven to the airstrip a short distance away.

The Green's two-year-old daughter Bethany and three-year-old son Josiah were killed in the crash.

Pilot error was ruled the cause of the crash by the National Transportation Safety Board.

"I feel that through this, many others will catch the vision and burden of Keith's work," said the pregnant Melody Green only days following the accident. "People can't look to Keith now because he's gone. So if they ask who's going to do the work, they'll see that they will."

Still Serving the Lord

Melody Green is now 60 years old, and has suffered through a stroke and a painful divorce since her husband's passing 25 years ago. However, she has has been devoted to carry on Keith Green's ministry, speaking at locations across the globe.

Today, she resides in Kansas City, where she is revamping the Web site for Last Days Ministries. The Green's two surviving daughters are now in their 20s.

Melody Green made the decision back in 1996 to sell the ministry's property in Texas to Ron Luce's Christian organization known as Teen Mania. Today, the campus is complete with a television studio and a dormitory which is named after Keith Green.

The Teen Mania ministry was more than glad to welcome Melody Green to their facility when she traveled there last year, and this May.

"Last year, I just went into total joy, seeing that things have continued," she shared. "There's young people here, just like we wanted. They're finding out about following Jesus; they're good kids and they're a great ministry."

Peace and Forgiveness

When Melody Green peered at the fateful airstrip following a chapel service she reflected.

"I had to really forgive Keith because he was the easiest one to get mad at by taking the kids," she said. "In hindsight, I think it was really some misplaced anger."

Less than half a mile from the strip in a small cemetery, Keith Green is buried with his two children under the headstone reading, "Gone to be with Jesus."

One of a Kind

Since his death, many tribute albums have been released in Green's memory.

Also, there are quite a few Christian artists that continue to sing his songs.

Even though a quarter century has passed since Green went to be with the Lord, many believe that his level of passion for Jesus in his songs has not been matched in Christian music.

"I keep having people tell me how no one has really taken that place," said Melody Green. "Everyone thought, 'Well, God will raise someone else up to be similar and do something like that.' I thought that."

She concluded, "He was just a unique person with amazing talent and with an amazing heart for God."

Keith Green never lost his focus and the reason for his music, "I repent of ever having recorded one single song, and ever having performed one concert, if my music, and more importantly, my life, has not provoked you into Godly jealousy or to sell out more completely to Jesus."

Sources: Last Days Ministries, AP, Star-Telegram

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Michael F. Haverluck

Michael F. Haverluck

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