May 04--When Mark Lowry was 9 years old in the late 1960s, his parents made sure he got to record an album. They realized their young son had a gift for singing and with his teenage years fast approaching, they worried his voice would change.
"My dad paid $500 so I could record that album," Lowry said. "I have wonderful parents. They found out what you were good at and then fanned the flame."
Today, Lowry is a prolific Christian musician and comedian and on Thursday he is bringing his show, "Unplugged and Unplanned," to Turning Point Open Bible Church.
Lowry grew up in Houston and always wanted to sing.
After that first parent-sponsored album came two albums recorded for Nashville-based Heartwarming Records by the time Lowry was 11.
Today, at 54, he's unsure how many albums he's recorded.
"I just don't know. I guess I never counted all of them," Lowry said by telephone from North Carolina.
He's perhaps best known for the song, "Mary, Did You Know?" which he wrote the lyrics to in 1984.
More than 10 years later Buddy Greene wrote the music to the song and it became a huge hit.
It's been picked up by Kenny Rogers, Wynonna Judd and Clay Aiken; Lowry's version has more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.
Beginning in 1988, Lowry joined the Gaither Vocal Band and after a nine-year break, he's back performing with the group.
"It's kind of funny that the title of my first album was 'He Touched Me' -- that's a song made famous by Bill Gaither and here I am working with him," Lowry said.
He can't imagine any career other than being a musician and feels very strongly that God has put him to his best use.
"My career is definitely a God thing," Lowry said. "I don't know what else I could do. I am no good at anything else."
He got started on comedy by chance when, early in his career, he was singing at churches all over the country. Lowry wasn't touring with a band but brought along the musical accompaniment on cassette tape -- one song on each tape -- so he could change the lineup from one performance to the next.
"So I'd stand there on stage and there was this break while I waited for the little old man in the back of the church to find the right cassette," Lowry said. "And I started talking to people and they laughed. I've always loved telling stories and I've always loved laughter."
It's a concept Lowry has had great success with: one of his comedy and music DVDs, "Mark Lowry on Broadway" debuted as No. 1 on the Billboard Music Video Chart and stayed there for five weeks.
Lowry has a multilayered website that includes a series of podcasts. He blogs and he's written books, including a children's series featuring Piper the Hyper Mouse.
He says Piper is very much based on his own life experience.
"I had ADHD before they knew how to abbreviate it; I was hyperactive," Lowry said. "I was put on Ritalin but my mom didn't like it. She'd rather have me hyper than sleepy all the time."
Lowry said it's the ADHD that drives him from project to project.
"You'd think I'd write another song, but after 'Mary, Did You Know?' I figure I can't outdo that," Lowry said. "It's the same with the podcasts. I did a lot of them, sometimes many a day, and then I move on. I'm done. There's no looking back."
Among new projects is the soon-to-be-released CD, "Unforgettable Classics" which features Billie Holiday's "The Very Thought of You," and Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" among many other crooning classics.
"I've always loved that kind of music," Lowry said.
He still lives in Houston though he spends a lot of time on the road every year, mostly in the fall and winter.
"I've had the perfect life for the hyperactive mind: I've written books, I've written songs, I perform," Lowry said. "I love working on my website and I love writing. You could say my work is my hobby -- all I ever do is play."
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