Sheri Carr is a contemporary singer songwriter, recording artist and worship leader from Atlanta, GA.
Sheri Carr is not a rock star. If you are looking for one, you'll have to look someplace else.
"The best place for me to be is on my face," Sheri declares, "and that is one of the hardest things to do. There is this whole 'worship leader star' thing happening, and it is so easy to get caught up in striving to get ahead. But it's not about having the best marketing team in place or getting great promo. All that can shift the focus off of the Lord. That is our challenge - to keep the focus where it belongs. It's all about staying on my knees."
While Sheri acknowledges the challenges of putting herself into the highly visible arena of a recording worship artist, she insists she is not daunted by it. "I think this is part of why God made me," she muses. "This is my journey. These songs are the ups and downs of my walk with the Lord. I'm trusting Him to do whatever He wants with them. I'm humbled and excited, but I admit it is a weird place to be."
Sheri draws on two distinct, yet inextricably intertwined sources for her worship songs - the Scriptures and her own life's journey. "A lot of my songs are straight scripture," she says. "And a lot of songs have been birthed out of trying times in my life; times when I've gone through physical or emotional challenges."
Sheri points to the title track of her debut CD, a song that took seven months to complete, as an example of translating her life experience into a song of worship.
"'Fearless Now' was birthed during a time in my life when I was actually really fearful," she confesses. "I dealt with a painful back condition last summer that left me homebound for several months. I was afraid I would be in chronic pain for the rest of my life. I had never faced anything like that before, but God moved in those times. He spoke to me through the Psalms, specifically Psalm 56. It's about walking by faith, not by sight. It is about trusting and praising even when you don't feel God; when you don't hear Him; when you don't see Him."
Sporting a sound that falls lithely between the gritty roots rock of Jennifer Knapp and the graceful, poetic lyricism of Nichole Nordeman, Sheri Carr deftly tightwalks a line that stretches between ancient themes of grace and mercy, and is anchored by contemporary declarations of truth and faith. There are exuberant expressions of praise ("Sing Your Praise," "Shout Aloud"), hymns of trust ("Fearless Now," "Into Your Arms"), and psalms of adoration ("You Are So Beautiful," "Just As The Angels"). Whether raucously celebratory or lost in pensive worship, there is a humble honesty that runs through each song, binds them all together, and points both listener and singer toward the throne of God.
Yes, Sheri Carr is a worship leader. Or a contemporary psalmist. Or a lead worshiper. Or whatever label you want to wrap around a singer/songwriter who crafts hooky, pop-rock oriented hymns that can just as easily inhabit a Sunday morning worship service as a Top 40 Christian radio playlist. But it was not always so.
Before she became a worship leader she had her sights set on playing in a big city symphony. And she was well on her way. A top-notch flautist (and a self-proclaimed performance junkie), Sheri nearly auditioned for the Chicago Civic Orchestra while she was still in high school. She might have pursued it, too, if God had not showed up unexpectedly during her senior year.
"My dad was a pastor," Sheri explains. "So I had gone to church all my life. I heard all the stories and I knew a lot about Jesus. But during my senior year in high school I finally had a personal encounter with the Lord. The only way I can describe what happened is that I used to be a performer. I lived for that performance high. It was all about the applause. That is what drove me. But when the Lord got hold of my heart, I lost my desire for that. It just felt so empty. Once I experienced God's presence and worshiping Him, nothing else really compared. He changed my heart. I no longer wanted to be a performer, I wanted to be a worshipper.
Although the change was evident, change did not come easy. Without her lifelong dream to pursue, Sheri admits to feeling directionless.
"I was lost for a season because I had been so focused on being a performer," she says. "I didn't know what to do with myself after high school, so I took a season off, got some random job, and started volunteering at church. I made myself available for local ministry and over the next two years the Lord turned me into a worship leader."
Being involved with ministry at such a young age convinced Sheri that while calling is imperative, training was also essential if she was going to be effective.
"I think because I went into ministry so soon after high school I felt really ill-equipped," Sheri acknowledges. "I was hungry for a deep discipleship experience. I wanted to learn and grow in my own character and knowledge of the Bible."
Her search for training that would combine book knowledge with hands on experience led her to Youth With A Mission where she spent three months of intensive discipleship training before embarking on a two-month adventure in the Far East.
"I spent a month with a team in New Delhi, India, encouraging some of the local Christian churches, ministering in orphanages and doing street ministry in some of the rougher areas of the city. We just loved on kids and handed out food, whatever we could to be Jesus to the people. Then I spent a month in Nepal, hiking into villages where they had literally never heard the name of Jesus before. That whole experience was a huge turning point for me. God gave me a heart for the world. I had been a songwriter for most of my life, but it was at that point that I really started turning my songs toward worship."
Sheri credits producer Nathan Nockels with capturing her unique vision for every song on the album. "He has an incredible gift for pulling the best out of the artists he works with," Sheri declares. "He was really good at getting inside my head and discovering what my vision was for each song. He invited me to be a part of the artistic direction of the project from start to finish. Every song was ten times better for having him be a part of it."
With Fearless Now Sheri maps the mountain tops and valleys of the Christian journey. It's not all roses, but it's not all desert, either. The twelve songs that make up the project explore the height, breadth, and depth of what it means to worship fearlessly, regardless of the circumstances. They are songs for the church, birthed out of the church, to be used to worship the living God. Let's see a rock star do that.
Her latest independently released EP is not exactly what you would expect from Sheri Carr. The winding road since Fearless Now, (an album released by Vineyard Music’s Varietal Records in 2008), has brought her to Weathered, a collection of five very personal songs borne out of broken relationships, cross-country moves, job transitions, heavy financial burdens and daunting medical problems. “It’s songs about life, love, loss, brokenness, hope, and redemption,” says Sheri.
Painful things tend to carve out chunks of emotional flesh and bone. The EP’s title track exposes her wounds: “Weathered by the years that time has eaten away, lying in the shadows, wondering how it ended up this way.” Other words embrace healing: “Listen to what your soul craves, don’t ignore the signs created, to show the winding road…home, you’re going home.”
“As this journey continues, I discover daily the redemptive work of God - He paves the way, He writes my story, He carries me on.” Sheri is proud to share, through this edgy volume, how life’s experiences have shaped her, weathered her, but certainly not defeated her.
When asked to pick a favorite song, Sheri laughs, “That’s too tough – just ONE?” Influenced by so many female vocalists and singer-songwriters, from Amy Grant to Alanis Morissette, Sheri’s gift for songwriting and her love to sing at the top of her lungs began early. Piano at age 5, flute in middle school, tenor sax in high school and guitar soon after kept Sheri well occupied with church gigs and teaching music lessons where she grew up - Indiana. She waited a few tables in her time, even was a nanny for a season, but jumped at a chance to work as a worship leader for a small new church plant north of Seattle in 1999.
Fearless Now, Sheri’s debut solo release (Varietal Records) was voted by Christianity Today as one of their Favorite Worship Albums of 2008. This along with numerous collaborative efforts with Vineyard Music for over a decade simply confirmed that Sheri was doing what she was created to do. “The Lord has called me to be a worshipper – this I know. I love the Church, I love leading worship musically in the Church, and I love writing songs for the Church to sing corporately to God. It’s one of my greatest passions in life, and I think will always be part of my call and purpose in life.”
Recent major changes included a move to Atlanta in 2006, where she has weathered (and persevered through) many personal and literal storms (who can forget the South’s Big Ice Storm of 2010!?). Her mom’s recent diagnosis of cancer has unsettled all - Sheri and her dad especially. “It was so sweet that my parents both got to come down to the studio the day we were recording the song Weathered. They got to see it start from nothing and evolve into something beautiful – from a simple melody to a fully orchestrated title track.”
Seen any good “weather”? Sheri grins, those smiling eyes twinkle. There’s been blue sky and sunshine, too: Cooking for friends, swing dancing, journaling poolside, and long road trips to play music with great friends are big answers to prayer. “I am so thankful the Lord provided relationship with some of these folks before I even knew I needed it. I’ve had the chance now to be on the road with friends for the first time, actually getting to play the songs with some of the guys that helped me write/record them. It’s something I honestly prayed for – finding partners with whom I can both minister together with and create music. What a blessing!”
(second part written by Mary Joesting)