This month, Matthew Lawson sits down with celebrated songwriter and two-time AGM Songwriter of the Year (Professional) Sue C. Smith.
Matthew Lawson: Sue, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. You are known as one of Southern Gospel Music’s primary songwriters with incredible cuts by artists such as The Bowling Family, Joseph Habedank, The Erwins, The Whisnants, Legacy Five and many more. When did you start pursuing writing on a professional level?
Sue C. Smith: My first label cut was in 1983 when The Florida Boys recorded a song I wrote called “Keep Rollin’ On.” Dave Clark, who was with The Speer Family at the time, heard a few of my songs at a concert our group hosted. He took my songs to Ben Speer, and Ben took “Keep Rollin’ On” to The Florida Boys. It became the title cut and the first single off their album.That was the start for me. For many years I taught high school English and journalism and wrote songs when I could find the time. But I left teaching in 2000 to write full-time. I feel so blessed to get to do something I love so much and to write songs with the people who are my co-writers and best friends.
ML: For those who may not know, you run an annual songwriting seminar called Write About Jesus. Tell us a little bit about how that came to be and how it works, if you would.
SS: The goals of Write About Jesus are to provide education, inspiration, and opportunity to songwriters. It’s also to build community. Songwriters need each other. We need encouragement from those who understand how hard it can be to write your heart out and have songs that don’t seem to get used. And we all need to take on the responsibility of learning from and honoring those who have gone before us as well as opening the door for the writers coming behind us. I tell people that Write About Jesus is part workshop, part retreat, part family reunion, and part obstacle course. It’s a non-stop weekend, with many classes to choose from, song critiquing, a great concert where the clinicians sing their own hits, and a competition where we celebrate what other writers are doing.
ML: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be involved in music? If so, what was the “spark” that led you down the path of writing?
SS: My dad led the music at our church as I was growing up. Our home was always filled with music and conversation about Jesus. Dad discovered the music of Audrey Meier when I was a kid, and her writing was a big influence on me, and later Andraé Crouch, Bill Gaither, Rusty Goodman, Lanny Wolfe and so many others. I also was a huge Broadway musical fan. The lyrics of My Fair Lady, The Music Man, Funny Girl and other shows were fascinating to me. I loved the power of words. But I didn’t set out to have a career in music. I didn’t imagine that was possible for me. I wasn’t a great singer, and so I knew that wasn’t an option. I was just passionate about communicating what I believed. When I met my husband John, he encouraged me to try to write professionally. He has always been my biggest cheerleader.
SS: Typically, you are writing close to 4-5 out of 7 days per week with some of the greater writers in Nashville and rising songwriters alike. What helps you stay on track and pursue “fresh ideas”, instead of returning to the same hooks and ideas?
SS: I think the challenge for every songwriter is to keep generating fresh ideas. I study the Bible and I pray about that every day. I call John on my way to each co-write and ask him to pray that God will bless us with a great song. I live with my radar going—searching for the next idea. I’m constantly aware that I’m dependent on God for ideas and how each one will develop. As far as staying on track, I believe that one of God’s best gifts to me is that I just love the writing process. It is hard sometimes, but it is never work, if that makes sense. And for some reason, I don’t give up trying to get it right or do it better.
ML: You recently went on a trip to Israel with your husband, John. I can only imagine how that changed your perspective on the life of Jesus, not to mention how it now affects your writing! Would you mind sharing some of that wonderful experience?
SS: Our trip was absolutely life-changing. To walk down paths that Jesus walked, to see the courtyard where He was beaten, to look across the Sea of Galilee, and to be baptized in the Jordan—it was all amazing and inspiring. Since we’ve come home, I’ve been trying to write a song inspired by each place we visited. Our friend Glenn Green, who was our guide on the trip, is planning to take a group of songwriters next year, and there’s no way I could be more excited to recommend the trip to people.
ML: Are there any upcoming cuts (that you can share with us) that you are thrilled about?
SS: The current Brian Free single “Beyond Amazed;” Gordon Mote – “Live Forgiven” and “Remember For Me;” The Collingsworth Family – “Altar Of Grace;” Tribute Quartet – “Everybody Come See Jesus;” The Erwins – “A Million Storms;” The Talleys – “What The Teacher Taught;” Jaidyn’s Call – “Lord Of The Raging Sea.”
ML: What is God currently teaching you in this season of life?
SS: He’s teaching me the same lesson He’s been teaching me all my life I think: To trust Him. His kindness, His faithfulness, His sovereignty, His grace. Sometimes just when I think I’ve got it, He asks me to trust Him in a deeper way, and I’m learning all over again.
For more information on Sue, visit her online at www.suecsmithsongwriter.com.