Musical Missionary

Newsboys' Michael Tait was 'made to sing'

Musical Missionary

Newsboys' Michael Tait was 'made to sing'

Growing up in Washington, D.C., just four blocks from Capitol Hill, Michael Tait knew that his family was different from most of his neighbors. 

“To have a mom and dad together, being a black kid in the inner city, was a blessing,” Michael says. “To have a mom and dad together and saved was nothing short of a miracle.”

Michael’s dad, Nathel, was a street evangelist and pastor in the “hood” who drove a cab full time to provide for his family. The youngest of nine children—five girls and four boys—Michael always felt extremely loved by his parents and siblings. His home and church life were practically indistinguishable as his parents routinely ministered to people in their home. As a teenager, he would go door to door with his father on Saturdays to distribute Gospel tracts. He also wrote ministry prayer letters to financial supporters of his father’s mission work, which was sometimes dangerous—like when his dad got stabbed while street preaching. When Michael wasn’t singing a cappella at home, he often sang solos and duets at church with his older sister, Lynda, now a Southern Gospel music recording artist. 

“My dad was big on preaching that if God made you, then you matter,” Michael recalls, “that beauty is found in diversity. We are God’s bouquet. That’s the beauty of the existence of different skin colors.” 

Michael’s appreciation for racial diversity began in middle school when his parents enrolled him and his older brother and sister in a private Christian school in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, instead of the failing public schools nearby. “I never saw so many white kids in my life,” Michael says. 

It didn’t take him long to make friends in his new environment. His uncanny ability to turn phrases and sentences into melodic conversations and sing in tune without music or microphone made him uniquely popular. “The way I was raised, it was just ‘love everybody,’” he says. But for the Taits, acceptance of everyone didn’t mean anything goes.

Back home, while Michael’s neighborhood buddies were jamming to Michael Jackson and James Brown, his parents weren’t so accommodating of rock music in their house. All these years later, Michael is grateful that his parents were vigilant about protecting him from worldly influences and modeling what it looks like to live for Jesus daily.

But by his senior year in high school, Michael knew that he could no longer trust that serving in his dad’s ministry would earn him eternal life in Heaven. “I realized that I couldn’t be saved simply because my dad knew Jesus.” So one day during chapel, after an evangelist preached on the reality of Heaven and hell, Michael darted to the altar to receive Jesus as his personal Savior and Lord. 

Following high school, he enrolled at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. As a college student in the mid-’80s, Michael longed to be a difference maker. “I wanted to be a mayor, or governor, or senator or president,” he says. “I loved helping people, and I loved arguing a good case. Even to this day, I love justice, law and order.” 

Michael had accumulated multiple top vocalist awards in local, regional, state and national competitions during high school. At Liberty, he sang on the late Jerry Falwell’s Old Time Gospel Hour television broadcast, traveled internationally with the university’s praise ensemble and sang on stage during chapel on occasion.  After one chapel performance during his freshman year, he was approached by a fellow student in awe of his vocal prowess.

“He had on these black Michael Jackson penny loafers, white socks and high-water black pants, and he said, ‘you got a great voice, man.’” And such was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Toby Kevin Michael McKeehan, who would eventually be known around the world as TobyMac. 

Michael and Toby became roommates the next year and throughout college were nearly inseparable. They both served in student government, double dated alongside their girlfriends, attended school sporting events and usually hung out together in their spare time. Toby also traveled with Michael as his “sound man” when he performed solo concerts in area churches. “The Lord gave us a brotherly love off the bat,” Michael says.

And while Michael was singing traditional church hymns, Toby was writing Gospel-infused lyrics with a hip-hop beat. Eventually, the duo began adding some of their original music at the end of Michael’s rendition of church hymns, and their popularity began to spread like wildfire, one self-made cassette tape at a time. By the late ’80s, a third classmate, Kevin Max Smith, had joined Toby and Michael, and the new college graduates—now known as DC Talk—were recording multiplatinum albums with a Nashville, Tennessee, record label.

Over the next decade, DC Talk garnered four Grammy Awards and 16 Dove Awards. By the mid-’90s, their “Jesus Freak” album—with its stylistic mixture of grunge rock, hip-hop and pop-rock music—took Christian contemporary music mainstream. The group’s release of “Between You and Me” climbed as high as No. 12 on Casey [Kasem’s] Top 40 and received regular air time on both MTV and VH1. The trio was always intentional about leveraging their pop culture sound for the sake of pointing their audience to Christ. “We always said that if we cross over, then we’re taking our cross over with us, and we did just that,” Michael says.

About the same time DC Talk’s faith-filled songs were climbing the pop charts, the group got invited to be part of “Youth Night” during Billy Graham’s Northeastern Ohio Crusade at Cleveland Stadium in 1994. Michael, who grew up watching Billy Graham Crusades on television with his family, says he will never forget how Ruth Graham encouraged the group one night over dinner at the Grahams’ home. “Ruth goes, ‘Michael, honey, you guys pack the pond, so Billy can go fishing.’” 

When DC Talk disbanded in the early 2000s, Michael lost his way for a few years. “I dabbled in substance abuse,” he says. “I was as curious as a cat, and there was zero joy found. I was the most miserable I’d ever been in my whole life. But by the mercy of God, I got out of it.” In the midst of his rebellion, he was convicted by the lyrics of a DC Talk song titled, “What If I Stumble?” Lyrics from another DC Talk song, “In the Light,” echoed in his mind: Tell me, what’s going on inside of me? I despise my own behavior. This only serves to confirm my suspicions that I’m still a man in need of a Savior. “That will preach to you when you’re high,” Michael says.

Michael Tait performs during the Franklin Graham God Loves You Tidewater Tour. Photo: Logan Ryan / ©2023 BGEA

A few years later, after recommitting his life to Christ, Michael became the lead singer for the international, award-winning Christian rock band Newsboys, with whom he has been touring full time since 2009, singing chart-topping hits like “Stand,” “God’s Not Dead,” “We Believe” and “Born Again.” Newsboys joined Franklin Graham in 2022 and 2023 for God Loves You Tour stops in the United Kingdom and Germany, and also for the stateside Tidewater Tour last year. “It’s always the highlight of my year musically and spiritually,” Michael says of the opportunity to serve with what he calls the “First Family of Gospel ministry.”

After 35 years as a Christian music recording artist, Michael’s boundless energy and enthusiasm on stage hasn’t dimmed in the slightest since he burst onto the contemporary Christian music scene. The Brentwood, Tennessee, resident has also remained single throughout his career, heeding the advice of his late mother, Maxine: “Don’t marry the one you can live with; marry the one you can’t live without.” 

Singing God’s praises is what Michael continues to live for. “I love it as much as I love breathing,” says the 57-year-old. “I live to sing. I was called to sing. God made me to sing, and I enjoy every second of it. I get to be a conduit and a catalyst—a musical missionary, if you will—a musical preacher to share the Gospel.” 
©2024 BGEA

Photo: Courtesy of Michael Tait

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