Sandi Patty stays strong with family, faith and positivity

Sandi Patty performs Sunday at Gateway Church in Southlake.
Sandi Patty performs Sunday at Gateway Church in Southlake.

Contemporary Christian singer Sandi Patty was deep into her “Forever Grateful” tour — a long, final global spin after more than 30 years of touring — when her family got bad news: Her brother, Mike, has Stage 4 lung cancer.

“Three months ago, he was tuning pianos,” Patty says during a phone interview. “He complained a little bit of a sore mid-back. We thought, ‘Oh, he’s just hunched over those pianos.’ When he got diagnosed, it was already Stage 4. It’s been quite a shock.”

And yet Patty is able to see the blessings within.

“It’s a tough journey,” she says. “Our family has never walked this. There are good days and hard days. The best thing, I guess, is that he’s getting very quality days with his wife and kids and grandkids, and my parents and myself and our other brother.

“And for that, we are very, very grateful. … There’s an undercurrent of peace, because we’re getting some sweet days with him.”

Patty, who will bring her farewell tour to Gateway Church’s Southlake Campus on Sunday evening, is known for her closeness to her family, often bringing family members onstage to perform with her. She grew up singing in church, with a music-minister father and church-pianist mother, and has been recording since the late ’70s.

Her big breakthrough came when she sang a stratospheric version of The Star-Spangled Banner during the re-dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. Since then, Patty has been one of the top contemporary Christian singers, winning five Grammy Awards and 40 Dove Awards, among many other honors.

At 60, although Patty has been touring more than half her life, she seems too young to leave the road (and the tour doesn’t end till 2017). But she has different priorities now, she says.

“We have grandkids, [and] they can grow so fast,” she says. “Also, according to the Metropolitan Opera World, a woman’s vocal prime is between the ages of 45 and 60 years old.

“I turned 60 year, and I want to be mindful of the art form. I don’t want to be like, you know, sometimes you see those athletes where you think, ‘Wow, they have a great heart, but they should’ve quit a long time ago.’ 

This is not retirement, however.

Patty says she has always wanted to be a teacher, talking about singing and performance in an academic setting, working within her faith. She will still sing, she says, but she won’t be spending months on the road.

And there are reasons she’s calling the tour “Forever Grateful” beyond the fact that Forever Grateful is the title of her latest album. She didn’t really want to call it a farewell tour; she wanted a name that would express her gratitude to God and her fans for all the opportunities that came along during her career.

“I learned early on from Mom and Dad that sometimes you really have to choose to be positive,” she says. “But it’s so worth it. I realized that expressing my gratitude might not change the person that I’m expressing it to, but it definitely changes me.

“I was listening to a podcast the other day, and they were talking about negative thoughts in our brain … my takeaway was [that] negative thoughts in our brain stick to us like Velcro. They come through our thought process, and we grab onto them and hold onto them.

“Positive thoughts slip through, like Teflon, unless we think about them for a good 15 or 20 seconds, and then we hold on to them, and it can change our brain chemistry,” she says. “I found that to be fascinating.”

Fans have approached her to tell her what certain songs have meant to them, or how they connect songs to milestones in their lives.

“It’s been really sweet to hear those stories,” she says. “Just recently, a woman — she was about my age, maybe a little younger — was telling me that early on in my career, her parents took her to my concert. It was such a sweet memory for her that when this last tour was coming through, she said ‘I knew that I had to come, because I lost both of my parents to cancer, and I’ve missed them so much. I felt like coming to your concert to just be with them again.’ That’s pretty powerful stuff.”

Patty has performed in Fort Worth and Dallas many times before, including with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Past venues have included Casa Mañana in Fort Worth, the State Fair of Texas, Reunion Arena and others. But for the “Forever Grateful” tour, she is performing almost exclusively at churches.

“Growing up in the church is part of my DNA,” she says. “That’s where I learned music and songs. Early on in my career, churches were the first places that invited me to come and do a concert. ... Church has shaped and formed me, and I just wanted to be able to give [something] back.”

Patty, who was born in Oklahoma City and lives there, says that DFW has meant a lot to her and her career. She has done a lot of work with Women of Faith, a Christian-event producer based in Plano. And Gateway Church in particular means a great deal to her.

“I kind of found them over the past seven or eight years,” she says. “I love their whole approach, and what they teach about worship. It’s so much more than music. It’s who we are, as Jesus followers, every moment of every single day. Music is such a small part of that. The associate pastors have really helped shape what I do.”

DFW is a prime area for contemporary Christian music. KLTY/94.9 FM is one of the top-rated (if not the top-rated) contemporary Christian radio stations in the country. KAWA/89.7 FM “Way-FM” and KYDA/101.7 FM “Air1” also play the format, and several AM stations play gospel-music formats. Yet concerts by Christian artists who haven’t achieved the superstar status of Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith or Patty herself often go uncovered.

“Christian music is the only genre of music that doesn’t define the music style,” Patty says. “It’s really talking more about the message. When we say jazz, when we say classical, you kind of know the style you’re going to get. One of the things that I personally love [about Christian music] is that there’s music that my parents can listen to; there’s music that I love; there’s music that my kids love, all under this amazing heading of Christian music.

“What unites us is the message.

Sandi Patty