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Vol. 1, No. 2
Fall 2003

 

On the Third Day:
Former Student Mac Powell Rises on Faith and Talent to Win First Grammy

By Cheryl K. Miller

Backstage at BeachFest in Fort Lauderdale last March, Third Day, a popular Christian rock band, was preparing to perform before a huge crowd. After the rest of the band climbed the stairs to the stage, lead singer, Mac Powell, hung back. Calling to his three-year-old daughter, Scout, he gave her a big hug and kiss before greeting his screaming fans.

Despite the tremendous amount of territory Powell and his Grammy-winning band, Third Day, have covered in the past ten years, he and Aimee, his high school sweetheart and wife, Scout and his son Johnny, welcomed baby number three to their Marietta home this summer. Powell, who went to school at McEachern High School, still lives in Cobb County even after ten years of world-wide fame. Family and long-term friendships are important to Powell, which explains why the band is exactly the same as it was in 1993 when it was founded. The only telling shift in the band’s priorities is that the band members are more likely to listen to music like “Veggie Tales,” the kid-friendly singing vegetables, these days.

Ten years ago, Powell and the other band members of Third Day, Tai Anderson (bass), Mark Lee (guitar), David Carr (drums) and Brad Avery (guitar), were college students who never imagined they would one day win a Grammy. But that unimaginable moment finally came this year, when after being nominated for four years, the guys finally took home the prize for best contemporary Christian album.

“We were really humbled and feel really blessed to be nominated,” said Lee. “If we’d won earlier I don’t think we’d have appreciated just what a big deal it is to be nominated.”

Awards and accolades have accumulated at an incredible rate since Mac Powell was a music major at Kennesaw State. Third Day has won 16 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, had 18 number one radio singles, and has sold more than three million records, with each of Third Day’s last three albums attaining “gold” status. In 2002, Third Day performed at more than 150 venues, with a total attendance record of 750,000 hearing Powell’s gritty vocals and Third Day’s unique blend of southern rock.

“I think people perceive that because we make Christian music that we’re just for Christians,” said Powell. “We make music for everybody who wants to hear it.” Christian music is hot, selling almost 50 million albums in 2001, at a time when other album sales are declining.

After a successful high school career in the McEachern marching band, Powell enrolled as a music student at Kennesaw State University. “My goal in life was to be a band director,” said Powell. “But after about two days of being in the music program at KSU, I realized that I sang a lot better than I played trumpet.”

The industry agreed with Powell’s assessment when he won the “Male Vocalist of the Year Award” at the Dove Awards last year. Powell was the first non-solo artist to win this award in 25 years.

In 2003 Third Day was nominated in four categories for the Dove Awards: Male Vocalist of the Year, Group of the Year, Artist of the Year, and Rock Recorded Song of the Year for “40 Days.”

“Mac was just like any other student,” said Dr. Oral Moses, director of vocal studies at KSU. “He came with a desire to be a musician. We got along well because I knew he was doing his own music on the side. I encouraged it. Classical study gives one a good foundation to venture out. I always told him he had a very interesting timbre to his voice and I liked it very much.”

Balancing music study with work and the development of a new band wasn’t always easy. Early on, Third Day was a contestant in the 1994 Battle of the Bands on the KSU campus. The band was beat out by a Prince impersonator, but did win second place. Those were the days when Third Day played for Sunday School classes, youth groups and private school audiences around Cobb County. One such day, the band arrived at a local private school in Kennesaw and began setting up their equipment to perform. After the band had spent nearly an hour getting ready, the principal came into the gym. When he saw the length of Powell’s hair, he told the band they couldn’t perform. Powell immediately left to find a barbershop and cut his hair–Third Day performed for the students after all.

Powell, who took four years of music courses at KSU, said, “I learned to appreciate different kinds of music, even if it wasn’t something I normally would listen to all the time. I was also a big fan of the music history classes at KSU. When I was at KSU I don’t think I really realized how great the music program was.”Powell especially credits Dr. Moses for his continued success. “A lot of it was what I learned from Dr. Moses–the techniques and being able to develop my voice–what he taught me was a huge part of being able to sustain my voice throughout a year.”

Dr. Moses received Powell’s compliment graciously. “Although there are many other levels of success and we have a lot of those happening all the time in the music department, I am thankful that students like Mac Powell give us a little bit of credit for their success.”

Powell, who writes most of the music recorded by Third Day, said he also learned composition skills at KSU. “The KSU music program helped me as far as writing the common chord progressions that people use in music.”

The newest Third Day album, “Offerings II,” was released on March 4, 2003, along with a DVD of the band playing in concert in Atlanta in 2002. More than 50,000 people purchased the release in the first week. The album topped Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart and placed eighteen on the overall Nielsen Soundscan’s Top 200 Albums chart.

Third Day does more than accept awards, tour and sign autographs, however. While touring in 2002, Third Day donated more than $250,000 to Habitat for Humanity. Band members also personally helped build eight Habitat houses in Atlanta, Nashville, Florida, Guatemala and South Africa. Two of the band members, Mark Lee and Tai Anderson, worked side by side with former President Jimmy Carter on the Habitat for Humanity Work Project 2002 in Durban, South Africa.

“We have a lot of artists and organizations approach Habitat for Humanity who want to be involved,” said Kevin Campbell, Director of Headquarters Programs for Habitat. “Third Day is the real deal. Mac Powell is very serious about his faith. That faith gives family and friends a very high priority despite all the pressures that fame brings. I remember when building the house in Atlanta, Powell brought an old friend from Kennesaw along. Family and friends are very important to him.”

Habitat founder and president, Millard Fuller, also has good things to say about Mac and the band. “We are so grateful for the generosity and commitment of Third Day to help end poverty housing. Third Day has not only helped us build more houses thanks to their donation, but they have also brought Christ's love in action and activated servanthood to their many fans across the United States.”

The guys keep it all in perspective, though. “What I’m most proud of is not all the awards, accolades, and sold out concerts,” said Powell. “I’m proud that each of us band members still remain close as brothers and friends.”

When asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t lead vocalist for Third Day, Powell joked, “I'd be in my 10th year at Kennesaw State!”

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