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Michael Whitaker Smith became one of the most enduringly popular artists on the contemporary Christian music front and also found considerable success as a mainstream artist. In 1981, he signed to Meadowgreen Music as a staff writer, where over the next few years he provided gospel hits for such artists as Sandi Patti, Kathy Troccoli, Bill Gaither and Amy Grant. He began touring as a keyboardist with Grant in 1982 and the following year, after releasing his first album, The Michael W. Smith Project, became her opening act. His debut album garnered him a Grammy nomination for Best Gospel Performance. Smith became a headliner following the release of his second album, Michael W. Smith 2. Afterward, he changed musical directions and began recording more rock-oriented music in order to reach a younger audience. As a result, some of his songs became more secular and began breaking through to mainstream audiences. His first real shot at mainstream music came in 1991 when his label, Reunion Records, allowed Geffen Records to distribute his albums. They chose a two-pronged promo campaign with ads designed to appeal to both CCM audiences and to the mainstream pop audience. This has caused some controversy among his more religious fans, who feared that Smith was selling out to the more lucrative secular market, but Smith saw it differently, claiming that he is really only trying to get his message out to a wider audience and to help young people. Over his career, Smith has won both Dove and Grammy Awards, has topped Billboard charts and has been hailed by Keyboard magazine as one of the top keyboardists in rock.
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