"God used the music of Rich Mullins -- from
the No. 1 hits to the most
obscure album cuts -- to reach beyond denominations, age and race."
That observation from KFTA-FM's Jeff Roberts
in Beaumont, Texas, echoes the
hundreds of sentiments heard nationwide as Christian music learned of its loss-what
Steven Michael, music director for WFTN-FM in Elkhart, Kan., called the "most tragic
loss in the Christian music industry in 15 years."
For listeners in areas with Christian radio,
the news of Rich Mullins' death on Friday
night, Sept. 19, quickly found its way onto the airwaves and quick-acting stations with
Web sites. By Monday, stations had opened up lines to allow listeners to tell about the
impact Mullins' music had on their lives.
KJIL-FM in Meade, Kan., took song requests
all week, letting listeners introduce the
song and share its personal significance. "We've also been encouraging listeners to
send Email and share these notes on the air," said KJIL's Michael Luskey. "The
response has been good and healing."
Mullins, 41, and band member Mitch McVicker,
24 (vocalist on "Heaven Is Waiting"
from the independent release, Canticle of the Plains), were coming from Elgin, Ill.,
where they had been recording McVicker's debut album. The two were traveling
southbound in Mullins' Jeep on I-39 near Peoria, Ill., to a benefit concert in Wichita,
Kan., when, according to Illinois Highway Patrol Sgt. Gregory Jacobsen "the Jeep lost
control for no apparent reason, causing it to roll and eject the two men." A semi
tractor-trailer driven by Gregory V. Lea of Newkirk, N.M., also traveling southbound,
approached the accident shortly after it happened and swerved to avoid the Jeep in the
middle of the lanes. "The rig then struck Mullins, who died instantly," Jacobsen said. It
is not known who was driving or what caused the Jeep to fishtail. "Indications are that
the two were not wearing seatbelts," Jacobsen said. The police report cited no
witnesses. Jacobsen, a reconstructionist, will continue investigating the accident.
McVicker was taken to a nearby hospital,
then airlifted to OSF Saint Francis Medical
Center in Peoria, Illinois. At press time, McVicker's condition had been upgraded from
"critical" to "serious" but he was still in the neuro-care unit, said hospital spokesperson
McVicker's family has been inundated with
people wanting to extend help, said Chuck
Pryor at WCIC-FM in Peoria. "This is a real opportunity for us to really be a Christian
radio station," Pryor said. "The community has rallied around them, cooking meals,
doing their laundry, prayer."
WCIC was by far not the only radio station
who attempted to provide healing through its
airwaves. Bob Thornton with KTLI in Wichita, Kan., quickly became the point man,
updating stations nationwide through mass Emails and daily Website postings. Radio
stations and their listeners around the country were clearly impacted by Mullins' life
and death, and time was spent remembering:
Mullins had recently signed to Myrrh Records
[The CCM Update, Aug. 25]. He was
scheduled to go into the studio in October with producer Rick Elias to deliver an album
slated for June 1998. A video and book was also anticipated, said Mullins' current
manager, Jim Dunning, Jr., who has served as Mullins' CPA since 1989. Mullins had
already written and, singing into a jambox, had crudely recorded the new songs on
tape. "A lot of us believe this record needs to be made," Dunning told The CCM
Update. "It's a powerful album, so we're still considering a way to release it in a manner
pleasing to Rich."
"When we were together two weeks ago," said
Myrrh Vice President Jim Chaffee,
"Rich told me he had 10 songs about Jesus that really expressed his heart. When
we've had an opportunity to work through the grieving process, Jim [Dunning] and I will
begin to discuss the appropriate way to move ahead with these songs."
Mullins had also began his book, according
to longtime friend Kathy Sprinkle of
Wichita, Kan., who told The CCM Update about a recent conversation she and he had:
"He read me the first reflection for his book and I just sat there. Sometimes he scared
me with the things he wrote because I knew they didn't come from him. That's how I
felt when I heard this. I told him, 'It's the best thing you've ever written.' He agreed." For
Mullins, that was a strong statement, considering his 100-plus songs and the page of
prose he wrote each day.
The future of the Mullins-produced album
from his and longtime companion Beaker's
musical, Canticle of the Plains, is uncertain, said Dunning. The musical, based on the
life of Saint Francis of Assisi, takes place in the Midwest during the 19th century. The
time frame ties the story in with the Navajo Indian Nation in Window Rock, Ariz., where
he and Mitch McVicker had been living. Mullins moved to the reservation in 1995 and
had been teaching music on the reservation, though not in the schools, for the last two
For the past nine years, Mullins had devoted
his time to Compassion International and
within the last three, began focusing strictly on the U.S.A. ministry, specifically with
Native American work in the Southwest. "His desire was to teach students on the
reservation," said Alyssa Loukota, U.S.A. ministry marketing and communications
director for Compassion. "Due to a lack of funds, many schools on the reservation did
not have a music program. That's what Rich hoped to offer them."
Rich Mullins' life and music affected lives
unlike any other artist, people note. "For me,
Rich was more than just another Christian recording artist," an Email said. Thousands
more have followed suit, said Brian Williams, whose Rich Mullins Website bears more
than 1,500 tributes from Mullins appreciators. Additionally, CCM Online has collected
more than 200 Emails from 35 states and five foreign countries. For Christian music,
many say, one of the greatest influences is gone. Michael W. Smith is among the
artists who cite his impact.
"Rich Mullins' life and music has impacted
me more than anyone I know. He had the
ability to take the mundane and make it majestic. Nobody on this planet wrote songs
like he did and I feel we've lost one of the only true poets in our industry. I love Rich
Mullins. And no one will ever know how much I'll miss him."
The funeral for Mullins was held Thursday,
Sept. 25 at an undisclosed place for family
only. The open visitation was at Whitewater Christian Church outside of Richmond,
Ind., where he was born. At press time, a memorial service was scheduled in Nashville
with Michael W. Smith, Mullins' Ragamuffin band and others participating. A
nationwide memorial service in Wichita, Kan., coordinated by KTLI-FM, was to be held
Saturday, Sept. 26, in Wichita State University's Henry Levitt Arena. Mullins' family
has asked for donations to Compassion International in lieu of cards and flowers.
Contact (800) 334-KIDS, P.O. Box 7000, Colorado Springs, CO 80933.