Throughout the 1980s and '90s, gospel singer Carman was one of the biggest acts in evangelistic Christian entertainment, with four Grammy nominations, six Gospel Music Association wins, a highly rated television special and 15 gold and platinum albums. Despite his success, in the early 2000s, Carman began releasing music less often and, by the end of the decade, had essentially retired from the music industry.
In 2013, Carman, whose full name is Carman Licciardello, was diagnosed with terminal multiple myeloma cancer. After nine months of chemotherapy and visits with a specialist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science, he said his outlook on survival went from between one to three years to eight to nine. With a new lease on life, he decided to return to his greatest passion — touring.
On Sunday, Carman will perform at Crosswind Church in Westminster.
"It actually resurrected the music for me. I hadn't toured for 13 years. The industry moved cold to people from the '80s and '90s. With my illness, they rediscovered me," Carman said. "I did a fundraiser and had enough money to make a record and kick-start a tour. I was back in business. I just had to survive."
Carman's comeback tour did well enough, with concerts in 110 cities, to jump-start another round of performances. In addition to the tour, the artist is raising money for a new album, "The History of Worship Part 1," to be released in 2016. Over the past month, he's raised almost $60,000 of his $200,000 goal. He said crowdfunding is just a part of the reality of the current gospel market.
"The money is not there to maintain the big roster that the companies used to have," Carman said. "If you want to record music now, you have to raise the funds on your own."
In the '80s and '90s, Carman became known for his elaborate music videos, often stylistically inspired by Hollywood films. Some of his videos included the Western-styled "Satan Bite the Dust," in which Carman enters a saloon filled with demons and blasts them away with a six-shooter of God; a fantasy version of hell and Satan in "Revival in the Land"; and "No Monsters," an ode to '50s monster movies where Carman as a child defeats an army consisting of Frankenstein, an axe murderer and alligator man through his faith in a higher power.
Carman said he's long been a huge movie buff and desired to do something unique with his music videos that others wouldn't.
"I didn't want to just do a [video] that's just me singing with people dancing behind me," Carman said. "I wanted to take them to another location, as if they were watching a movie."
Before becoming a musician, Carman said he studied acting at the Abbey Playhouse in Philadelphia in hopes of becoming a film actor. Carman said his transformation into a Christian, which occurred soon after graduation, threw a wrench into his career plans.
"When I first became a Christian, there wasn't much on the acting scene for me. I was a new Christian; I didn't want to go back into the entertainment world and slip back into an old lifestyle," Carman said. "I wanted to live what I believed, and there were more opportunities to do that in music."
Carman said he's never changed his style or message, but the industry has changed in many ways over the years, from the embrace of digital technology to changes in the type of music they're looking for.
"Record companies are looking for crossover music that will also appeal to secular audiences, so they dial down the intensity of the message," Carman said. "It occasionally does well, but most of the time, it's too weak for the Christian audience and too wishy-washy for the secular audience."
Carman's music is anything but wishy-washy, with straightforward titles like "Revival in the Land," "God's Got an Army," "Let the Fire Fall," "Addicted to Jesus" and "I Feel Jesus."
"I basically just took the gospel and set it to music," Carman said. "People are either going to love it or hate it. Accept it or reject it, at least they know what it is I'm trying to say. I've prided myself on never having a mixed message."
Despite the direct references to religion and Christianity, Carman said his music is accessible to all audiences, as an expression of a person's feelings and beliefs.
"When you're watching a movie like 'Fargo,' all of a sudden you're in North Dakota. You might not live there, but it transports you to somewhere else," Carman said. "Gospel music has that power. It transports you into the mind of a believer. That's a valuable thing even if it doesn't describe your beliefs."
If you go:
What: Carman concert
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Crosswind Church, 640 Lucabaugh Mill Road, Westminster
Cost: $10 general admission; children 18 and younger are free.
For more information: Visit www.itickets.com.