(Album Art Courtesy of Integrity Music and Photo of Madison Courtesy of Robbie Jeffers)
Q&A: Madison Cunningham
Her reflections on the past, her partnering with Paul Baloche, and her pursuit of God this holiday season
By Sarah Komisky
Christmas has brought an incredible opportunity for 18-year-old singer-songwriter Madison Cunningham. Being featured alongside musicians like All Sons & Daughters and Kathryn Scott on Paul Baloche’s newest release, Christmas Worship Volume 2, has been quite an accomplishment for the budding artist. She now shares how it all happened, what the music means to her, and why she is in pursuit of God this holiday season.
How did you get together with Paul Baloche and how did that feature come about on his new Christmas album?
My Dad (Scott Cunningham) and Paul have known each other and my Dad has always admired him. I’ve grown up listening to some of Paul’s stuff so I admired him from afar. When I was twelve years old, I went and saw him play at Saddleback Church with my Dad just on a whim, randomly. At the end, we went up to him and we met him, and he was super nice. He just stopped and looked at me and he’s like, “Wait a second, what’s your name?” I said, “Madison” and he said, “I just I need you to know something and I need you to know that I never do this, but I don’t want you to be weirded out,” and I was like “uh, okay.” He said, “God is going to use you, God is going to use you!” And he was really excited and I was like, “uh…uh…okay.” He said, “Are you an example to your friends?” I said, “Oh I hope so.” He said, “I feel like you are and I feel like, hey, I don’t know, there’s something special here. What do you do for a living? Or what do you like to do?” And I said, “Oh well I sing and I play.” He said, “Wow, that’s crazy, awesome, well keep at it!” And anyways, that was that. Five years later I was seventeen, and again he kind of took a risk, he didn’t know much about me but he listened to my record and was like, “Hey you should come out and sing with me one night with my band.” So, I like, “Whoa, okay, sure, I’ll be there!” So, I went and he had me play two of my songs and he didn’t know and he really did take a risk. I mean he heard the record but anyone can sound good on a record if they have a chance to take a million takes, get the perfect vocal take and he didn’t know if I would be good or not. Afterwards, he was like, “That was awesome.” And I just have all of these memories from when he talked to me when I was twelve until then and how surreal it all was. We’ve kind of kept in touch and he’s been super, super, encouraging. He’s kind of done some stuff with my Dad for School of Worship (Calvary Costa Mesa). And then he invited me to sing a new song on his new Christmas record that was coming out so I was really privileged to do so, so that’s kind of how it happened.
What does the song mean to you and its connection to the holiday season?
Originally, it was an old Scottish melody. The song was an old James Taylor song so Paul’s (Baloche) wife Rita, re-wrote the words and kept the melody for a Christmas song. It’s called “When Love Crossed Over,” and oh my goodness, beautiful lyricism. So, when I first heard it, I was like wow, this is beautiful talking about Jesus coming as a baby. It’s crazy to think about the big gap that there seemed to be between God and humanity and how in the most humble form He crossed over and as a baby, he came and He was the mediator and said, I am the bridge, here I am. It’s just a very overwhelming truth. It’s beautiful the melody and the lyrics combined. It was really fun to sing and it meant a lot.
How do you want to encourage people this season?
I think Christmas can be a stressful thing and if we let it be, it’s all about giving, getting, all of that. I think, I’m always blown away when I stop and take a moment to not be stressed out and take time to think about the vastness and hugeness (if that’s a word) of what God did and why we celebrate it and why we have a reason to be here. To think about God’s vast love for us that He would send His precious Son to die thirty three years from Christmas. I think, always every year I’m reminded how that needs to be the main focus and just to not let the holiday traffic and stress get me railed up. But that is just my own personal note that I have to make every year to just enjoy it and remember the real reason why we celebrate and the real meaning of life.