MATTHEWS - Judy Leigh is living a double life.
A teacher at Matthews Elementary School in Matthews, Leigh spends much of her time educating youngsters in kindergarten through fifth grade in music and art. Yet she is also a popular Christian music singer with a growing fan base in Europe.
The dual roles seem to combine easily for the Southeast Missouri native.
Growing up in Charleston, Leigh, the daughter of the late John and Myrtle Nunnelee, studied music under Kate Boone. She had visions of one day going on to sing on New York's Broadway or even opera.
While attending Oklahoma Baptist University, Leigh sang with various choirs and soon found herself drawn to Christian music. By the mid 1970s, Leigh was the television soloist for the Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., and a professional recording artist for the South Carolina company, Herald Records.
While with Herald Records, she recorded several albums, many featuring her own music. "Morning Star," with music by Leigh and words by Dan Boyer climbed into the top 20s of the Christian music charts in 1976.
Today, "Morning Star" is being introduced to a new audience and Leigh is hoping for an equally positive reception as the record began to get air play this month in Europe. In its first week it was rated No. 12 by European New Christian Music disc jockeys.
Leigh's European record producer and publisher, Paul Davis, insists "Morning Star" is set for a comeback in Europe and will be a strong contender for the New Christian Music European chart. Davis has teamed with another international producer to bring Christian music to broadcasters and media.
Leigh's song is one of the featured tracks on the new "New Christian Music" CD launched this month in Europe and the United Kingdom. Also heard on the album are leading Christian artists including Del McCouray, George Hamilton IV, the Jordanaires and Stella Parton, the sister of Dolly Parton.
According to Leigh, NCM CD releases will boost air play for many Christian artists, seeking to get their message aired on UK and European airwaves.
"I'm not as interested in selling records as I am in spreading the Gospel through my music," the singer insisted. "This is a breakthrough for Christian artists - they have not been marketed like secular music. We feel like this is a way we can blitz the European market with our message."
Leigh's name is already familiar to some Europeans. She did several tours of Europe and the U.S. when her albums were initially released during the 1970s and toured again in 1997. "I'll probably be asked to go back if this goes over big on the charts," she said about "Morning Star" and her next recording set to be released, "Christmas Means Thinking of Jesus," which is being reissued in a special Christmas album for the European market.
But she also enjoys her American life and especially teaching children, Leigh related. One of her songs, "Suffer the Little Children," she said says it all when it comes to why she teaches.
"Children are so precious. They make the job wonderful because they are so innocent and fresh," Leigh said. "I've had a wonderful life and I can use all that I've experienced to share with these children."
She can be heard outside the classroom, too. Leigh sings at the First Baptist Church, where she participates in the Living Christmas Tree each December and this past summer, she sang at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz. Leigh and her husband, Jim, use her music in their work as missionaries and she continues to work on her own songs.
"I believe gospel music is part of my commission - the Bible says to share your light in the world and 'Morning Star' is my tribute to Jesus Christ," said Leigh. "I want to be a witness so people can be drawn into his garden of eternal life."