(Photo by Peter J. Honour, Orpington England)
SIKESTON -- American Christian music fans might not recognize the voice of singer Judy Leigh, but European and United Kingdom listeners have pushed her songs up the charts repeatedly over the last few years. Now Leigh has earned the title of "Top Traditional Gospel Female Artist for 2008 in Europe and the UK."
The New Christian Music Radio Mike Award was presented March 2 while Leigh was attending a gathering of Christian music artists from around the world at the Vandyke School Theatre in Bedfordshire, England. During the event, she performed her song "We Have This Moment Today," which has been a staple of the European Christian music charts for three years, and "Because He Lives," prior to receiving her award from George Hamilton IV.
According to Leigh, she was chosen for the honor by a panel of disc jockeys and trustees of the New Christian Music Foundation. Receiving the award, she added, is having a lifelong dream coming true.
"I couldn't believe it was happening to me," she said about the announcement. "I just felt so blessed and so happy. Every musician wants to be recognized as top in their field but to be voted on and be judged as the top traditional female artist is mind blowing. But it isn't about me - God has given me this honor and it is all about him."
She admitted being selected for one of the awards out of the approximately 200 artists attending was exciting. But, she described it not so much as a competition as a time of encouragement.
"It was the most exciting weekend. I was hearing all these artists from all over the world that I have never met before and they are fantastic," she said. The music she heard ranged from traditional works to electric guitars to Caribbean praise songs that had the audience rocking.
"Most of us aren't known in the United States but we are being used to spread the gospel through the European media and it is catching fire," she said. According to Leigh some 800 stations across Europe are playing works by Christian artists.
As part of the award she received, one of her songs will be included on a special CD distributed to radio stations to promote the artists and their works. Her song, "Today I Follow Jesus," is recorded on the disc.
Leigh has been heard on European Christian music radio stations since 2003. Her first song, which she composed and sang, "Morning Star," reached No. 14 on the charts in 2003. She has had two other songs on the charts, "Christmas Means Thinking of Jesus" and "We Have this Moment Today." In 1997 she was nominated to International Who's Who in Christian Music, awarded by Cambridge University.
A veteran performer in Europe, Leigh first toured there in the 1970s and returned many times for other concert performances. Yet, Southeast Missouri continues to call her home.
An art and music teacher at Matthews Elementary School in Matthews, Leigh said her work with children is very fulfilling.
She and her husband, Jimmie, whom she calls one of her biggest supporters, make their home in Sikeston, where she assists as director of the Sikeston First Baptist Church's choir. The choir's members were supportive of her efforts to attend the weekend music event in England, both in prayer and with donations, she said.
The fact that she won the international honor came as no surprise to the group either, said Mike Parker, who shares choir directing duties with Leigh.
"She has a beautiful soprano voice with incredible range," he noted. "We hear her sing her songs in church and almost take it for granted. We are very proud of her."
Rather than basking in her most recent honor, Leigh said it has given her incentive to start writing songs again. She said she hopes to be able to record a new album soon in England with Paul Davis, one of the men behind the New Christian Music.
"I know this is going to be the beginning of something big, I just don't know what it is yet," said Leigh. "We will have to see what opens up."