Stephen B. Steward spent the first part of his life majoring on those things that mattered most: family and home. However, he always had a song in his heart, a song birthed from an intimate relationship with God. In 2012 he knew it was time to set out on his musical journey and today he is what many would consider a “new artist.”
Although he has just entered the spotlight Steward has more than 300 songs in his writing portfolio. The man with the heart of a worshipper got an extra boost to his future career when he met gospel legend Andraé Crouch at a concert in Colorado in 1994. That encounter led to a lifelong friendship that birthed Steward’s Billboard-charting song, “With My Whole Heart.” The release of the single has led to several high-profile appearances including performances during Stellar Awards weekend. In a candid interview Steward told the DC Gospel Music Examiner the story of the song's creation, his writing process and what he believes true worship is.
Collaboration with Andraé Crouch:
“In 2003 I walked into his (Crouch’s) house and he was playing this melody and I said ‘what are you playing’ and he said, ‘I don’t know.’ I told him to keep playing it and within five minutes the words just came to me. ‘With My Whole Heart’ is just a rhythm of what was happening that day. The spirit just manifested itself. It was just a connection between us and mentored me as I was sharing my songs with him that I had written at that point. He really taught me a lot about what to write and what to put into a song.”
What is your process, where do the songs come from?
“I try not to take the credit for these songs because I have no musical background. And I just relate with what John says in Revelation, ‘He that has an ear let him hear what the spirit of the Lord is saying to the church.’ Some of the songs like ‘I feel your presence’ and ‘The Restorer’ are what David refers to in the Psalms as the songs of the Lord. I just don’t sit and think of them. They just instantaneously come to me. It’s not from me sitting or writing about an experience, circumstance or situation but what He is saying. I recognized that early on and just began to listen to the voice of God.”
You wrote so many songs, was it always in the back of your mind to record them?
There was always that and when I was young, a classmate of mine, Donna Powell, said to me, ‘one day we are going to hear you sing on the radio.’ I also started listening to others that were not in the gospel arena, like Al Jarreau, learning how he uses his voice jazz wise, and I listened to country music too, traditional gospel. I knew that I had the ability to write, so one day I asked God if the ability to write a song is within me, let it flow out of me like the rivers of living water. Once I said that to God, it just started pouring out. I write too many songs for me to sing them all. I know I’ve got to share them with certain people and that’s one of my goals also is to write for other people.”
Tell me about the album.
“What I tried to portray and release into the ear of the hearer is what the spirit of the Lord is saying to the church at this time and season in regards to Jesus saying there is a time that true worship will come forth and that’s what I wanted to. This is fresh, this is new, it’s not reflective of who I am, but reflective of who God is. There are songs of deliverance, songs of forgiveness, songs of healing, salvation, of worship, of praise, a variety of different realms of songs on the CD that I wanted to portray to the listening audience. I wanted to portray ‘Here’s God, He’s all that, here’s what He has to offer.’”
What do you feel worship is?
“It’s beyond what I know, but it’s all about what He does. I’ve gotten comfortable with just getting out of the status quo, the flow of different songs that we all know what can we give to god but that declaration lord we lift your name on high and how can we express worship freshly to God. It’s all about giving to God. I try to write words where it’s vertical; it’s all to him because I have to stand on God's promise in regards to personal things in me. God shall supply all our needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus. That’s a rock solid promise so we don’t have to argue with Him to see it; we just have to obey Him. We don’t have to qualify for that promise. Worship to me is all about giving back to God, because he’s already declared that he’s come that we may have life and that we may have that life more abundantly. Worship is not about seeking things from Him. It’s seeking the depth, the width, height and the vastness. I think God gets a kick out of us telling Him who He is through song.
How have you seen lives touched by your music?
“Immediately what comes to mind is that there was a lady in our church, Doris who brought her mother from Texas because she had been diagnosed with cancer. I knew her, but not her mother. The Holy Spirit just told me to sing Psalms 23. I started singing it out loud; it was one of those songs of the lord. I saw this little lady from the back of the church and she just ran back and forth, and not knowing that she was Doris’ mother. The next Sunday Doris asked my father-in- law, who was the pastor, if she could give a praise report. She said her mother had come to town with a volleyball sized tumor that was cancerous in her stomach. Her mother told her when we were singing ‘The Restorer’ that God had said, ‘I am going to restore your body to you today.’ She went to the doctor that Thursday and the tumor had shrunk down to the size of a grapefruit and the doctor found no cancer in it. Her mother came back to the church and testified, ‘What God is giving you guys in this worship service, and you’re not going to have to have a preacher to call a prayer line anymore.' She said deliverance is in the worship and that was a huge sign to us.
Why was this the right time to launch your music career?
“I made a choice, a conscious choice to be a good dad, to put my dreams on hold to be a responsible father, a good husband to my wife and to raise my kids being there. I wanted to be a part of their whole experience. They are both athletes and both play basketball and baseball. I wanted to have that experience. I was all-state in both sports as well, lived only six miles from my high school, but my father never came to see me play. I remember in the 10th grade looking in the stands. My dad said he was going to be there and I said, ‘Well, God it’s just me and you, so I’m not going to look for him again and I know you’re with me.’ I just didn’t want my kids to experience that feeling of not having me there. I knew a music career would be pulling me from here to there and I wanted to be a good provider for my family and God has allowed me to do all that.”
Steward wrote the majority of the songs on his upcoming album. One song, “Something Special” was written by sister-in-law, Lafrance who he says is “a great musician, self-taught, she plays by ear only.” When listening to Steward's music, the listener may pick up some nuances of Andraé Crouch, something Steward readily acknowledges.
“There is a significant fuse of Andraé Crouch in my music because I would go to sleep at night listening to Andraé Crouch and Danniebelle Hall as a kid. Especially the first album, ’Take the Message Everywhere’ That was all that I listened to when I was a kid and sometimes my mother would come and take the earphones off when I’d go to sleep (laughs). Coming full circle, understanding what God does, His plans for my music, Andraé Crouch’s music was the most influential music that I listened to.
Smart choices in his life, a connection to a gospel legend and a debut single that is currently #78 on the Billboard Hot Gospel Songs chart. Stephen B. Steward seems to be on his way. As he is propelled by his deep and abiding faith coupled with amazing talent, the singer-songwriter naturally sees the big picture spiritually about his new career.
“I believe I’m the Caleb coming to take the mountain at 52, instead of 85. I believe this is a season that God really wants me to pour out. I think that’s why He’s given me an abundance of songs."