Rich Mullins: Life, Death, Legacy And Music
Rich Mullins was a Christian music sensation from when he first came to the professional stage in the 1980’s. He poured his soul into his song writing and vocals and you can hear the humble, compassionate and God-driven person he was through his music. He was a man with a purpose and seemed to portray part of himself in all of his work. Rich lived a very humble life with a greater purpose to fulfill God’s will.
Mullins left a legacy behind when his life was cut short in September 1997. This article is to remember whom he was as a musician and the Christian that so many remember him by.
Musical Influence from The Beginning
Wayne Mullins, the name his family referred to him as when he was younger, was raised on a farm in Richmond, Indiana. He was introduced to music at a very young age and his great grandma is credited with teaching him how to play four-part harmonies as a youngster.
As his musical education was built, he became an active vocalist, songwriter and pianist for the New Creations Choir. After high school he attended the Cincinnati Bible College and then went on to become both the Youth Director and Music Director in Erlanger, Kentucky at the Erlanger United Methodist Church.
He was also immersed in his mother’s Quaker teachings of peace and social justice. This was very evident throughout his message in many songs and performances in his career. Another major influence in his life was St. Francis of Assisi, which could be seen through his humble lifestyle. Mullins didn’t own a home and took a very small salary compared to the millions he made throughout his career. His typical stage attire included sweatpants and t-shirts.
"The Truth" Psalm 25: 9 “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
Mullins was engaged in the early 80’s and he wrote the song “Doubly Good To you” for his wedding, but was left heartbroken when his fiancée broke off the relationship. He fell in love again in the late 80’s after moving to Wichita, Kansas while attending the Central Christian Church, but he never got married.
Rich finally decided to focus on his professional career in the 1980’s while in his mid-20’s. He established a unique style and way of performing that gave you a sense of the genuine love and passion he had for Christ. Similar to Michael W. Smith today, Mullins viewed his performances as a ministry and way of spreading God’s word. This was exemplified well in his two most well known hits. “Awesome God” (claimed to have been written at the Rock Lake Christian Assembly in Vestaburg, Michigan) and “Sometimes by Step” are beloved by Christians and sung by churches to this day.
As Mullins became more and more successful, he maintained the practice of sending all profits to his home church. The church paid him a salary based on the average salary in the United States for that year and the remaining money he made was donated to various charities. One time, he told his accountant that it was far easier to give his money away when he didn’t know how much he had.
Mullins was very talented and could adapt to many different styles of music. In 1993 he formed A Ragamuffin Band with many of his friends and they often brought in different tastes of music, including Celtic, upbeat and inspiring, and also deep, dark and emotional. Whenever Rich played, the songs seemed to become part of him and he poured his soul out in his lyrics, voice, emotions and body gestures.
A Musical Mark
In 1991, Rich enrolled as a student at Friends University and then, after graduating, he moved out to New Mexico to teach music to children. He had started a program that is now called The Legacy of a Kid Brother of St. Frank that focused on bringing art and drama programs and music camps to Native American children. His family chose to continue this work and has helped introduce children across the county to music and arts.
"The Truth" Matthew 19:14 “but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.
His religious views started to change in the 90’s and he was slowly moving toward Catholicism. His music portrayed this with some of the themes in his songs and he was becoming more vocal about his religious move. According to Father Matt McGuiness, who was a dear friend of Mullins, Rich was going to proclaim his conversion to the Catholic faith on what would have been just days after he died. Many people partly attribute this to Mullin’s fascination with the work and life of St. Francis of Assisi.
A Tragic End
For so many, Rich Mullins died too young. He had recorded and produced many top-selling albums, but he had more to share. On September 19, 1997, he and Mitch McVicker were on their way to a benefit concert in Hillsboro, Kansas and they lost control of their Jeep. The vehicle rolled over and both musicians were ejected because they were not wearing seatbelts. A semi-trailer truck swerved to miss the Jeep, but did not see Mullins lying in the road from his injuries and could not swerve to miss him. McVicker was seriously injured, but survived the unthinkable accident.
Legacy Still Lives On
The loss of Rich Mullins was hard to comprehend and a stark reminder for many that life is short. Now, 16 years later, we still remember Rich and audiences everywhere are still captivated by his unique perspective on music and Christianity. He worked with many of the top Christian artists of the 80’s and numerous artists have covered his songs through the years, including Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Third Day, Chris Rice and Jars of Clay.
What I connect with the most is the type of person Rich Mullins was and you could see this through his daily actions. He was honest, sincere and lived with a purpose. He could have had mansions, vacations, stylists, cooks and so many other perks that celebrities live for. These earthly blessings didn’t sway Rich and he chose the same standard of living in his later years that he had when he was first beginning. His compassion for those around him was thought provoking and he continued to proclaim God’s glory the more successful he became.
"The Truth" Exodus 15:11 “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
One final note, I have focused on the positive aspects of Rich’s character and successes, but he was open about struggles he faced in his daily life and he did not see himself as perfect. This is very inspiring because he wasn’t trying to impress anyone, but trying to allow God to transform him daily.
What Do You Remember?
I did not have the opportunity to see him play live, so please share with me your fondest memories of Rich’s performances and your favorite songs!
Resources- The Holy Bible, English Standard Version“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”, www.youtube.com, photo credit: Ihar via photopin cc