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Published by
The Tennessean
Saturday, 10/9/99


CELEBRITIES

Grant picks up pieces after divorce, with the help of soaring career - and Vince

By Jay Orr / Staff Writer

Waiting for Amy Grant to arrive for a visit, a staffer at Vanderbilt University Children's Hospital wonders, "Vince Gill didn't sneak in with her, did he?"

Everybody, it seems, is asking about Vince and Amy these days. The two have been fast friends for years. On Sept. 28 they attended a Nashville Predators hockey game together, prompting speculation about their relationship in the wake of Grant's divorce from singer and TV personality Gary Chapman.

Yes, Gill and Grant are, in fact, seeing each other frequently of late. But he is not in the small entourage that arrives with Grant at the children's hospital.

She's coming to visit with kids who can't go outside on this sunny fall day. Some can't leave their beds. Some are only days old, born prematurely and unable to survive on their own. Others have IV packs keeping them constant company as they move through the halls.

The singer and mother of three kneels, sits, smiles, talks softly, holds, strokes. She sings along with a few who know one of her songs. She takes an old guitar and serenades others. Shethanks them all for coming out to see her, for sharing their smiles with her.

Like Minnie Pearl -- the late Sarah Cannon, for whom her youngest daughther, Sarah, is named --Grant uses her celebrity to bring comfort to the suffering, and to raise the profile of those inneed.

The visit also affords Grant an opportunity to announce that the hospital is lead sponsor andone of the beneficiaries of her upcoming Christmas concerts with the Nashville Symphony, Dec. 7and 8, at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

On her third annual national Christmas tour, with special guests Michael W. Smith and Point ofGrace, Grant will play 19 cities. Only Nashville, her hometown, will get two nights. Tickets forthe concerts at the arena go on sale at 10 a.m. today at all TicketMaster outlets.

Last year, the Christmas tour bypassed Nashville. It was "time to take a breath" after playing12 sold-out shows in five years, Grant said in an official statement. A Southern girl knows better than to wear out her welcome, she reasoned.

But Grant will admit now that there were other concerns. Her marriage to Chapman was in its final months. Following "a lengthy state of separation under the same roof," the couple wasundergoing counseling with two local pastors from September through December.

Playing the Christmas concert in her hometown, she felt, would be difficult at best.

In February, Grant moved out of the couple's home on Moran Road in Franklin. After another monthspent settling questions of how they would divide households and parenting responsibilities,Chapman and Grant filed for divorce. In June, after 16 1/2 years of marriage, the divorce becamefinal.

"It was all incredibly respectful and private," Grant says during an interview at her home in ashady, upscale West End neighborhood. Already, she has made three trips to school during themorning, delivering kids, forgotten eyeglasses and newly washed gym clothes.

It was also incredibly difficult.

"I challenge any couple to have tried harder than we did," Grant says. "We tried and tried andtried. ... When you feel like you gave something your best shot and it fell apart, you kinda go,'OK. There are no guarantees.' "

The sum of many choices, she says, finally prompted her todecide to go through with the divorce.

On the afternoon of the interview, Grant says she has plans to take a bike trip with Gill on theNatchez Trace Parkway. The two have eaten together recently at a Waffle House -- at Gill'sinvitation. Last Sunday, they went to church. They've been writing a song together, Look WhatLove's Revealing.

But they are not secretly married, she states emphatically, answering one of the latest rumorsto circulate through town about them.

The two singer-songwriters have been fast friends since they first met in 1993, when Grantaccepted Gill's invitation to appear with him on a Christmas special in Tulsa, in his nativeOklahoma.

"We got along like two peas in a pod and made no bones about it," she says.

As their friendship grew and deepened, however, others found bones to pick.

"A lot of disparaging things were said about my very public friendship with Vince," Grant acknowledges.

"One of the reasons that the friendship was so public was because itnever occurred to me to hide it. I would hear rumors about, 'Youguys were seen doing this, you guys were seen doing that.' I justsaid, 'Not true.' "

Conscientiously, they honored the constraints of their commitments,Grant says.

"I don't take lightly the responsibility of being a public person,of my faith, all those things. I know why God hates divorce, becauseit's painful and it's hardest on the kids and you have to kiss yourhistory goodbye, start over.

"I never thought I would wind up here. I look at the choices allalong the way that were made and think, I did the very best I couldand I wound up here, now. I want to stand up and say, 'It's not theway you think it was!' But it doesn't really matter."

Gill's marriage to singer-songwriter and clothing store owner JanisGill ended in 1997. For all his willingness to appear in public -- atgolf tournaments, at numerous benefits, at the Grand Ole Opry -- Gill always has been intensely private about his personal life andprotective of his 17-year-old daughter, Jenny.

When the Gills were going through their divorce, Grant was not aconfidante to Vince, she says, nor was he to her when she foundherself in the same situation.

"People try to connect dots -- 'I saw these people here, I saw themthere' -- but during the hardest time of getting my feet back on theground and going through the process of my divorce, I'll bet we wentsix months without a conversation, because it wasn't his life, and Ifelt the same way (when he was going through his divorce)."

She knows people will speculate that her relationship with Gillcaused the breakup of her marriage, Grant says, but thecircumstances were multilayered and complicated. She will concedethat the friendship may have hastened what might have beeninevitable anyway.

But there are no answers to the questions raised by the course ofevents.

"You can't say how it would have been if it had been different, because all you know is how it is," she reasons.

Just as frankly, Grant says that, now that she is divorced, Gillremains "hands down, slam dunk, my best friend" for malecompanionship.

Repeated attempts were made to reach Gill for comment on therelationship.

It feels silly, Grant says, for a 38-year-old woman and a42-year-old man with professional and domestic responsibilities tosay they're dating, though some of the things they've done, like thehockey game, would qualify.

"I just want to enjoy his company," she says. "Is that the kind ofthing that the natural conclusion is that eventually these twopeople will wind up together and grow old together? I hope so.

"But do I understand the timetable for that? No."

It's easier to chart the forward progress of her professionaltimetable.

On Sept. 26, Grant made her acting debut in a CBS movie of the week,A Song from the Heart, about a blind cellist. The movie did well,finishing second for the night behind a Saturday Night Liveretrospective. For the week it finished at No. 19 overall.

Entertainment trade papers Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter both gave Grant good notices for her performance, and more scripts have come flooding in.

On Dec. 4, Grant will be the host of her own CBS Christmas special,A Christmas to Remember. Special guests 98 Degrees and Tony Bennetthave been confirmed so far. The show will be shot on location inBanff, Canada, beginning Nov. 1, and is the first of what allparties hope will be at least a three-year run.

CBS is excited about its growing relationship with Grant, says herprimary manager, Jennifer Cooke.

"They believe that Amy works well for their demographic," sheobserves. "They love the fact that she's family-friendly and yet hipand current."

Her third Christmas album, also called A Christmas to Remember,comes out Oct. 19. Her previous Christmas albums, Home for Christmasand A Christmas Album, have sold more than 4 million copiescombined.

A traditional collection mixing classics such as Silent Night andJingle Bell Rock with original material, the new release was recorded with a symphony orchestra. A new holiday album means Grantwill have new material for this year's tour.

After she finishes her Christmas tour and celebrates the holidays,Grant will begin work on a new album, due to Interscope/A&M by June1. No producer has been selected. Her last studio album, Behind theEyes, appeared in 1997 and has been certified gold for shipments ofmore than 500,000 copies.

Songs on that album such as Cry a River and The Feeling I Had grewout of her own emotional turmoil. Grant says she hopes the new albumwill retain the "songwriter integrity" of Behind the Eyes "minus theProzac and razor blades."

Behind the Eyes did not have "a lot of big statements of faith," sheconcedes, something her fans in the Christian marketplace where shelaunched her career must be ready to hear.

"People who gravitate toward my songs are people who want to have an unshakable faith but who find that life shakes 'em up," Grantreasons.

As she has come through tough times herself, Grant says she hasfound solace by writing, over and over, the Bible verse Hebrews10:23 -- "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope that we profess, forhe who promised is faithful."

Recently, Gill and Grant were grilling hamburgers for a gatheringput together by her daughter, fourth-grader Millie.

"One of them asked, 'Is he your boyfriend?' " Grant recalls, and shefelt ready to let down her guard a little.

"To have tried to walk the line of propriety for so long, I kindatook a breath and said, 'He is, honey. Yeah.' "



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