Born on January 19, 1956, in Trenton, New Jersey, Carman Licciardello grew up in an Italian-American family where music was a part of everyday life. Carman grew up playing the drums and guitar and studying drama. By the time he was a teenager, Carman was a good enough musician to start playing with professional bands. Eventually, his work took him to Las Vegas, where he played with groups that featured everything from country to top 40 to big-band swing music.
While in his twenties, Carman experienced a religious awakening while attending a concert by gospel superstar Andrae Crouch. As he later said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, "I could feel the Spirit of God through what [Crouch] was doing. I really felt an anointing. He took what was sacred in the church and put it into music I could relate to." Carman was so moved by the feeling that he started to study for his own ministry, a process that took five years before he began his own Christian outreach program in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Later, he would base Carman Ministries in Brentwood, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville.
Huge Success in Christian Music
Carman continued to incorporate his love of music into his newfound religious direction, although it took the better part of the 1980s before he became a well-known Christian recording artist. Although he released an album in 1982, Some-O-Dat, his breakthrough came with 1988's Carman Live ... Radically Saved. The release highlighted Carman's showmanship, developed over decades of concert performances. It also built upon the bachelor's image as something of a Christian-music heartthrob. An energetic and charismatic performer, Carman's dark good looks became the focus of subsequent ad campaigns in support of his work. One of the first true video stars of Christian music, Carman's work also earned him the first of several Gospel Music Association Dove Awards in 1989 for the Best Long-Form Video of the Year; he would also win the award in 1991 and 1993.
As a concert performer, Carman played dates free of charge. Although his representatives collected "love offerings" from the audience to cover the costs of the show, the rest of the proceeds went to fund the nonprofit Carman Ministries. Perhaps in part because his concerts were free, he set a number of attendance records while on tour. In 1993 while on his "Music for Peace" tour in Johannesburg, South Africa, Carman set an attendance record for Christian concerts with over 50,000 at the show. The following year Carman packed over 71,000 fans into the Texas Stadium in Dallas, breaking his own record. A reviewer for the About.com Christian Music website explained Carman's appeal to such large numbers of fans: "He doesn't make music for the sake of music, or artistry. He makes music as an evangelism tool. Indeed, Carman is more like a singing evangelist than a singer. Attending one of his concerts is like going to a revival with a musical soundtrack." Carman acknowledged in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that his concerts were the most fulfilling part of his career: "Ultimately, performing live is probably my favorite. That's where you know that what you do is really working."
Controversy over R.I.O.T. Release
By the time he released the marketing campaign for his R.I.O.T. (Righteous Invasion of Truth) album in 1995, Carman had become one of the best-known entertainers in Contemporary Christian music. Originally scheduled for a November of 1995 release, his record company rushed it into stores early to take advantage of a promotional tie-in for its first single, "No Monsters," with Halloween. A song that depicted the stark choices that could lead to heaven or hell, the track's video was a bit too strong for some Christian stations, however, who declined to air it. The release was also accompanied by a R.I.O.T. Manual book directed at Christian teens, promotional "No Monsters" T-shirts, and other merchandise for Carman fans. The entertainer also promoted his work through his slot on the Trinity Broadcasting Network with his show Times 2.
Carman was most excited, however, about the videos that he made to promote R.I.O.T. Released in two separate series, the R.I.O.T. videos starred Carman as a police officer fighting to keep his family safe from the violence and immorality of the modern world. "I've always wanted to do Christian movies," he told Billboard in 1996. "That's been my desire from the beginning, and it shows up in a lot of the story/song [videos] we've done. It will be just as if you're watching a movie on TV, but instead of cutting to a commercial, we cut to music video."
Despite his innovative video work, however, Carman insisted that he maintained one focus through his work: spreading the Word of God. As he had told Billboardin 1995, "For me, it's not always saying a new thing. I look at someone like Billy Graham, and I see the thing that has made him great is that he has been consistent down through the years. When he gets up behind the microphone, you're not waiting for him to say something new. You're waiting on him to say what he has been brought there to say, on a larger scale but with the same conviction, enthusiasm, and consistency down through the years."
Released The Champion
Carman had long spoken of his desire to take on acting roles; as he told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1998, "I really feel the Lord calling me to get much more into TV and movies, that's what is on the horizon." His ventures into acting through his video work, which won a series of Dove Awards throughout the 1990s, was but one step in that direction. Eventually, however, Carman came up with his own screenplay for a movie in which he would take on the starring role.
In The Champion, Carman starred as Orlando Leone, a boxer who had retired from his professional career in favor of working in a youth ministry in inner-city Los Angeles. In addition to fighting against the drug dealers in his neighborhood, Leone also battled the corrupt boxing promoters who threatened his family to force him to reenter the ring for one final bout against the current champion, fast-living Keshon Banks. Although the numerous violent scenes in the movie and its sometimes obscene language made The Champion objectionable to some Christian audiences, it nonetheless was a rare feature film that held Christian themes as its focus.
For his part, Carman was thrilled that his long-standing acting ambitions were finally realized. "It is very exciting and challenging, because it is a whole new field with new artistic endeavors," he commented in an interview with the Christian Crosswalk.com website. "It's like starting all over again, literally. A few areas of performance apply, but primarily it is a whole different art form. It is exciting to be able to take something to the silver screen that has a Christian message to it."
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