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Knapp's genre jump a leap of faith

Courtesy photo
Jennifer Knapp left the Christian music scene in 2002. Around the time of her return to music a few years ago, the singer/songwriter came out as a lesbian. She performs in Charleston Friday as part of the 2012 West Virginia Gay Pride Week.

WANT TO GO?

Jennifer Knapp

WHERE: Atmosphere Ultra Lounge, 706-708 Lee St.

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Friday

TICKETS: General admission $15, premium $30, VIP $50

INFO: 304-343-3737 or www.facebook.com/prideWVCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Singer/songwriter Jennifer Knapp has more or less settled into her life outside of Christian contemporary music.

In the mid- and late-1990s, Knapp was an up-and-coming Christian performer with a gold record, a Grammy nomination and two Dove Awards. The young artist's future seemed very bright, but in 2002, she walked away. 

It wasn't an easy choice for the singer, who performs Friday at the Atmosphere Lounge, but it was absolutely necessary.

"I remember distinctly this feeling that I had nothing else to contribute or nothing new to that particular conversation," she said.

It wasn't so much about a loss of faith, Knapp said, but a loss of faith in the faith music business. So in 2002, the Kansas native quit. She hung up her microphone, left the stage, moved to Australia and more or less dropped out of sight.

Three years ago, Knapp had a change of heart -- at least about performing music. She returned to the States and cut a record. Then she hit the road to explain that she was back in music but not on the Christian scene.

"In 2010, there was a lot of anticipation for me coming back and doing music," she said. "Part of that was getting the word to that community that I was back, but also confronting the fact that I wasn't doing Christian music."

She also went public about her sexual orientation.

 Knapp came out as a lesbian, something not well received in Christian music circles. She was immediately criticized for going against her faith or abandoning Christianity in favor of a lifestyle choice. Interviews with the mainstream Christian press got pointed, and Knapp remembered it as being "a gauntlet."  

Two years later, much of the roar has died down. She said she doesn't do many interviews with Christian music press these days. There's not a lot left to say.

She said she still meets people who don't know what to make of her, though. A lot of them are just people who've heard about her somewhere.

"Often when they're asking questions, it's about themselves. It's about their narrative, about how they see the world. They want information to fill in the gaps."

Some communities can be a bit insulated, she said. They haven't had a lot of experience with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. They haven't spoken to them and don't understand them outside the context of their portrayal from the pulpit or on TV.

Knapp doesn't think she completely jibes with their perception of what a gay person is like or even what a gay person of faith is like.

"I see it as an opportunity, not an accusation," she said. "It's a way to see someone in a light they hadn't seen them in before."

Knapp said she hasn't given up on her faith. In fact, it's become part of what she does, though not in the same way as before. Knapp tours with a special show, Inside Out Faith, which is described as "music and musings about the journey of life, finding love and being a gay person of faith." The shows are sometimes held in churches.

Knapp also said that while she's not specifically trying to write Christian songs, she's also not actively trying to tune that out.

"As a person of faith, if something comes up in the way that I write or if I want to put some kind of spiritual experience into my music, I can," she said. "I just don't feel compelled to create a marketplace for it."

Not everyone will get that, Knapp acknowledged.

"But at the same time, I think there is a community of folks out there who do understand and relate to where I'm coming from."

Things could change, and Knapp doesn't completely rule out ever playing in contemporary Christian circles again. She's still proud of her Dove Awards, but obviously that music community and Knapp just aren't a good fit right now.

"Ten years ago, I'd have told you I wasn't doing music at all," she said. "I've learned to never say never."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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