Why Do the Best Singer-Songwriters Need Religion?

Prince at Coachella


Prince was a Jehovah's Witness

The world has just lost the singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, musician and actor known as Prince, who was rightly hailed as a genius. His creativity was truly amazing and throughout his career he never stopped turning out the hits, playing stunning performances and putting on incredible shows. Prince was one of the most influential musicians in the last century who will be remembered for his hit songs, such as Purple Rain, When Doves Cry, Raspberry Beret and Kiss. He will be remembered for his flamboyant dress, and for his ability as a performer and showman who could play all the instruments used on his recordings, and play them very well. He will be remembered as a true innovator in the world of music and a man who would change things he did not agree with. He often took on the music industry itself and once changed his name to a symbol to make a point. He also wrote songs that were hits for many other pop and rock stars, including Nothing Compares To You for Sinead O'Connor.

However, perhaps Prince will not be remembered so much for his religious beliefs and yet they were central to his life. Prince was a Jehovah's Witness and took his religion very seriously going out as a "Witness" telling others about what he believed, and attending the Kingdom Hall.

Prince became a Jehovah's Witness in 2001 after long talks about the religion with fellow musician and friend Larry Graham, who was already a member of the religion. This was a very big step for Prince to take. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that sex outside of marriage is wrong and Prince had been famous for his raunchy performances and sexually charged lyrics.

Prince was also a believer in conspiracy theories and talked about his belief in chemtrails on TV. He was a fan of David Icke's work too. He thought a lot about the state of the world and was very concerned about how it is. He was looking for answers, he was searching for meaning. He found them, it seems in conspiracy theories and the Jehovah's Witness religion.

David Icke: A Memory of Prince - Beyond Normal



Bono the Christian

Bono, the lead singer and frontman for the rock band U2 is a gifted singer-songwriter too. He has penned many hits for the group and catapulted them to international stardom. He is clearly a very intelligent an creative man who cares deeply about the world, and he has been actively involved in charitable projects, such as Band Aid and Live Aid, along with Bob Geldof. Bono has taken part in very many benefit concerts to raise funds for various causes and charities. He is both an activist and philanthropist. He is a rock star that has taken his position seriously and he is known for having been involved in meetings with top politicians, including Tony Blair and George Bush. The National Journal once called him the "most politically effective celebrity of all time."

But throughout his career he has maintained his faith as a Christian. It has been said that his faith is what has spurred him on and motivated his efforts as a philanthropist. Talking about his faith he once said: 'Christ was either who he said he was, or he is "a complete and utter nutcase"'

Does Bono really have his doubts? Perhaps so? Perhaps the Christian belief system is what he has settled for to make sense to him. Like Prince it seems he was looking for something to make sense of the world. Bono has a hit song that perhaps depicts his search as well as his strength of conviction. That song is I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.

It needs to be asked, though, why anyone feels a need for beliefs and why they almost blindly accept what a belief system tells them? No one was born having beliefs. Why are people searching for God?

I still haven't found what I'm looking for - U2 - Lyrics

Dolly Parton - He´s alive (Full song)

Dolly Parton

Country and Western and Pop singer Dolly Parton is one of the most famous and successful women singers and musicians in the world of popular music. She is also an author, actress, businesswoman and humanitarian. She has written scores of hits for herself, and for other acts. She wrote the song I Will Always Love You, which became a massive hit for Whitney Houston and was featured in the movie The Bodyguard. She has composed over 3,000 songs and has had 110 singles that have been in the charts in the past 40 years. She has won eight Grammy Awards and been nominated 46 times for the Grammy Awards. Dolly Parton, is without a doubt, like Prince, another genius when it comes to performance and musical creativity. Like Prince, and like Bono, she believes in God and is a Christian. She has had a truly amazingly successful life but still feels a need for a belief and faith in God.

Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan: Saved

Bob Dylan is without a doubt one of the most successful and influential singer-songwriters ever and a man who has spent a lot of time thinking about the world. Many of his most famous early songs were protest songs in which he pointed out graphically what was wrong in the world today. Dylan's lyrics often used Biblical imagery and phrases in songs such as, All Along The Watchtower, for example. So perhaps it was not that surprising when at one point in his long career he became openly a born-again Christian, and went as far in 1980, as releasing an album of gospel songs, entitled Saved. In this he sang: "...saved by the blood of the Lamb." This followed on from Slow Train Coming, which was also strongly Christian themed but not as blatantly religious. Shot of Love that was Dylan's next album after Saved had more lyrics that made obvious reference to Jesus and Christianity. In Every Grain of Sand Dylan sings he "can see the Master's hand, in every sparrow falling like every grain of sand." Dylan lost a lot of his fans at this point in his career. People were wondering why he had suddenly "found God." It wasn't as if he had suddenly discovered the Bible but it marked a big change in his personal beliefs and in his songwriting. Fortunately, for many people it was not to last, though many later songs still contained references to Christ and the Bible, songs like Ring Them Bells.

Yusuf Islam at the BBC Folk Awards


Cat Stevens now Yusuf Islam

Perhaps the most dramatic religious conversion and statement in the world of popular music should go to Cat Stevens, who at the height of his success as an internationally famous pop singer with a string of hit singles and albums behind him renounced it all and changed his name to Yusuf Islam when he became a Muslim. He went as far as stopping performing and recording for a nearly three decades but he has since returned to the stage.

The singer had a life-changing experience that he interpreted as being saved from drowning. He had got into difficulty whilst swimming off the coast of Malibu and called out: "Oh, God! If you save me I will work for you." A wave suddenly appeared and brought him back into safety. He believed that God had heard his prayer and that is why he went on to become a Muslim. His brother had given him a copy of the Koran as a birthday gift and he took to it straight away.

Like Dylan, though, there were clues in his past songwriting with Biblical imagery, such as "I swam upon the Devil's lake" in The Wind, and he had recorded the religious song Morning Has Broken. There were songs with titles like Peace Train and On The Road to Find Out. In the latter he sings: "The answer lies within, so why not take a look now, kick out the Devil's sins and pick up a good book now."

Stevens had been a spiritual searcher and despite his good looks, fame and wealth, there was something in him that was not satisfied. Stevens explained his conversion to the Muslim religion in this way: "I had found the spiritual home I'd been seeking for most of my life." He has remained with it though currently uses the name Yusuf only as his stage name.

Cat Stevens - On The Road To Find Out

Leonard Cohen


Leonard Cohen

Canadian poet, singer-songwriter and novelist Leonard Cohen is one of the most successful poets in the world, as well as a writer of songs that he has become famous for composing, such as Hallelujah, which has been covered by as many as 200 other artists. Amazingly at the age of 81 he is still writing and performing, as well as turning out hit albums.

Cohen is a very deep thinker who has looked into religion, philosophy, sexuality and the mysteries of life in his books, poetry and songs. Like Prince and Dylan he is regarded as one of the most influential writers in the world of music, yet religion has been with him all the way. He was born a Jew and has said that he is still one. He once said: "I'm not looking for a new religion. I'm quite happy with the old one, with Judaism."

His song titles and lyrics have often used religious imagery and characters. The Story of Isaac, and Joan of Arc are two titles to do this, and in Suzanne, one of his most famous songs, Cohen sings: "And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water..."

He had a brief interest in Scientology in 1971 at the time of his album Songs of Love and Hate and in Famous Blue Raincoat he sings: "Did you ever go clear?" ("Clear" is a Scientology term).

Cohen has also been strongly associated with Buddhism since the 1970s and was ordained as a monk in 1996. He has spent a lot of time at the Mount Baldy Zen Center learning the ways of Zen Buddhism under Joshu Sasaki roshi.

Leonard Cohen sings Hallelujah, Glastonbury 2008

Bow Down Mister - Boy George

Boy George the Karma Chameleon

Boy George came to fame as a singer-songwriter fronting Culture Club back in the 1980s. Since then he has been a DJ, author, fashion designer and photographer, but it is the hit songs, like Do You Really Want To Hurt Me and Karma Chameleon, he wrote for Culture Club that really established him as the brilliant songwriter that he is. He is famous for his flamboyant and androgynous looks but his religious beliefs have taken a back seat, even though he has had a strong interest in religions. Boy George, in an interview for the Huffington Post, said "I'm a Catholic in my complications and a Buddhist in my aspirations." He was influenced strongly for a while by the Hare Krishna Temple and became a vegetarian because of their beliefs. He also wrote and recorded the hit song Bow Down Mister in 1991 that makes a comment about karma and the Hindu religion. He has been practicing Nichiren Buddhism for the past four years and says it has made a big difference to his life and has helped him stay sober and clean off drugs after a serious addiction problem. In 2013 he made a comeback after a period away from the limelight with the release of a new solo album entitled This Is What I Do. It spawned the song My God.

Boy George, like all the other famous singer-songwriters has spent a lot of his life searching for meaning and finding it in various religious beliefs.

Boy George - My God

Comments 6 comments

Jodah profile image

Jodah 5 months ago from Queensland Australia

Fantastic hub Steve, covering some of my favourite singers. Interesting that they all have strong spiritual or religious beliefs. ThNk you for sharing the great music clips too.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I am glad you like it and that the artists I have featured are some of your favourites too! Thanks for posting your comments!

Jean Bakula 5 months ago

Hi Steve,

I saw an interview of Bob Dylan and Ed Bradley on Youtube yesterday, it looked about 3 or 4 yrs. old. Dylan admitted that he was mostly looking for new material in his Christian faze, and married a black, gospel singer, Carolyn Dennis, whom he met during this period. It was not long after his divorce from Sara, so maybe he needed a change from everything.

He raised all his kids Jewish, and always did use a lot of wording from the Torah in his music. Now he says it's the music that he worships. It was pretty interesting. He also spoke about how Sara had no idea what she was getting into when she married him. He sounded sad, and said to even take t heir kids to the beach, he had to buy beachfront property and fence it off. Asked if he could eat out at a restaurant in peace, he said no, he hasn't been able to do anything like that for years. I think he's a genius. I'm just reading a book of lyrics to most of his work except for the last 4 albums, and it's amazing!

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for commenting and telling me about that video which I will have to find. That is interesting about Sara, his divorce and life at that time.

Seafarer Mama profile image

Seafarer Mama 5 months ago from New England

Great hub, Bard. Well put-together with current information about where the artists you featured are doing with their lives right now.

Great perspective and choice of media included, too.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Seafarer Mama! I was trying to get a good balance of info and media so I am glad you seem to think I succeeded!

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