Christian Living

ChurchWatch 06/07/10

Musician and Pastor Dana Key Dead at 56

As a musician in a "Christian" band in the 80s, I used to get somewhat annoyed at other believers who would complain that Christian artists couldn't hold a candle to secular bands. There was even the smug suggestion that these groups fell into the "Contemporary Christian" genre because they didn't have the musical chops to compete in the mainstream. I used to scratch my head at these comments when I would listen to solo artists like Phil Keaggy, Keith Green, Bryan Duncan and Russ Taff, or bands like A.D., Whiteheart (with the powerhouse 1989 album "Freedom"), or Petra (especially in the Greg X. Volz era).

Dana Key of Degarmo and KeyOne of the other groups that I would add to this category would be DeGarmo and Key. And along with Bryan Duncan and Russ Taff, I would add Dana Key as one of the great singers of his time, in the same vein as Michael McDonald.

I was saddened to hear that over the weekend, Dana Key died due to a ruptured blood clot at age 56.

I owned several DeGarmo and Key albums and was blessed to see them perform live on three separate occasions.

I remember fondly a concert D & K played at Messiah College when I was a freshman, sharing the stage with the band Servant. At one point Dana and Eddie played off each other in a blazing solo set -- they were both great musicians. Eddie DeGarmo was wearing his 80s-style keyboard (the one that looked somewhat like a guitar and was held on with a guitar strap). Together they jumped off the stage and into the crowd. For several minutes they played riffs back and forth in front of a mesmerized young man in a wheelchair sitting on the front row.

I was impressed -- not only with their musicianship, but also with their heart.

In a moving tribute, singer Clay Crosse, who had served as worship pastor at the church that Dana pastored, wrote that upon learning of Dana's death from another member of the church:

"I reminded Mel about the 100,000 plus that professed Christ under Dana’s teaching and music. I stated that Dana didn’t go quietly through life and just discreetly exit the scene to Heaven. No, Dana was a spokesperson for his church’s namesake, the love of Christ."

In the course of more than 20 years of recording and touring, DeGarmo and Key released 17 albums together and were nominated for 7 Grammy Awards and 17 Dove Awards. They produced several award-winning videos, including the first video by a contemporary Christian artist to be aired on MTV. In addition to their own music they wrote popular songs for other artists like Amy Grant and Sandi Patty.

According to ChristianBook.com, at one point Billboard Magazine raved that DeGarmo & Key’s albums contained "one of the most consistently inventive bodies of music in Christian music."

The duo were not only musicians, but they had a heart for ministry. In the early 90s they created a 13-week Sunday school curriculum based on songs from their album Go To the Top. They worked with Zondervan to promote the NIV Student Bible, they contributed efforts to the True Love Waits campaign and the Biblical Literacy Foundation, and have given away more than 150,000 copies of their D & K album to unsaved youth.

In 1995 the duo decided to disband after they agreed that they had creatively said everything they could as a group. Dana recorded projects for his own label, Ardent, releasing two solo albums, The Journey in 1990 and Part of the Mystery in 1995. Eddie DeGarmo became an executive at ForeFront Records. In the next 15 years both musicians worked to develop and promote a new generation of Christian talent.

Following retirement, Dana served as the head of Ardent Records, and hosted a TV show, featuring new, younger, Christian bands. Dana had been serving as the pastor of The Love of Christ Church in Cordova, Tennessee.

Dana leaves behind his wife, Anita, and three children -- and a host of fans who will always be grateful for this "long distance runner" who finished the race and has gone on to receive his prize.

Read this tribute to Dana Key by Clay Crosse.

Watch the video for DeGarmo and Key's "Casual Christian":

DeGarmo and Key profile on Wikipedia (including Discography)

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