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Russ Taff: Freed from a Life of Pain

Winner of 6 Grammies, 18 GMA Dove Awards, and inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame, Russ Taff has been hailed by Billboard magazine as, “The single most electrifying voice of Christian music.” His success stemmed from his stints with bands such as the imperials, the Gaither Vocal Band, and many solo ventures.

Russ Taff said, “God has just been good. I mean, just good to me. In the middle of all of this, you learn, you grow, because we’ve walked together through so many things.

CBN reporter, Wendy Griffith said, “And a lot of times it was just you and God. You had a very rocky relationship with your father, who was a Pentecostal preacher, an alcoholic. And during this time, I mean, your dad realized you had a talent for singing.  But your dad became jealous of your gift.”

Russ said, “When I was young, Mom used to stand me on the altar.”

Wendy interjected, “At 4-years-old, you were singing in front of the whole congregation.”

Russ continued, “Right.  When I would do good, and I would sing and people would look at me, he would emotionally punish me for like 2 to 3 days. Just because it took him out of the spotlight.  And negative messages, like, ‘You’re not worth the bullet to shoot you with. You’re not worth the salt that goes on your bread.’  But the real beating I got for telling my little friend that mom and dad had an argument, that was from my mother, who, when I got home, she took books out of the shelf and threw them at me and then came over to me and started throwing punches at my face and I’m, you know, just trying to, and so I end up balled up in a corner with her kicking and screaming and kicking and screaming, ‘You don’t talk to anybody about what goes on in this family.’”

But eventually, some of their family secrets were uncovered.  Their congregation found out that Russ’ father was an alcoholic after he didn’t show up for work.   He and his entire family were voted out of the church.

Wendy said, “So, you’re 12-years-old, Russ, and you’re told that you’re not welcome back in the church either. How did that affect you as a young boy?”

Russ answered, “Well, it’s devastating.  You know, I couldn’t sit down and figure out why I couldn’t go to this church anymore, because I hadn't done anything.  And these are little bitty Pentecostal churches that are country churches. But their teaching was that if you’re going to lead, you have to be perfect.”

Wendy asked, “And even during that time when you all were kicked out of the church, you could’ve easily just turned your back on God, but you did just the opposite. What happened?”

“Mama had the key to the church,” said Russ.  “We lived about a half a block. And I would go down to the church and I’d open it. And I would creep down to the front of the church, and I would kneel down or I would sit in a pew and I would just talk to God. I’d talk to Jesus. And I would tell Him how scared I was. And I’d tell him I didn’t understand what was happening. And the pain that I was in, that you can’t tell anybody. But there was like three years of just going down, late at night, and just talking to Jesus. And it really connected He and I.”

Despite all the turmoil, Russ Formed a Christian band called Sounds of Joy when he was sixteen.

Russ explained, “Well, there was always something in me that wanted to bring people to Jesus. And I talked to my dad.  We had moved back to Arkansas to start again, try again. And he was doing good, you know. He was really trying. And so, I invited everybody out to Monday night service at our daddy’s little church. And they would fill the church up every Monday night. And we would play and I would invite, I knew like 3 scriptures,” Russ laughed. “But I would preach those scriptures. And I would say.”

Wendy interjected, “People would get saved.”

Russ continued, “Absolutely!  I mean, there was just this, they would flood to the altar every Monday night. But it was a great revival.  And years later, when I graduated and stuff, I began to see it was happening all over America. You know.”

Wendy commented, “Jesus Movement.”

Russ said, “And there was this major onslaught of people coming to Jesus. It was one of the most incredible things.”

It was during this time that the hit gospel group, the Imperials, came to Arkansas and saw Russ perform.

Russ said, “They said, ‘We want you to come to Nashville and try out for the Imperials.’”

Wendy said, “You had to be flattered!”

Russ answered, “I was like, you know, ‘Me? Me?’ Especially when you take, and nobody’s telling you, ‘You did good.’”

But their thousands of fans didn’t heal Russ’ years of emotional abuse.  Throughout his time with the Imperials, the Gaither Vocal Band, and on his own, Russ struggled with depression and insecurity.  Christian counseling helped to a point.

“I’m talking about years of work,” explained Russ. “Not just going for a couple of months. I’m talking years for me to deal with the negative things that happened, to realize that I am worthy of His love.”

Wendy asked, “Russ, were you able to forgive your parents?”

Russ said, “I was actually longing for Jesus to show me how to forgive. But I stayed over in Israel. After Gaither, we did a big shoot over there, I would go to the tomb and I would sit and I would just think about Him coming out of the tomb, and I would meditate. Go to Skull Hill and the cross. And what He did. And it wasn’t until I was flying home that I realized that the anger was gone, the pain wasn’t there anymore and the hurt wasn’t there anymore. And I thought about my parents and I thought about them. And I could actually feel sorry for them for what happened to them. And I saw them as people and not as my parents. And healing began to come.”

By this time, Russ’ father had already passed away.  But three years after Russ truly forgave his parents, God gave him the one thing that he thought was now impossible, affirmation from his dad.  It happened during a visit to a pastor he had never met, who was dying of cancer.

Russ explained, “And when I walked into the hospital room, I froze. I froze. And I wanted to turn and run, because he looked so much like my dad! So, I walk into the room and he’s watching my DVD when I come in. And he saw me and he went, ‘Oh Russ. Oh, Russ.’  And tears start rolling down his face. And I go over to him and I hug him. He said, ‘Russ, I’ve taught my boys how to live. I’ve taught my kids how to live. And if God doesn’t heal me, I’m going to teach my boys how to die.’ I mean, it so resonated inside of me that this is a dad, you know, that his dying breath is for his kids. Watch how I die. This is how you die in Jesus.”  With tears beginning to form, Russ continued, “And he puts his hands on my shoulders and he begins to pray. And I began to cry. But it was primal in me. It was deep. I mean, all the way down to the bottom of my soul, that was a cry of, I began to cry. And he pulled my head to his belly and he began to stroke my hair. He began to tell me how much God loved me. And I cried even more. And he said, ‘I’m so glad you’ve used your gift for the kingdom of God. Jesus loves what you’re doing for Him and how your voice, you know, and you were preordained to do what you’re doing for Jesus.’ And he began to affirm me. And it changed me and it changed my mannerisms. I became a man, you know.”

Wendy added, “A better husband.”

Russ said, “Oh, a better father, better everything, because dad affirmed me.”

Wendy asked, “Russ, throughout your life and your career, what has God taught you that has helped you the most?”

Russ said, “The one that keeps me going, and the one that changes negative thoughts, when I am tempted to go back, is He loves me. That He would move heaven and earth to help me, and if I was the only person on this planet, He would’ve came and died. When I keep those thoughts in my head, nothing, nothing can stop me.”

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