[Author’s note: Recently I watched one of the most beautiful, compelling videos for life that I have ever encountered. I reached out to John Elefante, former ‘KANSAS’ lead singer, who shares the story of his adopted daughter’s birth, in a new single and video, ‘This Time’. In the process, John promotes the work of Online for Life, an educational non-profit working to rescue babies from abortion so they can live to make their mark on the world. I wept as I watched the miraculous “Story of Sami” unfold before my eyes; I hope you are as touched by it as I was.]
“She was 13 years old
She felt a kick inside as a reminder
of a life she couldn’t show
Then she heard a voice inside say “Run away!
It was a mistake, but don’t throw your child away!”
LG: John, can you describe your salvation experience?
John: I was not brought up in Christian home. A friend from grade school re-entered my life and he was noticeably different…very, very different. He began to witness to me over the course of 6-7 months. I started feeling like… Wow…something’s come over me. I didn’t know what it was then, but now I know it was the Holy Spirit really just putting His claws in me-if you will. I couldn’t deny the truth anymore. A simple question he would ask like, “John, if you died tomorrow do you think you would spend eternity with God according to His standard in the Bible?” And then I began to study what God’s standard for Heaven was…and I answered the question, “No, absolutely not”. Then, he asked me, “Would you like to know that you could spend eternity in Heaven?” I answered yes. He said, “Let’s pray”, and that was it.
LG: You auditioned for ‘KANSAS’ in 1980 against other top vocalists, such as Sammy Hagar, Doug Pinnick, Jim Stafford, and began performing in 1981 as the new lead singer and keyboardist. That year, ‘KANSAS’ was the top-grossing concert act in the world. Did the members of ‘KANSAS’ know you were a Christian when they chose you as lead vocalist?
John: I knew that Kerry Livgren, who was the main writer for KANSAS, the guy who wrote Dust in the Wind and Carry on My Wayward Son, was a new believer-as was bass player, David Hope. The thing that is really miraculous about it is that when they chose me to be the lead singer it was done by majority rule. The majority of the band were not Christians, nor the management, or the record company. So no one knew anything about my Christianity until right before they were ready to hand over the gig to me.
LG: Your faith began to take center-stage after you left ‘KANSAS’. Did your career suffer because of your beliefs?
John: By the world’s standards, probably. I could have made more money. I had a chance with 2 other gigs when I left ‘KANSAS’ that were enormous opportunities, but I turned them both down. I didn’t feel God leading me there. I didn’t want to do it. I knew that when I accepted Christ that I had to bring it all over- not just part of it. You’ve heard the cliche, “People want to crossover, but do they bring the Cross over?” I wasn’t interested in crossing over.
LG: You began working more in Contemporary Christian Music. (John and his brother, Dino, were the primary producers for Petra.) Why did you decide to start producing in that genre?
John: I began to discover the power that Christian music had on people. I didn’t know that the industry really existed. When I left ‘KANSAS’, the first thing I was going to do was score a record deal for myself and “carry the torch”. God had other plans for me, at that point. After we produced the first Petra record, it was like, I didn’t even know that Christian music was a factor. I thought all there was to Christian music were religious hymns. I soon discovered that Petra really rocked and when we injected our secular roots into that band it made for this great combination. Then, when we finished the record, I went to one of their concerts and saw 20, 30, 40 people giving their lives to Christ- right before my very eyes and I am saying, “ Wow! This is serious; this is for real!”. That was a life-changer.
LG: You have said that your beliefs are more important than the commercial potential of the mainstream music industry and that you realized that the ultimate measure of your career was sharing the joy of your faith. How has your faith grown over the years?
John: I have gotten more bold through the years. At first, I wrote songs that spoke more metaphorically. I still like writing in metaphors, but I always like to listen to the end of one of my songs knowing exactly where I am coming from and what the message of that song is. Usually the message is a challenge of where you’re at with Christ and where you’re going. Are you firmly planted or are you walking the fence? I never like to leave the listener with “ What’s he talking about there?”
LG: Tell me about the song and video, ‘This Time’.
John: It’s based on two main facts: She [the birth mother] was going to abort Sami-she told me, as well as her mother, the grandmother. The other main fact is that she was in the abortion clinic and called her mom to tell her she was pregnant. I had to imagine what she might have gone through that day to write the rest of the song.
LG: In the video, the birth mother is portrayed as only 13 years old- is that true?
John: Yes, she was thirteen and she was scared to death. She is the hero of this story. She chose life. She got out of that place; she didn’t abort my daughter. There is one line in the song that I would like to point out that is very important. The line says, “It was a mistake, but don’t throw your child away”. I don’t glamorize the fact that she had sex and got pregnant. I mean, having sex at 13 is obviously a mistake-but, don’t throw your child away.
LG: There has been so much positive response to your video. How has Sami dealt with the publicity surrounding the release of the video?
John: This has had a profound impact on her life. You know, she calls this her story. When she saw that her story had over 100,000 hits on YouTube within four days, it was very special because she has such close ties to this video.
LG: Are you aware of any negative reactions?
John: Oh, plenty. You really have to read between the lines, though. It’s not a battle between pro-choice and pro-life. That’s not where the battle is. It’s a personal problem that some people have with God… and with Christians. God help them.
LG: Many are calling ‘This Time’ the new pro-life anthem. How do you feel about that?
John: You know, I didn’t go into this whole thing thinking, “Ok, I’m going to write an anti-abortion song, I’m going to write a pro-life song, I’m going to write a pro-adoption song”. It’s not like I said, “Okay, this is a new phase in my career-maybe I should go out and revitalize my career by doing this controversial abortion thing”. Everything that is starting to happen-I didn’t sign up for. I’m not saying that I don’t like it, but I didn’t sign up for it. God is using me and my daughter and it’s just falling into place under His direction.
Right then the Lord began to speak:
You’re not taking this one! She’s Mine!
She’ll grow up and seek My name.
You’re not taking her! She’s Mine!
And you’re not taking her this time.
No, you’re not taking her this time.
I simply wrote a song based on the story of how my daughter came into the world–and how she almost didn’t.
John Elefante, former “KANSAS” lead singer and producer, has had a prolific career in the music industry for decades. His credits include writing and singing lead vocals on three multi-platinum albums; as a producer, his albums have earned numerous Dove awards, 4 Grammy Awards, and 10 Grammy nominations. Through his work, he helped transform Christian hard rock from a handful of bands to a mainstream musical genre.