Like her brother, Russell stars on Canyon Worship
Sixth of a series featuring the 10 student artists who wrote the songs for Canyon Worship 2021, scheduled to be released in September. Today: Madison Russell.
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Some people might have expected the sister of Harrison Russell, a star of the Canyon Worship albums before he graduated in 2019, to walk into the Worship Arts program and pick up where he left off.
Russell’s sister wasn’t among them.
“I actually was pretty intimidated when I first got here,” said Madison Russell, now a junior at Grand Canyon University. “Moving across the country and starting from scratch and not knowing anyone – my brother had already graduated – it was pretty scary.
“That season of life, my first semester of freshman year, I had to depend on the Lord in a way that I never really had before because I didn’t know anyone. Being an introvert, that can be really scary.”
These days, her songwriting talent is scary good. One year after she made the album as a freshman, she’s the only student artist to have two songs on Canyon Worship 2021. In other words, now she’s a star.
It’s not as if she spent years and years preparing for this moment. Though she estimates that she starts one or two songs every week and completes about one a month, she has been writing music for only three or four years. It just sounds as if she has been doing it for much longer.
“Before, I always wanted to, but I was just afraid, I guess, and I didn’t really feel like I had anything to say or if I tried to write it wouldn’t be any good,” she said. “I think that’s an important lesson – not being afraid to try something. More than anything, I think I was just afraid to fail – too scared. You can apply that to any part of your life.”
A prime example of her success is “All I Want.” Dr. Randall Downs, Worship Arts Coordinator, finds it irresistible.
“It’s such a catchy song,” he said. “Ever since she sang it at the Songwriters Showcase, it just resonates in my head.”
Russell wrote it last year at the start of the pandemic when the lockdowns began. She was upset that she had to leave campus early and return to her home in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
“I was just really sad and was not ready for my freshman year to be over,” she said. “I really felt the Lord tell me, ‘Draw near to Me and seek Me and if you seek My presence, I’ll give you the joy you’re looking for and I will restore your heart.’ It ministered to me as I was writing it.”
But there’s nothing sad about it.
“It’s more of an upbeat song with fun, jazzy chords,” she said. “I’d say it’s probably more celebratory. The message behind the song is wanting the Lord above everything else and just being desperate for His presence and wanting Him involved in every aspect of your life.”
She certainly makes everyone around her upbeat, no matter whether she’s singing or just hanging out.
“Madison’s smile will light up a room. You just can’t help but smile back,” Recording Studio Manager Eric Johnson said. “On the surface, Madison is quiet, humble and a good listener – the kind of person anyone would want to call ‘friend.’ I think that’s why I am always pleasantly surprised when I hear her sing.
“When you hear Madison sing, it becomes immediately apparent that God has given her a gift – a gift that is unmistakably a blessing to everyone who hears her. Her songwriting tells a story, and the story points to God and His workings. Madison is certainly an artist to watch. Her songs and her voice will captivate and bless.”
Russell wrote her other song on the album, “Still Good,” last fall after returning to campus for her sophomore year.
“I just felt inspired to write about the goodness of God, no matter the circumstance,” she said. “This year was sad for many different reasons, and there were a lot of times where, personally, I was tempted to sit and lament and dwell in that sorrow of all the things that had happened.
“But the Lord directed me to the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the book of Daniel. Right before they were thrown into the fiery furnace, they told King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘We know our God is strong enough to deliver us from the furnace, but even if He doesn’t, we refuse to worship you and we know our God is good.
“We love to sing about the victory and the triumph and all the times that God came through, but there are stories in the Bible of times where God called people to endure or climb the mountain instead of it just getting moved out of the way for them. I wanted to write a song that just focused on that aspect of worshipping God and praising Him no matter your current situation.”
It’s easy to see that Russell has spent a lot of time dwelling on the events of the last year and a half – and growing from them. “The Lord has molded me in so many ways,” she said. “I’m so glad I had that experience of having to rely on Him.”
She even has found the strength to be less of an introvert.
“I’ve had to adapt. It’s not my natural tendency to go up and introduce myself or talk to new people, but it’s definitely something I’ve had to have some training on over the past year.”
Her songwriting, on the other hand, comes naturally. Just like it does for her brother.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
Related content from Canyon Worship 2021:
GCU Today: The music of Canyon Worship is all grown up
Related content from previous Canyon Worship albums:
GCU Today: ‘Amazing’ Canyon Worship album released