Deborah Hightower: Music Can Soften the Heart

With the Art as Worship radio show on hiatus, we’ll continue to feature artists using their written words to describe the connection between their art and their spirituality. Access all of our radio interviews on Empower Radio.

Deborah Hightower_3512Artist Deborah Hightower is an author, singer and songwriter.

Deborah celebrated four Top 10 hits on inspirational radio and three award nominations from her album, Her Name is Deborah. The LOVE. album was released in October 2012, followed by Beautiful Christmas in November. She has performed in a variety of venues including radio and television, mega-churches, conferences, corporate events, Carnegie Hall, and the White House.

In addition, Deborah holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, minor in Communication; Master’s Degree in Organization and Management; and is completing a PhD in Leadership. She holds several professional designations in the financial arena. Find out more at

Can you tell me more about how you create your art?

Inspirational writing — whether music or narrative comes from an idea…an unction…a thought that appears my mind, heart, and soul. It could be inspired from a Bible teaching or scripture, a circumstance experienced, or situation witnessed. The funny thing about inspiration is one never knows when it will strike. I have written lyrics while driving down the road as well as during meditation time.

At what point in your life did you start thinking of yourself as an artist?

On the one hand, I have always considered myself an artist in terms of music as it has been a natural fit since a young child. On the other hand, writing came with life and professional experience — narratively and lyrically speaking.

How would you describe your spirituality?

For me, spirituality is the constantly transforming internal experience based on my belief and faith in God that guides life’s decisions. Awareness of and tuning in to the spiritual provides a hopeful and optimistic outlook for the present and future. Even through a trial or painful happening, joy can be found in God. The result of the trial or pain can be beautiful and transformed into meaningful lyrics or narratives.

How does your spirituality find expression in your art?

My narrative and lyrical writings promote hope, peace, love and understanding. Whether writing for business purposes or expressing my thoughts in song, the foundation for the message is spiritual. It has been said that my latest songs (from the album, LOVE. and from my previous album Her Name is Deborah) can be directed to human or divine. My business writings (i.e., from the best-selling book The Secret to Winning Big) have fundamental principles that can be found in the Bible even though God or scriptures is never mentioned. I strive to write narratives and lyrics to creating moments of ponder — leaving the interpretation to the reader or listener so they can apply it to their particular beliefs and thoughts.

Can you share a story of how creating your art expanded your awareness of God?

My first experience with music can from church so the connection with God in that sense has been there as far back as I can remember. Now, the things that I seek in life — fulfillment, peace, joy, happiness, love — are exponentially expanded through worship, meditation and prayer. Music sets the stage for these things. Often times, music helps clear the mind — giving clarity to the issues at hand. I believe music can soften the heart, communicate an emotion, and create motivation to move forward. DHightower Love album

How do you connect with divine flow when you are creating? Is it an intentional process that you can duplicate?

I believe we were created to be creative. I believe each one of us has a divine purpose for being created. For me, the creative process is seldom intentional, per se. While there are is a process to get the idea or inspiration from the heart and head to paper, the idea-generating portion is usually unplanned. Going about daily activities can generate an idea. My ‘notebooks of inspiration’ contain business writing, ideas, scriptures that fit the need or situation, lyrical lines and other thoughts that will, at some point, likely be committed to publishing. Laughingly I say that I ponder on these things all the time, even in my sleep. In all seriousness, I have awoken to find completed lyrical lines on my mind. Coincidence? Hardly. I attribute it to dreams through which the Spirit finds rest and manifestation.

How do you connect differently to your creative source when you work solo versus when you are collaborating with others?

I believe to work well with others requires a like-mind and like-spirit. There must be a common message goal before the idea-generation process starts. Particularly, I believe music to be a powerful mode of communication and for the message to be clear requires all the wheels to be headed in the same direction.

How do ideas come to you?

Inspiration can come from a number of sources. For example, perhaps a devotion, scripture or meditation moment; perhaps a story of someone’s circumstance; perhaps an injustice in the world — all these things and more can generate a thought. The thought can be fleeing or it can create a moment to connect an idea that could eventually turn into a work of art.

I find it interesting that inspiration can have a lot to do with timing. Let me explain. What moves me today may not have moved me yesterday or created a reaction that could turn into a lyric or narrative. We are exposed to so many ‘noises’ over the course of the day…sometimes we tune it all out…then sometimes amidst the noise, we hear one thing that sticks. The ability to allow inspiration to flow is an important component for artistry — regardless of the mode.

How do you decide which ideas to pursue?

My notebooks are full of one-, two-liners, or three-liners. Some develop in short order and some stay put for a year or two before developing into a complete work. Often, I laugh and say that I know two lines of thousands of song…perhaps that’s a sign of how I think…in snippets. Sometimes, snippets unfold into complete works and sometimes not. Timing has a lot to do with an idea — perhaps an issue at hand or a special need for a word of encouragement.

If you were going to teach your creative process to someone else, what would be one or two of the key things you would share?

I think the basis for the creative process begins with a heart search.  What message do you want to communicate? What story would you like to share? Once the foundation has been laid, then the building process can begin. Dig deep — past the surface. For example, if the lyrics or narrative is from a place of hurt or disappointment, let the listener or reader feel your pain.  If the work is from a happy place, let the smile shine through. This is where the timing plays a big role. If you are having an upbeat and hopeful day, it may be hard to dig out the pain that you want to write about. By the same token, if you are having a cloudy day, it may be hard to write about sunshine. I think the Spirit plays a big role in the process. Let the Spirit be your guide.

How has your art affected your spiritual evolution or spiritual evolution affected your art?

For me, spiritual evolution has affected my art. Connection with the Spirit and the maturing process of that relationship has played a role in my lyrics and message.

Find out more and connect with Deborah:

Listen to an encore presentation of an artist’s interviews each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!

Maria Howell: As a Sensitive Artist, You Want to Know About Life

PowerfulActress, Singer and Voiceover artist, Maria Howell is best known as the choir soloist from the movie “The Color Purple.”

“Art and spirituality are like singing and acting for me. Art is an expression of the spiritual side of me so as I grow with one, it helps the other. It’s a volleying back and forth like my singing and acting have been. I want both. As I learn more and I grow, I want to know more. As a sensitive artist, you want to know about life—you want to know what it means.” ~Maria Howell

Listen to Maria’s Art as Worship interview on Empower Radio.

MHowell as Grace

Maria stars as Grace in NBC’s “Revolution.”

As an actress, she has appeared in Lifetime’s hit shows, Army Wives and Drop Dead Diva, the CW’s Vampire Diaries, FOX’s Past Life, ABC’s Detroit 1-8-7, Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls, Meet the Browns, and House of Payne, as well as the acclaimed theatrical release The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock.  She has worked alongside, Mario Van Peebles and Wendy Raquel Robinson in BET’s hit series The Game, Queen Latifah’s Single Ladies and USA’s hit show Necessary Roughness, starring Calli Thorne.  She played Jules’ doctor (Cameron Diaz), in What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and in the role of “Mrs. Easle” in the ABC Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie Firelight, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.

revolution_nbc_smShe now joins the regular cast of the hit TV series Revolution on NBC.  Her theatrical releases in 2013 include, Addicted, starring Sharon Leal and Boris Kodjoe and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as “Seeder.”  She also joins the cast of Devious Maids, as attorney “Ida Hayes.”

Maria says, “The one seamless thing in my life has been singing and acting. Through singing, I give of myself and open up by telling stories. I’m touching people literally and figuratively. With acting, I feel I can inspire people by letting them see this African-American face doing something they might have imagined doing themselves. Any time I sing or act from the right mindset—from the right heart—I hope someone will be inspired. It’s a beautiful thing to be aware of God and know that in your art, you are connected.”

Throughout her career, Maria has shared the musical stage with legendary artists like Nancy Wilson, George Benson, Ray Charles and Earl Klugh. After a very successful stint in Asia, Maria relocated back to the US and performed weekly at Sambuca Jazz Café for nine consecutive years…2002 to its closing in December 2010. She and pianist Bill Wilson (son of legendary jazz pianist Teddy Wilson), held the distinction of being the longest running act at the Atlanta location. Maria has released several CD recordings, with the most recent release titled Reflections, a retrosMaria Howell singing 2pective collection.

She encourages other artists by saying, “I define passion as something that won’t let you go. Think about what your passion is and go for it. Even if you don’t have a fully developed plan, just start with something. Start with this step and go forward. Things somehow come to you if you put it out there. So many things have come into my life that didn’t come in the package I imagined. Connect the emotion with the experience and just live it.”

Learn more about Maria and her work at Links to her Facebook and Twitter pages are on her website.

Listen each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio to hear another artist’s story. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!

Sunmoon Pie: Everything Can Be Sacred

Sunmoon Pie features the duo of singer-songwriters Bonnie Puckett on piano & Michael Levine on guitar.

Sunmoon Pie features the duo of singer-songwriters Bonnie Puckett on piano & Michael Levine on guitar.

Sunmoon Pie is an Atlanta-based Jewish music group, writing and performing a blend of spiritual and sometimes quirky songs that explore the human condition through the lens of Jewish & Kabbalistic themes—with a focus on meditative Kirtan-style Hebrew chanting inspired by the Jewish liturgy. The artists of Sunmoon Pie say, “We take Jewish prayers and add melodies—hopefully adding a new spirit to these prayers that have been said by Jews around the world for centuries.”

“Everything can be sacred. Our name, Sunmoon Pie, represents our quirkiness and combines the sacred and the mundane together. You don’t have to change your sense of humor to be spiritual.” ~Sunmoon Pie Sunmoon Pie logo

Sunmoon Pie features the duo of singer-songwriters Bonnie Puckett on piano & Michael Levine on guitar. Listen to the Sunmoon Pie Art as Worship interview on Empower Radio.

Bonnie is an employment attorney with the law firm of Ogletree Deakins, and sings with the female a cappella group Octave.  Bonnie and Michael regularly lead alternative services at Ahavath Achim synagogue, which feature Sunmoon Pie’s original music and recently, prayers set to the music of famous artists such as the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and U2.

Bonnie says, “Music is a way to express spirituality within Judaism and also to build bridges to other forms of spirituality. It expands the concept of the oneness of God.”

Michael is a cofounder of the children’s music education company The Learning Groove and a music producer.  He is also a former winner of the prestigious Eddie’s Attic Open Mic Shootout and has won many songwriting & music production awards.

A singer-songwriter for many years, Michael says, “I always wrote about spiritual themes, but only since I met Bonnie have I been writing expressly Jewish songs while borrowing from other traditions, like creating Kirtan-style chants. It’s really cool to write the songs, then to sing them as a prayer in a meditative environment that serves others.”

Find out more about Bonnie, Michael and their music at Watch of a video of Sunmoon Pie performing an original Hebrew kirtan melody to Shiru L’Adonai.

Listen each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio to hear another artist’s story. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!

Burke Ingraffia: Participating in God’s Creation

Burke Ingraffia picBurke Ingraffia is a southern singer/songwriter who writes jazzy folk music, or perhaps folky jazz music.

He grew up in New Orleans and now gets his mail a couple of hours away in Alabama. He plays and writes using the jazz structures commonly found in New Orleans and emphasizes that feel with the leisurely wisdom of the Deep South. He also has a folk/Americana side with less 7th chords and more story lines.

 “I approach songwriting as a receptive process—positioning myself to receive something. I’m participating in God’s creation more than actively creating myself.” ~Burke Ingraffia

Listen to Burke’s Art as Worship interview on Empower Radio.

Although he doesn’t do liturgical or “praise and worship” music, Burke has been featured on EWTN’s Life on the Rock and Backstage. On these shows, he performed songs he wrote about St. Francis of Assisi and on the themes of a Catholic worldview such as forgiveness, mystery, and the contingency of our lives. BIngraffia Jazz Animals

He says, “The Catholic church has a liturgical calendar with a different patron saint every day. Sometimes when I’m looking for inspiration, I’ll study the saint for that day and see what the themes of their life were. Then I take those words and ideas and turn them into music.”

In addition to writing and performing, Burke owns a web design and marketing business. He says, “I got into web development and marketing through doing it for my own music. I taught myself how to design websites and how to integrate multimedia into the web. These technical skills have turned into my day job. My music is always play—it’s creativity for creativity’s sake.”

jacoverlargesquare-300x300Burke’s most recent album, Jazz Animals, was released in August 2011. He was a finalist in 2012 for the Kerrville New Folk award. Find out more Burke and his music at

Listen each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio to hear another artist’s story. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!

Asha Lightbearer: Open to Imagination

Asha Lightbearer picAsha Lightbearer has been writing and performing music since the age of six. The question she is asked most often is, “From what tribe are you?” The answer is, “None, officially,” although she does participate in activities with Thunderbird Nation, a mixed group of Native American and non-native people who believe in ceremony and the sacredness of the ancestors, the earth and the Great Spirit.

 “The creative process is about being open to possibility and imagination. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Throw the colors on the wall, throw the music on the wall, throw the words on the wall — then see how it comes out. If you’re worrying about playing it safe and worried about doing it right, you’ll never get to your most creative genius.”  ~Asha Lightbearer

Listen to Asha’s Art as Worship interview on Empower Radio.

Asha considers herself Contemporary Christian, but includes mixed esoteric practices in her Spirituality — seeing all as congruent, valuable and life-giving. She graduated from Capital University with a degree in Jazz Studies.

She says regarding the evolution of her music, “I used to only write to get the pain out of my body — that was the one way that I could express. Artists have this fascination with the macabre and believe pain ignites their creative spark. One day I thought ‘Wait a minute — that’s messed up. Wouldn’t I be even that much more of an artist if I could be creative and write a happy song? I can’t believe that I can only be creative when I’m in the dark depths.’ From that point, I started writing positive music. I will touch the wounded spot, but then I show a different way of looking at it. It has served me to step out of those dark spots.”

Asha has performed in New Hampshire, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Ohio and Florida and is rapidly expanding her reach through both live and recorded performances. A single from her debut album, Move Ahead, was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Uniting category at the 8th Annual Empower Posi-Music Awards. Asha album cover

In addition to performing, she is a certified Alchemical Hypnotist and believes strongly in working with others, teaching them tools to make their lives more peaceful, happy and fulfilling and helping them to remember the beauty of who they really are. Check her website for classes and workshops including a 12-week teleclass series called “Let’s Flow! Expanding Possibility: 10 Tools for Abundant Living.”

Asha says, “I can create anything I want and so I’m building the life I love. It’s going to look like whatever I want it to look like. That’s my Divine purpose as long as it serves others.”

She has one son and is committed to family life and teaching him the values of honesty, integrity and fun! Asha believes that now is the time that we are called to lay down our differences — across religious boundaries — and “Love one another.” Find out more about Asha at and check out her debut album, Move Ahead.

Listen each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio to hear another artist’s story. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!

Laura Biering: A Life of Creativity is a Spirited Life

Laura Biering, Owner and President of True Voices, is a certified Authentic Life and Leadership Coach. A 12-year veteran of the coaching profession, she has been around the block, as they say, when it comes to careers.  Before coming to coaching, she was (among other things) an opera singer and actress, a legal recruiter and a bank teller, a life drawing model (yes, that’s done nude) and a giant pickle. In addition, she is an Ordained Interfaith Minister and an Artist’s Way Evangelist.

Since finding her own True Voice, she has been working with individuals, partners and teams to create lives that are both deeply meaningful and downright fun. In other words, she helps others create realities that rock!

“I am created by a Creator, I am creative and I am supposed to create. A life of creativity is a spirited life. As we go about that in our own unique way, it makes us authentic.”  ~Laura Biering

Listen to Laura’s Art as Worship interview on Empower Radio.

Laura is the author of The RiskADay Journal:  28 Days to Being You Out Loud with Courage, Creativity and Confidence.  She is currently working on several writing projects, including a book of essays with the working title, Good Girl Gone Gay:  Some Not So Random Thoughts on Authenticity and Life.

She says, “If I am open to the Mystery, then the Mystery will appear in any creative endeavor. Things are created that I didn’t sit down and say, ‘Now I am going to create this.’ It’s always bigger, broader, wider, deeper or more than whatever outline I’ve had in my mind. That’s Divinity — that’s something different than I, myself, could produce.”

In addition to her experience, skills and training, Laura brings compassion, commitment, creativity, and humor to all that she does. She is passionate about Authentic Learning, Loving, Living and Leading, and enjoys retreating on her SE Georgia farm with her partner and their two, adorable, four-legged children, Dogberry and Little Bit.

Laura says, “It’s a cycle. As I create, I’m lead spiritually. And I’m lead spiritually to create. As long as I allow my own authenticity and accept my own expression as the gift that comes through me, they’ll never be separate.”

Find out more about Laura at

Take at least one intentional risk every single day and then reap the rewards. Purchase The RiskADay Journal  and take the 28-day challenge.

Listen each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio to hear another artist’s story. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!