NASHVILLE, Tenn. Mary James, a popular vocalist in ministry circles, has won her first Inspirational Country Music Award. James brought home the prize Oct. 14 for "Female Vocalist of the Year," after three previous nominations for the award.
"When they said my name I don't know how to explain it," James said, admitting that she didn't anticipate winning and hadn't prepared a speech in advance. "Then I thought, I better not be silly and not have my thoughts together."
The award capped off numerous memorable ministry moments for James who said she had a wonderful time networking, worshipping and praying with old friends during the weeklong conference that culminated with the award show.
The sweetest part of earning the award, she said, came hours later when she was fielding texts and Facebook accolades from family, friends and fans.
"I just sat there and cried," she said. "To be recognized alongside Point of Grace, Carrie Underwood and Craig Morgan was such an honor.
Other major awards were presented to American Idol superstar Carrie Underwood, who received the "Inspirational Video" award for her hit single, "Temporary Home" and Point of Grace as "Entertainer of the Year." Craig Morgan brought home dual honors as "Mainstream Inspirational Artist of the Year" and "Mainstream Inspirational Song" for "This Ain't Nothin'." Tommy Brandt received "Male Vocalist of the Year," while guitarist Dennis Agajanian won "Musician of the Year" for the seventh time. CrossCountry The Band was named best vocal group.
Genuinely humbled by the award, James quickly poked fun at her previous empty-handed visits to Nashville.
"Some people seem to win it overnight," she said. "That hasn't been the way that God has dealt with my career. I've been one of the kids who have to be patient and wait."
James said she decided early on to resist the temptation to lobby for professional accolades and instead focus on her ministry. Now that she did, she's embracing the ministry hug she got from the Lord.
"If God was going to give that I wanted that to be from Him because of the ministry and the music He's given me to share," she said. "I wanted it to be something that was earned ... I wanted to do whatever it was that will facilitate ministry. I didn't think an award was necessary to do that. God will put you exactly where He wants you to be."
Still, she admits the recognition will expand her reach, which is coming at a time when James is fielding more and more requests from out of state. A 13-date tour in Texas in May has fueled even more concert dates. She was featured on the cover of Power Source Magazine in August.
Her hit singles "Come to the Well" and "I'm Not Willing" have soared to the top of Christian-country charts this year. Her style, described as a combination of folk, country, gospel and modern pop has been featured on three albums. "Come to the Well," a song from her "Beautiful Savior" CD, was also nominated for Christian Country Song of the Year at ICM.
"God just orchestrated all of this at once," she said, adding that she's benefited greatly from the solid support from small-market radio.
"It takes a lot of hard work," she said. "You are doing it on the grassroots level and that's how God is doing it for me.