After landing a major crossover hit with 2001's platinum-selling "I Can Only Imagine," Texas-based CCM band MercyMe became a perennial staple of both the pop and Christian charts. With an inspirational rock-based sound that has nimbly traversed roots rock, worship music, contemporary pop, dance, jazz, and R&B styles, the band found widespread success with albums like 2004's Dove Award-winning Undone, 2006's edgier Coming Up to Breathe, and the 2010 concept album, The Generous Mr. Lovewell. After switching from longtime label INO to the Columbia-owned Fair Trade Records, MercyMe continued to be a dominant force in Christian and pop music with albums like 2014's Welcome to the New and 2017's Lifer.
Prior to the band's formation in 1994, singer Bart Millard lost his father to cancer during his first year of college. Seeking a fresh start, Millard relocated to Lakeland, Florida at the encouragement of his youth pastor and soon became involved with leading a local praise group. After befriending keyboardist Jim Bryson in the summer of 1994, the two traveled to Europe as part of a praise team and began taking both ministry and a career in music more seriously. By the end of that year, Millard and Bryson had moved to Oklahoma City and added guitarist Mike Scheuchzer to officially form MercyMe at the Henderson Hills Baptist Church. After a brief move to Nashville in 1997, the trio settled in Dallas, Texas where bassist Nathan Cochran and percussionist Robby Shaffer joined the group, who were now playing over 200 dates a year. In August 2001, with an impressive six independent albums to their credit, MercyMe signed with INO Records and made their label debut with Almost There. Thanks to their Dove Award-winning single "I Can Only Imagine," the album topped the Christian charts, made the Top 40 in the overall album charts, and eventually went platinum.
A rootsier album, Spoken For, followed in 2002 and performed well on the charts; it also earned the band three more Dove Awards. In 2003, veteran Christian rocker Barry Graul of Whitecross joined the band as a second guitarist, making his recorded debut on MercyMe's third album, Undone, a year later. Thanks to the singles "Here with Me" and "Homesick," the band earned airplay on adult contemporary radio, marking yet another new frontier for them. The Christmas Sessions appeared in the fall of 2005, and their fourth album, Coming Up to Breathe, arrived in April 2006. With a sharper sound less indebted to soft rock, it earned more critical acclaim and hit number 13 on Billboard's album chart. The church-focused All That Is Within Me appeared in 2007, also breaking into the Top 20 on the album charts.
Following the 2009 best-of collection, 10, MercyMe recorded a concept album titled The Generous Mr. Lovewell. Released in 2010, it was both a critical and commercial success, debuting at number three on the overall album charts with three number one singles on the Christian charts ("All of Creation," "Beautiful," and "Move"). After nearly a decade with INO Records, MercyMe signed a deal with Columbia imprint Fair Trade, and released a more straightforward worship collection called The Worship Sessions in 2011. The more introspective and searching LP, The Hurt & the Healer, followed in 2012, peaking at number seven on the pop charts. Returning in 2014, the band took a more upbeat, danceable approach on Welcome to the New, which incorporated bits of jazz, rock, and roots music. A Christmas album, MercyMe, It's Christmas, arrived in time for the 2015 holiday season. Lifer was released in 2017 and delivered another high-energy set of faith-based and hook-laden songs, including the hit "Even If." A film adaptation based on the story behind MercyMe's massive 2001 crossover hit, "I Can Only Imagine," premiered in 2018. To coincide with the film's release, the band issued the career-spanning anthology I Can Only Imagine: The Very Best of MercyMe, which featured an updated version of the title song recorded for the movie. ~ Ashleigh Kittle