For better or for worse, the lead singer of a band becomes the face of that group–serving as the emotive vehicle for original songs and its overall sound. Even if the entire rest of the band stays the same, a change of lead singer is a massive shift for any band–stylistically, dynamically and personality-wise.
As massive a move as a lead singer change can be, plenty of bands do it, and quite a few high profile groups in Christian music have successfully navigated that transition with Sanctus Real being the latest to do so with the release of their album, Unstoppable God.
Check out ten more bands below who paved the way by switching their lead singers.
Sanctus Real Matt Hammitt led the band he formed with four buddies in Toledo, Ohio, for nearly 20 years, providing a steady diet of rock 'n roll and heartfelt ballads such as "Say It Loud," "I'm Not Alright," "Forgiven," "Promises" and likely the band's signature song, "Lead Me"–a song about being an intentional father and husband. In 2015, Hammitt said he wanted to live out the words of "Lead Me" rather than sing it, and said he was going to step down from the band. While Hammitt has continued to release music as a solo artist, Sanctus Real has continued on with Dustin Lolli on vocals. Lolli's lower, raspier vocals were a departure from Hammitt's sound, signaling a new musical sound for the band. That sound was reflected on the group's first release with Lolli at the helm, the three-song EP, This Is Love, with the long-awaited full-length, Changed, following with the smash hit single, "Confidence." The band's second album with Lolli, Unstoppable God, released August 30 and is already proving that this band is still relevant to Christian music.
Newsboys Although Michael Tait's installation as lead singer of Newsboys was one of the highest profile frontman changes in Christian music history, it wasn't that band's only change. Founding vocalist John James led the group from debut record Read All About It in 1992, all the way through career-launching records Not Ashamed, Going Public and Take Me To Your Leader, before handing over the reins to the guy who had been the drummer for much of that time, Peter Furler. Furler took the Newsboys to the next level with massive hits Step Up to the Microphone, Thrive, Go and worship albums Adoration and Devotion, before handing off to Tait in 2009. Tait, who so far has been involved in six Newsboys albums--including the brand-new project, Love Riot--is the first non-Aussie at the helm of Newsboys (although drummer Duncan Phillips is holding it down as the last remaining Australian).
Although Michael Tait's installation as the lead singer of Newsboys was one of the highest-profile frontman changes in Christian music history, it wasn't that band's only change. Founding vocalist John James led the group from debut record Read All About Itin 1992, all the way through career-launching records Not Ashamed, Going Public and Take Me To Your Leader, before handing over the reins to the guy who had been the drummer for much of that time, Peter Furler. Furler took the Newsboys to the next level with massive hits Step Up to the Microphone, Thrive, Go and worship albums Adoration and Devotion, before handing off to Tait in 2009. Tait led six Newsboys albums before the band threw fans yet another curveball. In 2018, Peter Furler and Phil Joel returned to the band for a unique tour, with the band taking the moniker, Newsboys United. With both Tait and Furler taking lead vocal duties for their respective hits, fans got a unique opportunity to see two legendary vocalists perform together in arenas across the country. The boys had so much fun, they even cut an album with Furler and Tait dueting on most of the cuts, appropriately titled United. The band has continued touring throughout 2019 and shows no signs of becoming any less United in 2020.
Audio Adrenaline One of the highest profile bands in Christian music since the '80s, Audio Adrenaline, also has had the most lead singer changes of any on this list. The fact that three of those lead singer changes have occurred in the last four years doesn't reflect the majority of the band's history as a cutting-edge rock band led by founding vocalist Mark Stuart. Stuart's gritty, raspy vocals were the defining sound of Audio A, fueling eight major records and nearly 50 radio singles--many of which became generational staples and all-time Christian music greats. Before the Mark Stuart era ended, the band welcomed aboard guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Tyler Burkum, who eventually split lead vocals duties with Stuart, as the frontman struggled with vocal issues. Eventually, those issues got to the point where Stuart could no longer perform regularly, and the band said "Adios." That is, until band manager Wes Campbell restarted the band as a supergroup of musicians from other bands (excluding founding Audio A bassist Will McGinniss), including former DC Talk singer Kevin Max as the new vocalist. Max took over in 2012, and the new band's single "Kings & Queens," which was Audio's highest-ever appearance on Billboard's Hot Christian Songs chart at No. 4.
Citing creative differences moving forward, Max returned to life as a solo artist, and the band welcomed former Abandon lead vocalist Josh Engler as its new frontman. Engler's time was short-lived, however, as he was only around from 2014 to 2015, and wasn't part of any Audio Adrenaline record project. As part of a full-scale reboot of all the band's musical positions in 2015, Stellar Kart singer Adam Agee became the lead vocalist and has made his mark singing on the band's latest release, Sound of the Saints, which includes current radio singles "Love Was Stronger" and "Move." Adam announced in 2018 that he would be leaving the group and pursuing his solo career leaving Audio A without any future direction.
Family Force 5/FF5 For those unaware, the reason Family Force 5 was called Family Force 5 is because, at its beginning, the group's core was Solomon Olds and his younger brothers, twins Jacob and Joshua Olds. Solomon--a.k.a. "Soul Glow Activatur"--served as lead vocalist and frontman while his brothers performed more supportive musical and vocal roles. Soul Glow's dynamic vocals--which could switch from a hip-hop to a country sound, and then to an R&B smoothness--guided Family Force 5 into its role as Christian music's party band, through full-length albums Business Up Front/Party In The Back, Dance Or Die and III, among other smaller projects and remixes. In September 2013, Olds announced he was leaving the band to focus on songwriting, remixing and his regular EDM show on NGEN Radio, Phenomenon, however would still be involved in more of a behind-the-scenes way with the group. Rather than find a new vocalist from outside the Family, Jacob Olds--a.k.a. "Crouton"--moved from the drum kit to the forefront. The Crouton era reflected a much more diverse approach to the band, as it released both its standard party hits and a new, softer Adult Contemporary sound with singles "Let It Be Love" and "Walk On Water." And now, only two Josh and Jacob remain, and have rebranded themselves "FF5," bringing a funky, mainstream-friendly pop to the musical landscape.
Petra They say "Petra means rock," and it's true that since 1972, this unashamed band from Fort Wayne, Indiana have been the pioneering standard bearers of Christian rock. With songs like "More Power to Ya", "The Coloring Song", "God Gave Rock and Roll to You", "Beat the System" and "Beyond Belief", Petra has stayed relevant, creative and amplified year after year. When the band first started, and even on its self-titled debut record, there was no lead singer, as guitarists Bob Hartman and Greg Hough shared singing duties. Hartman and Hough didn't think their vocal style matched Petra's musical leanings, and so they brought in a number of guest vocalists for their next record, Come And Join Us, which included Greg X. Volz, who would become the band's first actual lead singer. Volz, who had been offered the lead singer job with REO Speedwagon (but declined due to his faith), would lend his pipes through Petra's meteoric rise in music, from 1979 to 1985. Ultimately, the strain of heavy touring and recording led Volz to leave the group, and in 1986, Petra announced its new lead singer, John W. Schlitt, former lead singer of the secular group Head East. Schlitt would go on to release two RIAA certified Gold albums, Beyond Belief and Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out, and earn numerous awards, including four GRAMMY Awards.
Then things got a little complicated. The band "retired" in 2005, only to be resurrected in a few different ways. Schlitt and Hartman released an album, Vertical Expressions, as "II Guys From Petra," and then in 2010, Volz returned to a reunited "Classic Petra." That band recorded an album and went on a world tour during their two-year reunion stint. And in 2013, the band resumed limited engagements and recording with Schlitt once again singing with Hartman and the band. Schlitt is still performing and did a 20-episode syndicated show in 2018.
Abandon Since Abandon formed in 2002, the band--which was built, as many are, from a church worship team--was made up of brothers Josh and Justin Engler. After five years playing music together and releasing debut record Ambush as independent artists, Abandon was signed to ForeFront Records, and recorded two EPs and two full-length albums with that label, yielding the singles "Providence" and "All Because of You." Josh Engler stopped touring with the band in 2012, eventually taking over lead singer duties for a short stint with Audio Adrenaline following Kevin Max's departure, and Josh stepped into the forefront as the main singer and guitarist. The band's first project since the switch was the crowdfunded, critically acclaimed 2014 album, Love Prevails.
Decyfer Down When Decyfer Down's label debut End Of Gray crashed onto the scene in 2006, the band was fronted by Caleb Oliver (brother to the group's drummer Josh Oliver). Caleb held down vocal duties for some of the band's most crucial moments as they gained momentum and an audience, including on their 2008 tour opening for Skillet (where Caleb even made a guest appearance on bass during their set). Partway through the recording process of sophomore album Crash, Caleb Oliver announced an abrupt departure due to pressing personal reasons. Fighting Instinct's TJ Harris stepped in to fill the gap, including re-recording vocals on songs the band had already completed and been selling (such as "Crash" and "Best I Can"). Caleb Oliver's brother Josh Oliver would continue in the band on drums until 2015.
Further Seems Forever At the forefront of the "emo" rock movement was a band from Pompano Beach, Fla., called Further Seems Forever. Formed in 1998, the band came to prominence with founding lead singer Chris Carrabba, who recorded the first record, The Moon Is Down, in 2001 before leaving to start the widely popular mainstream solo act Dashboard Confessional. How To Start a Fire released in 2003 with new lead singer Jason Gleason to critical acclaim, with the Florida publication New Times Broward Palm Beach calling that four-year era the best and most focused of the band's history. The band's third record, and third with Tooth & Nail Records, featured yet another lead singer, with former Sense Field vocalist Jon Bunch taking over for Gleason with 2004's Hide Nothing--until the band broke up in 2006. Four years later, the band reunited with original vocalist Carrabba, releasing 2012's Rise Records debut, Penny Black. History seems to be repeating itself, though, as once again Gleason has taken over for Carrabba, and the band went on the "How to Start a Fire 2016" tour in March 2016. Bunch, sadly, won't get to reprise his season with Further Seems Forever, as he died unexpectedly on Feb. 1, 2016, at age 45.
Flyleaf One of the highest profile–and to some, most controversial--lead singer changes happened in 2012, when founding lead vocalist Lacey Sturm announced she was going to be moving on from Flyleaf. In her stead came former Vedera singer Kristen May, and although the band has undergone some stylistic changes since May's arrival, Flyleaf continues to rock, and its first release of the Kristen May era, Between the Stars, was critically acclaimed, and the group has seen success in both the Christian and general markets. Meanwhile, Sturm has reemerged with a solo project that closely reflects Flyleaf's earlier sound.
Hawk Nelson Before Hawk Nelson ever changed lead singers, it changed names a few times. Jason Dunn and a couple of guys started a band called SWISH in Peterborough, Ontario, before joining forces with bassist Dan Biro and changing the name to Reason Being--before eventually settling on the name Hawk Nelson. The band was largely discovered by Thousand Foot Krutch's Trevor McNevan, who helped Hawk get signed to Tooth & Nail Records, where they released five albums between 2004 and 2011. The band was largely a pop-punk outfit, although 2011's Crazy Love signaled a softer, more mature approach. On Feb. 1, 2012, Dunn announced he would be leaving the band to pursue some solo project opportunities, and sang his last show with Hawk Nelson that next month.
Guitarist Jonathan Steingard, who had been with the band since 2004, was named the new singer--the first of several major changes to Hawk Nelson. The group left Tooth & Nail and signed to Fair Trade Services, and their new label debut record, Made, signaled a more Adult Contemporary shift than any previous Hawk recordings. With that release and 2015's Diamonds, the band saw its most successful radio singles yet, with "Words" and "Drops in the Ocean" becoming the band's first Top 5 radio singles. Now, the band is still going strong with their '80s-pop inspired 2018 release, Miracles.
White Heart Fans of classic Christian rock may remember White Heart as one of the heavyweights of the genre in the late 80's and early 90's. But the band changed lead singers several times in their early years. Legendary artist Steve Green (yes, that one) was actually the lead singer for the band's first album, before deciding that rock n' roll wasn't really his style. The band then brought in Scott Douglas, who led two albums before being convicted of sexual assault in one of the genre's earliest and biggest scandals. Finally, the band brought in roadie Rick Florian on lead vocals, and his powerful vocals carried the band to the arena rock sound that they became known for. Though the band's lineup remained something of a revolving door through the years, together with founding members Billy Smiley and Mark Gersmehl, Florian would stay through the remainder of the band's career and take vocals on most of their iconic hits such as "Over Me," "Desert Rose," and "Unchain," among many others. (He even returned this past June to perform for the 30th anniversary of their Freedom album.)
J.J. Francesco is a longtime contributor to the NRT Staff. He's published the novel 'Because of Austin' and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community.
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