Starlight in Mobile

Apr 25, 2003 07:34 PM EDT

MOBILE, Ala. – The students at the University of Mobile experienced their first “Starlight” music festival, featuring Grammy artist Ricky Staggs and Christian recording artist Alicia, April 22. The fast-paced outdoor festival with performances by UM students of choral music, jazz, piano, guitar, wind ensemble and opera, drew people from neighboring states onto the small 800-acre campus.

"You can't be the salt if you don't go to places where they need salt," Skaggs said to the crowd of more than 3,300 gathered on the campus. "You've got to get the salt out of the shaker," explaining why the 8 Grammy artist chose to come to campus.

Roger Breland, a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the new special assistant to the president at UM, organized the concert as a way to raise the region's awareness of the Baptist university, its mission and its many talented students. That mission -- changing lives to change the world through graduates who live out their Christian faith in their work, family, community and church -- drew high praise from Skaggs.

"I really like what y'all are doing down here," Skaggs said. "I don't mean that lightly. ... I believe God's hand is on this place."

Skaggs shared both his music and his message of God's faithfulness during the event, and later led the crowd in "God Bless America" as fireworks lit the sky. The event ended with Mark Foley, the student body president, leading the group in prayer.

Defining himself as "a recording artist that's a Christian" rather than a "Christian recording artist," Skaggs related how his stand as a Christian sometimes hurt his career. He described his desire to focus on gospel music -- a desire that was delayed for many years because the record labels he was signed with didn't believe the album would be a success. That belief proved false when Skaggs formed his own recording company, Skaggs Family Records, and released "Soldier of the Cross." The album was named Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album of the Year in 2000.

Skaggs has had 12 No. 1 singles, 14 country albums, five bluegrass albums and a gospel album and was named as one of the 100 most important artists of the last 50 years by Billboard magazine.

"Our bluegrass sound draws unbelievers, but when they get to our show, they hear the Gospel -- whether it's the words in the song or the words I say between songs, somehow they will be confronted with the Gospel," Skaggs writes on his website at

About 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled at the Baptist-affiliated University of Mobile.

By Pauline J.