Ever since Kathy Troccoli made her recording debut in 1982, the contemporary Christian singer has been sure to give a few words of encouragement to concert audiences.
Over the years, Ms. Troccoli said in an interview this week, she became increasingly aware of the importance of those little chats. Today, the singer-songwriter is almost as well known for her speaking engagements and inspirational books as she is for her 17 No. 1 hit singles and sales of 2 million records.
Ms. Troccoli comes to Toledo for a series of concerts Wednesday through Friday at Westgate Chapel that she said will feature a mix of Christmas tunes, her own hits, and messages of hope.
The speaking engagements - including talking to 250,000 women each year at Women of Faith conferences - and her books are ministries that Ms. Troccoli said she had to grow into.
"Almost 10 years ago, I got in front of an audience and I just started sharing a lot of the stuff I hadn't been able to share in my 20s and 30s, because age brings that ability to talk about such things," she said.
Ms. Troccoli, 49, said that when she is honest and open in talking about her struggles with bulimia and depression, her vulnerability and candidness have a noticeable impact on audiences.
"I found that it was something that women loved and they craved, to know that someone else was going through what they were going through but who is able to say, 'You are going to make it through the next day.'•"
Losing both parents to cancer brought a depth of emotion that many people can relate to, Ms. Troccoli said.
"So many people understand that. That element of my story becomes their story, and their story becomes my story," she said. "I try to express what they would want to say if they could write."
She said she has been "completely healed of bulimia for years" and also has learned to overcome depression when it starts to slip into her life.
Her susceptibility to depression is part of her "artist's makeup," she said. The ability to pour her heart into music as a writer and performer, tapping into deep and strong feelings, makes her vulnerable to depression, she said.
"I struggled as a young girl, but thank God, helping to understand the stuff that was going on in my body, through friends and prayer, I can tell women: 'You don't have to stay in that state of mind. There's a path to freedom, and that path is in Jesus Christ.'•"
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Islip Terrace on Long Island, Ms. Troccoli said she was "raised in a religious home but had no clue about really making Jesus part of my everyday life and my future. Giving him control was very foreign to me."
She was singing in dinner clubs and nightclubs when, at age 20, she had a conversion experience.
"I immediately started singing at coffee houses on Long Island and started writing songs to God in the same style of music I was singing in clubs. A youth pastor said, 'Do you know there was contemporary Christian music out there?' I said, 'You're kidding!' Gospel music to me was Mahalia Jackson. I was so excited to see that there were people out there singing this stuff."
Ms. Troccoli was in the vanguard of contemporary Christian music when the genre first began to grow into a music-industry phenomenon in the early 1980s.
After signing with Christian label Reunion Records, she moved to Nashville, where her smoky voice and pop music sound quickly turned her into one of the major stars of contemporary Christian music.
Her chart-topping hits include "Psalm 23," "Live for the Lord," "My Life Is in Your Hands," "I Will Choose Christ," and "I Call Him Love," and she cracked the mainstream charts with "Everything Changes" and her collaboration with the Beach Boys on "I Can Hear Music."
She has won two Dove Awards, was nominated for a Grammy three times, and in 2003 was named one of the "Most Influential Christian Women in America" by Today's Christian Woman magazine.
"It all happened very quick," Ms. Troccoli said, looking back at the early days of her career. "But I often say that we all have gifts but we can be gifted and be a mess."
She said she felt pushed into appearing "hip and cool" for the Christian youth market, even though that was not her true self.
"I'm not putting myself down here, but I was never hip and cool," she said. "I was a club singer from New York. I struggled with the style and music everyone thought you should be as a 20-year-old singer in front of the youth."
She compared it to forcing jazz artist Norah Jones to imitate a pop artist such as Britney Spears.
"It wasn't for me," Ms. Troccoli said. "But at this time in my life, I'm comfortable in my skin and with my audiences. I'm where I should be, singing the songs I should be singing."
Kathy Troccoli will be in concert at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at Westgate Chapel, 2500 Wilford Rd., Toledo. Admission is $12. Information: 419-841-8077 or www.kathytroccoli.com.