Finish what you start.
It’s as simple as that.
There’s no question that a 40-year career in the Christian music industry is a clear sign of success. Artist, songwriter, producer, business executive and soon-to-be-published author—those are just a few ways to describe Eddie DeGarmo.
But this summer, the Christian music pioneer will finally be able to add “college graduate” to his resume.
DeGarmo dropped out of college in 1978 during his senior year—less than a year away from earning his bachelor’s degree. His band DeGarmo and Key was taking off, and he wanted to focus on the music.
“At the time, I made a promise to my mother that one day I would finish my degree,” DeGarmo says. “Over the years, I’ve found two principles to be true: show up on time, and do what you promised you’ll do—you’d be amazed at how far these principles will go.”
Now, almost 40 years later, DeGarmo will soon graduate with a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Trevecca’s School of Graduate and Continuing Studies. He’s retired now, but that original promise to finish his education has always been in the back of his mind.
Molding Rock Music and Ministry
Eddie DeGarmo’s interest in music started at a very early age. Growing up in a Christian home in Memphis, he started taking piano lessons from his mother at just 3 years old and was in his first band by age 10.
“We were playing around the Memphis area. Everyone in the band was in high school except for me. That was in the mid-1960s. I experienced almost everything in the 60s,” DeGarmo says. “Got in a pretty difficult mess of a life.”
Rock music ran through his bones, and his band was starting to become pretty popular. When DeGarmo was just 15, his band was offered its first record deal.
But at 18, his life trajectory changed. DeGarmo somehow found himself at an evangelistic crusade where he committed his life to Jesus Christ.
“I had never really considered that I wasn’t a Christian really. But over the course of the next few months, it became obvious that I couldn’t stay in the band anymore,” he says. “So I just started writing songs about my faith and my experience—there was no strategy beyond that.”
Soon after, DeGarmo connected with friend Dana Key, who he helped lead to Christ.
“We started playing music—bars didn’t want us to talk about Jesus, so we started playing at churches and that didn’t work well,” DeGarmo says. “I didn’t realize the hoopla it would cause.”
But DeGarmo and Key’s rock-version of Christian music was like nothing else in the Christian industry. Even still, in 1977 record label Lamb and Lion caught wind of the duo, giving DeGarmo and Key their first Christian record deal.
Making Waves in the Music Industry
Over the course of the next 20 years, DeGarmo’s band made waves in the music industry by touring the globe, making 17 albums, garnering nine Grammy nominations and dozens of Dove Award nominations and seeing millions of lives changed for Christ.
He co-founded his own record company, ForeFront Records, where he signed multi- platinum selling and Grammy-winning artists such as dc Talk, Audio Adrenaline and Rebecca St. James. ForeFront would later be sold to EMI Christian Music Group, while DeGarmo pursued Meaux Music Publishing. In 2002, he reconnected with EMI CMG as the president of publishing. Under DeGarmo’s leadership, EMI CMG was named Christian Music Publisher of the Year by Billboard and ASCAP multiple years in a row.
In 2013, DeGarmo led the merger that created Capitol CMG Publishing, which includes many of the industry’s top songwriters.
“ForeFront grew to be the largest independent record company,” DeGarmo says. “And when I went to work for EMI CMG, I had the opportunity to continue to work with some of the leading Christian artists, such as Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and gospel artist Kirk Franklin.”
The Value in Education
DeGarmo retired in 2014. He’s been friends with Trevecca leaders such as Dr. Dan Boone, Trevecca’s president, and David Caldwell, executive vice president for finance and administration, for many years, he says. He often felt the so encouragement from his Trevecca friends to push through and finish his degree.
DeGarmo’s wife, a 25-year college professor, and two daughters all have graduate-level degrees. Now, as a grandfather, he wanted to help shape his grandchildren’s view of education.
“We have five grandkids, and I want to do this for them in addition to the promise I made to my mother. The theme for me with my grandkids is to stay true to your promises and finish what you begin,” DeGarmo says of his college education. “That’s really the reason I’m doing this. I think it’s pretty cool for my grandkids to see me in college—we have some sharp kids, and they want to know what class is like.”
At age 62, DeGarmo says he’s gained an interesting perspective going through college about 25 to 30 years older than his classmates and some of the professors. “I’ve certainly been involved and engaged, and the classes have created a lot of dialogue that has been good for me to be involved in,” he says.
For DeGarmo, Trevecca resonates a family atmosphere that empowers its students to succeed. From the administration to the professors, the Trevecca team has made going back to school after a 40-year break possible, he says.
With just a few more classes left, DeGarmo is excited to finally step back and take a solid break. He’s almost finished writing his first book, tentatively named We Are Destined to Win, a view into his story and the lessons he’s learned along the way in music, business, and life in general. It’s set for release in 2018.
He hopes to accept more speaking engagements, travel with his wife, and maybe perform in some smaller venues around town, something that has been on the backburner for quite some time.
“You have to prepare yourself in life with training and learning and education to ultimately be successful,” DeGarmo says. “Really, I hope I can just pour myself into others. Hopefully, I can use my experience to help others through their own journeys.”