MAKING WAVES AND CHANGING LIVES WITH "NEW" MUSIC
Graphic courtesy of Rod Robison '75
by Julianne Sandberg '08
January 19, 2009
The music industry is tough to break in to, especially for college students who have minimal musical experience. But a group of Cedarville University alumni have proven that the impossible is never out of reach.
In the early 1970s, the Jesus Movement was in full swing and revolutionizing contemporary Christian music. Amy Grant popularized the genre, Keith Green gave it soul, and Phil Keaggy made it cool. Young people saw the era as an exciting opportunity to share their faith with both secular and evangelical communities. And Cedarville students were no different.
During the 1973–74 school year, six Cedarville students united to form the original music group Selah (not to be confused with the contemporary trio of the same name): Rod Robison ’75, vocals; Steve Millikan ’74, keyboards and vocals; Ray Moore ’76, drums; Rick Swineford ’76, bass guitar; Debbie (Banks) Donough ’75, vocals; and Cindy (Banks) Jones ’77, vocals.
“Like many groups at that time, we had no aspirations to get a record deal or tour extensively,” said Robison. “We just loved expressing our faith through our music. We’d play anywhere we were invited, including a few campus events.” Their humble beginning eventually led to a five-year recording and touring adventure.
Selah launched a summer tour in 1974 and soon recorded a custom album. On a whim, while touring in Michigan, they dropped off the album at Zondervan and within a few hours received a phone call from the vice president. Much to their delight and surprise, the album was placed on Zondervan’s Singcord label.
The following year they recorded another album and were soon traveling around the country, sharing their music and their hearts. They performed at coffee houses and local churches and appeared at several large festivals alongside artists like Petra, Glad, Andrae Crouch, and Phil Keaggy. The group received additional recognition when Amy Grant recorded Millikan and Robison’s song “Fat Baby” on her Grammy and Dove award-winning album Age to Age.
Selah credits its success, in part, to Cedarville University. Responsible for writing most of the lyrics, Robison believes that his training from professors like Pat Dixon and Jim Phipps ’68 contributed to his songwriting. Other members applied what they learned in ensembles, choirs, and music classes to their work with Selah.
More importantly, Cedarville provided an influential perspective. “When we left college to tour and record,” Robison said, “we took with us foundational truths of the Bible that we had absorbed, not only from the classes but also from the lives of our professors who exemplified those truths. The University’s firm adherence to biblical truth and its encouragement for students to grow in Christ certainly found its way into the lyrics of our songs.”
It was this foundation of spiritual truth that motivated Selah’s performance and guided its ministry. “Although we saw a small measure of notoriety,” Robison said, “hopefully our success can be measured in the lives of the young people we touched with our music.”
After the release of their second album with Zondervan, Selah did several more recording sessions. But by 1979, the group members were ready to settle down with their families. Selah came to an end, and these last sessions were “lost” — that is, until Robison decided to compile a limited-edition 30th anniversary CD. The music was remastered to create a fresh-from-studio sound, and now Selah’s final album, titled Selah 70s: The Lost Sessions, is available to the public.
In explaining the purpose of this “new” album, Robison said, “We wanted to preserve the music for our kids and grandkids and share it with people who may be interested in early contemporary Christian music.” But like everything else Selah has done, the goal extends far beyond memorabilia and marketing. The CD is released with the main purpose of raising funds for Last Bell Ministries, an outreach started by friends and family of Steve and Mary (Wood) Millikan ’75.
Last Bell works with older Ukrainian orphans who are generally considered unreachable. Thirty percent of these orphans become addicted to drugs. Seventy percent of the boys end up on the street or in prison, and sixty percent of the girls turn to prostitution to survive. Ten percent commit suicide before their 18th birthday. Last Bell is one of the few organizations willing to step up and reach out to these orphans.
The new album is not available for purchase, but everyone who financially contributes to Last Bell will automatically receive the CD free of charge. To donate to Last Bell Ministries and learn more about Selah, visit www.Selah70s.com.
Although their touring and recording days are far behind them, the former Selah members haven’t given up on their original goal of making a difference. With help from generous supporters, their music will continue to resound around the world in the form of influenced lives and changed hearts.
Steve Millikan ’74 is a songwriter and producer living in Atlanta, Indiana.
Ray Moore ’76 lives in Dayton, Ohio, and works as technical advisor to the commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He is still active in music.
Rod Robison ’75 serves as vice president with Family Life Radio Network in Tucson, Arizona. For the last two years, he has partnered with The Path, Cedarville’s radio network, to produce the InGathering fundraiser.
Rick Swineford ’76 works for the University of Florida.
Debbie (Banks) Donough ’75 teaches high school English and directs the secondary choral groups at Temple Christian School in Mansfield, Ohio.
Cindy (Banks) Jones ’77 is a supervisor with the Ohio Distance and Electronic Learning Academy, an authorized homeschool system in northwest Ohio.