At only 26, new Essential artist Brooke Barrettsmith has discovered a wisdom that eludes many twice her age. This is a young woman who is completely comfortable in her own skin and thoroughly certain of the career path she's chosen in Christian music.
Adept at guitar and piano, as well as a prolific writer, Brooke's musical heritage runs deep. "My dad's mom was a Broadway singer in Chicago, and my mom's mom was an Italian opera singer in Chicago. My dad was a professional musician, too. When he was 18 years old, he started doing session drumming and played at venues in Chicago with blues legends like Buddy Guy and B.B. King. So I guess I had no choice, it's in my blood!"
On her self-titled debut, Brooke crafts a style uniquely her own, melding her love of Jeremy Camp, Daughtry and Kelly Clarkson with passionate lyrics that reflect her own life and experiences. Though only in her mid-twenties, Brooke has already dealt with her share of challenges including an early struggle with anxiety.
Only a decade ago, the then-teenager experienced her first physical, and terrifying, panic attack. "My heart was racing, my head was pounding. I was having irrational thoughts about not making it to tomorrow, a real sense of hopelessness... I was facing the first stages of adulthood and just dealing with all the stress of life. It was partially hereditary because it is in my family and partly because I had put God on a back-burner. At that point in my life, fear had become more real than I knew God to be."
Leaning on her parents for advice and encouragement, Brooke was gradually able to overcome the attacks. More importantly, the severe anxiety served as a catalyst for her to become the confident woman she is today. "I started making an effort to spend time in the Word of the Lord and to renew my mind in Christ, taking in His promises and owning them. I learned to dwell on them all day instead of dwelling on problems and stress. I'm thankful because I don't know if I would be who I am in Christ today if He hadn't allowed that to happen. It was really what brought me to the end of myself. I was either going to move forward with Christ, or I would be forever on the fence."
Whether performing onstage, writing songs in her suburban Chicago home, speaking to teen and college women at regional conferences, or studying online for her Moody Bible College exams, Brooke is unquestionably living her life for a greater purpose. Just ask her why she's tackling higher education in the midst of a heavy touring schedule: "It's always been a dream of mine to go to Moody since my dad went there. I've always been interested in having a deeper knowledge of the Bible and the fundamentals of what we believe. I want to be accountable to have answers and to know as much about Jesus and my faith as I can know. I'm doing it honestly for personal enrichment. I want to know Jesus more, and I want to represent Him well."
Brooke's father, now a non-denominational Bible church pastor, carefully guided his daughter because he knew all too well the pitfalls that can come along with life in the music business. Brooke explains, "Before my parents became Christians, my dad had been living the rock star life. He was drinking, doing drugs, not coming home until four in the morning. My mom couldn't deal with it anymore so she filed divorce papers - it was his wake up call. He came to Christ soon after that. Then my mom saw his example and a few months later she said yes to Jesus as well. When you see a complete deliverance like that, you know Jesus is real."
Though only a young child herself at the time of her parents' conversions, Brooke clearly remembers the changes she saw in her family, particularly in how her father approached music. To this day, she credits him as being her primary artistic influence. "Music had been his first love, and I saw him redeem what he'd been doing as a non-believer. That was a huge influence, he was still creative and awesome as a musician, but now it had new meaning.
The journey for Brooke to find her career calling took its own unexpected course, full of twists and turns along the way. It began as a child as she and her siblings performed church solos and sang together as a family band. "When my sister and I decided that we wanted to do music as a ministry, my dad started setting up shows, booking us to play for Christian youth groups and bigger church events. After performing with her younger sister for a few years as a duo, the two came to realize that their musical visions were simply not in sync. For the sake of their relationship, they decided to part ways musically, but not before one last hurrah: trying out together for the fifth season of "American Idol".
"We went and made it through tons of auditions. I've honestly never liked talent competitions, and the 'American Idol' experience is like nothing I'll ever do again, both good and bad extremes. We both made it to Hollywood, but my sister got sent home before me. It was a real turning point, it was the first time God had confirmed to me that He had gifted me and called me as Brooke Barrettsmith to fulfill the calling He had on my life. I fell into a comfort zone all those years with my sister, being a duo and existing together. It was funny that God used the very thing I opposed to confirm the calling He had on my life."
That calling is now being fulfilled in a number of arenas, including her work as a youth group leader at her home church and her frequent appearances as a guest speaker at Unlimited Hope Women's Conferences. Of course, her focus at the moment is on communicating the messages of faith and encouragement that are threaded throughout the songs on her debut CD.
"I hope that people take three major points from this album. The first is don't be ashamed of your faith in Christ. That's a huge part of my live ministry, clearly sharing the Word of God and encouraging people to know Him better. The second point would be to encourage people to be vulnerable, to be real, to admit you're human and that you hurt. God didn't call us to be perfect; He called us to live like Him and for Him, but our emotions are okay. The third one would be cast your anxieties upon the Lord. I think that resonates with everyone. For me, it was physical panic, something that was overpowering me and that I thought was more powerful than God. For other people, it's stress, relationships, anxiety in every form. Sometimes He lets you feel the anxiety and stress so that you learn to depend on Him more and learn how to hear His voice in the midst of that."
Hearing that voice speak through the mayhem of her teenage panic has produced in Brooke a peace-filled wisdom that defies her years. She is confident without being cocky, self-assured without a trace of a facade. Perhaps most importantly, she faces the future secure in the path she's chosen.