BROOKSVILLE — For more than 30 years, gospel music legend Carman has appeared in venues like Madison Square Garden, on national television and in stadiums throughout the world. Tonight, he will perform some of the 500 songs he has written and recorded at Grace World Outreach Church.
Churches are the artist's favorite place to perform.
"It's still the same people that you'd see anywhere else, but there's a higher level of appreciation for the evening," Carman said in a recent interview. "The church is the place where they have marriages, funerals, get dedicated, get strong and get saved. It's their home. Visiting the smaller churches is like singing in their living room."
Carman concerts employ a combination of drama, rock, comedy, funk, satire, acting, singing and preaching — a unique style that has earned him the label of "part evangelist, part Vegas showman."
The size of the audience doesn't matter much, he said.
"God didn't call us to be popular; he called us to be effective," Carman said. "I go where I know I will be most effective."
Being an effective minister of the Gospel is what it's all about for the award-winning singer, who began his musical career before he became a Christian.
According to his website, carman.org, Carman Domenic Licciardello began playing nightclubs in Atlantic City, N.J., while he was still under the legal age, then expanded his performance circuit throughout New Jersey and Philadelphia. After being approached by a member of a crime family who wanted to "represent his interests and help his career," the singer drove off to Las Vegas, promising to make a decision on the offer by the time he returned.
It was during that short time, in the late 1970s, that Carman attended a concert by a popular Christian artist named Andrae Crouch.
He was "so moved that he became a Christian, enraging those left behind waiting on a decision," the website says.
The songs Carman began composing were designed to glorify God and minister to the spiritually needy.
His career took off in the early 1980s after releasing his first LP, God's Not Finished with Me. After that, the songs and the awards kept coming — Dove awards, Billboard magazine awards and a few Grammy nominations. He made 15 gold and platinum albums and videos and sold more than 10 million records. He set attendance records for concerts, co-founded the Parable Christian Film Festival, and in 2004 he was presented the Humanitarian Award from House of Hope, an award that's also gone to President Ronald and Nancy Reagan, the Rev. Billy Graham and former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Throughout his 35 years in ministry, Carman has never left an audience without ministering to them with a bold, uncompromising presentation of the Gospel, says his site.
"That's why I'm here," he said.
Not many people know Carman has trained with Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts champions or that he has a hope of one day meeting Miami Blackzillian champion Rashad Evans.
"I'm a huge UFC fan," he said. "It's the only sport I follow."
In 1997, he added writing and acting to his repertoire with the movie R.I.O.T., using his newfound fighting skills to help promote the Gospel through film. In 2001 he trained with boxing coach Terry Claybon so he could star in the full-length film Carman: The Champion, which he wrote, about a retired boxer who becomes a Christian. The film became the longest-running Christian movie in theaters.
In the past few years, Carman has written new screenplays and has plans to bring his novel, Undefeated: In Love and War, about a UFC fighter in the witness protection program, to the big screen.
It was in 1999 that Pastor Bryan Warren, head of Grace World Outreach's music and media department, met Carman at Madison Square Garden at a "Good News New York" event.
"It was amazing to see the congregation rise to their feet when Carman took the stage," Warren said." He is a dynamic singer/songwriter whose music appeals to all age groups."
Warren said he hopes tonight's concert will give the church an opportunity to reach out to the community and share the love of God.
Carman pledged to help.
"I will try to cover 30 years of recording the best I can in one night — something from each era of Christian music and a few new songs I recorded last year," he said.
But foremost in his mind will be the salvation of lost souls.
"Everybody has a friend or a family member they've been trying to share their faith with," Carman said. "Just bring that person to the concert. … Who knows, you might just change someone's life forever."