Known for their socially conscious anthems even more than their big, sweeping worship ballads, the Steeles are a Tennessee-based Southern gospel group (not to be confused with the African-American gospel group of the same name) with a family nucleus of husband and wife, Jeff and Sherry Steele, who were born in Marshall, TX, and Morton, MS, respectively. Jeff, a former pastor, has been the group's leader and songwriting voice throughout its existence, which originally took the form of a trio completed by tenor vocalist David Owens. With this lineup, the Steeles began recording for Daywind with 1991's Heaven's City Limits album. Their career began to build momentum with 1993's Stirrin' It Up and its attendant hit single "I Must Tell Somebody," but it was 1995's Southern Steele that really established them as a presence on the Southern gospel circuit; "God Kept His Promise," "I Got Up and Went," and "Oh What a Mighty God" were all popular numbers, especially the first. Jeff Steele's reputation as a songwriter was growing steadily, as other artists began recording his compositions, leading to his being named BMI's Southern Gospel Songwriter of the Year in 1995 and 1996; the stage was thus set for what became his signature statement. The title track of the 1996 album We Want America Back became a sensation among the conservative faithful, garnering award nominations right and left, and spending weeks on top of the Southern gospel charts; no less a figure than James Dobson adopted it for his radio program Focus on the Family. While 1998's It's By Love didn't match the success of its two predecessors, it nonetheless consolidated the Steeles' status as one of the premier Southern gospel groups. They struck gold again with 2000's For the Sake of the Children, whose title track was another socially conscious Jeff Steele anthem; in keeping with the concept, the Steeles began to include their children Christy, Kayla, and Bradley in their stage shows. Prior to their next album, the Steeles revamped their lineup for the first time; Owens departed, Christy became an official member of the group at age 16, and two seasoned gospel singers joined up as well: Troy Peach, formerly of the Wilburns, and Karen Akemon, formerly of the Perry Sisters and the Ruppes. Now a richer-harmonied quintet, the Steeles issued Left Behind in 2001, with the title track becoming another gospel hit. ~ Steve Huey
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