Review: A Voice Undefeated
by Gail Deibler Finke
This isn’t an ordinary review, because A Voice Undefeated isn’t an ordinary book.
I’ve enjoyed other biographies more. I’ve enjoyed other religious reflections more. But I have rarely felt as prayerful as when I finished Collin Raye’s autobiography.
When I say that I’ve enjoyed other autobiographies more, I don’t mean that this one is dull. It’s fast-moving and interesting, even if (like me) you have no particular curiosity about the music business. The story of how Raye (born Floyd “Bubba” Wray) went from a hard-scrabble life with a country band to a country superstar selling more than 8 million records — whose Nashville career ended as quickly as it came — is never dull.
And the medical challenges his family has faced are fascinating in an appalling sort of way — like looking at a highway accident you can’t believe that anyone survived.
His conversion story isn’t what you might expect. He didn’t, like so many celebrities who write “Christian” autobiographies, convert late in life from a hard-drinking, hard-partying life. He converted in his early 20s and credits his Catholic faith for getting him through hard times, helping him navigate the cut-throat music business and (eventually) emerging without bitterness, and launching a second music career he never expected.
The first two-thirds of the book make a quick, pleasant, rather detached read that, one suspects, glosses over some of Raye’s more thorny personal times (numerous vague apologies and assurances that he’s a “different man now,” for instance, hint that he was not always quite as easy to work or get along with as he assures us he is now).
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But the last quarter changes everything. In the wrenching story of a beloved granddaughter who passed away from an unknown neurological condition, Raye’s arms-length narration transforms into an invitation to experience the frustration of seeing doctor after doctor only to be told that no one knows what is wrong, and finally the grief of burying a nine-year-old child. A chapter named “God Said No to Everything We Asked” will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled with an unknown or inescapable diagnosis. Raye says, and anyone who has ever been through it knows, that it changes everything.
You never know what the person next door or sitting next to you in your pew has gone through, or is going through now. Collin Raye, whose music career (24 Top Ten Singles, including 16 number one hits and a total of five straight platinum and two gold albums — a record for the Epic label — and an annual music festival named for him) may seem like someone few people can have anything in common with. But like the writings of a long-dead saint that show an unexpected glimpse of shared experience and the way to grace, A Voice Undefeated becomes by the end a look at the suffering all people share, and the way that God’s grace can transform a life.
I’m not claiming that Collin Raye is a saint. But like the saints, he shows eloquently that the life transformed by grace could be yours.
Gail Deibler Finke is Senior Editor of The Catholic Beat.
Collin Raye: A Voice Undefeated, with a forward by Mike Huckabee and a 45-minute DVD interview and brief performance, is available from Ignatius Press and booksellers everywhere.
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