You might not have heard the name Bart Millard before. But chances are, you’ve heard of the group he’s been lead-singing with for more than 25 years. He’s one of the Celebrity Narrators slated to participate in this year’s Candlelight Processional during EPCOT’s International Festival of the Holidays. He’s one of my absolute favorites, and here’s why.
I had the crazy honor/opportunity/pleasure of meeting Bart a few years ago, and in person, he’s exactly what you see in his music, in interviews, on television: real, humble, brilliant. And his life story is one of the most inspiring I’ve heard in a while.
Millard, a 48-year-old northeast Texas native had never thought about a career in music. In high school, he played football (because that’s what you do in Texas) with hopes of playing professionally after high school/college. But an injury left both of his ankles and his dreams as a pro football player shattered. But it’s also what would drive his life in a completely different direction. Because he was physically unable to play football for the remainder of his high school career, Bart instead took Choir as an elective. It was during that no-football-go-choir season that he realized he might really like music.
You see, Bart Millard is the passion and lead vocals behind the band MercyMe. But life leading up to his MercyMe days was tough. He was abused by his father for years and even feared for his life. When his father was diagnosed with cancer in 1991, Bart says it really changed him for the better. His father’s death inspired the lyrics of the song I Can Only Imagine in 1991, though it wouldn’t be released until 1999.
I Can Only Imagine became the best-selling Christian single in history–one that most people either know by heart or have at least heard a time or two, thanks to the song moving across the lines from Contemporary Christian to Pop to Country and beyond.
According to USA Today, the now-famous song that springboarded the quintet into stardom and made a household name of their group has enjoyed numerous accolades:
“[As of 2018], ‘I Can Only Imagine’ has become the best-selling Christian single of all time, selling 2.5 million copies, according to Nielsen Music (the only song in the genre to go double platinum). The emotional ballad — which considers what it would be like to go to Heaven and meet God — is the rare Christian tune to cross over to country and pop radio, reaching No. 5 on Billboard’s adult contemporary chart and No. 33 on the mainstream top 40.”
The song, which was originally released in 1999, brought comfort to many in the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11. Bart remembers hearing from people about their grief and about how the lyrics from I Can Only Imagine helped them through those very difficult days.
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“We heard a lot of people talking about losing loved ones and how 9/11 impacted them,” he says. “I think the biggest thing is, there’s no agenda: We’re not trying to shove the Bible down anybody’s throats. I’m asking the same question many people have wondered, whether you go to church or not, like, ‘OK, God, if this turns out to be real, if we die and we get [to Heaven], how am I going to respond?’ There’s no answers in that song: it’s all questions.”
The hit song continued growing in popularity and even inspired the movie of the same name, which hit theaters in 2018 and debuted at #3 at the box office. The film cost $7 million to produce and grossed more than $85 million.
Disney Parks Blog just announced the comprehensive list of Celebrity Narrators who will be a part of EPCOT’s Candlelight Processional. Bart Millard is among a star-studded group of talented musicians, actors, and celebrity personalities. Here’s the line-up which, of course, is subject to change (but we hope it doesn’t):
- Nov. 26-28: Auli’i Cravalho
- Nov. 29-Dec. 1: Chita Rivera
- Dec. 2-4: Jodi Benson
- Dec. 5-7: Alton Fitzgerald White
- Dec. 8-10: Bart Millard
- Dec. 11-13: Lisa Ling
- Dec. 14-16: Andy Garcia
- Dec. 17-19: Ana Gasteyer
- Dec. 20-22: Courtney B. Vance
- Dec. 23-25: Steven Curtis Chapman
- Dec. 26-28: Blair Underwood
- Dec. 29-30: Pat Sajak
According to a post from Disney Parks Blog three years ago, 2018 marked Millard’s first performance at EPCOT’s Candlelight Processional Event during the International Festival of the Holidays:
“Millard, who has spent part of his life in Central Florida, is a huge fan of Walt Disney World and EPCOT but had never visited during the holidays. As the lead singer of one of the most beloved Contemporary Christian groups of all time, MercyMe, Millard’s vocals have been heard on millions of records including the biggest selling Christian song of all time, “I Can Only Imagine.” Millard also scored big [in 2018] with a movie of his life, called–of course–“I Can Only Imagine.”
The 2021 Candlelight Processional marks Millard’s second time as a celebrity narrator at EPCOT’s fabulous annual Christmas celebration event. Though we might still consider him a newbie at the Processional (and not yet a veteran narrator like, say, Pat Sajak and Neil Patrick Harris), he’s no newbie to the parks at Walt Disney World.
Millard says he and his family are “Disney fanatics,” but says that before his appearance in 2018 during EPCOT’s annual holiday event, he didn’t know much about the Candlelight Processional. In fact, he credits many MercyMe fans with educating him on the subject and helping him understand what a big deal the event is.
Millard has shared that the story of Christmas, which is read by each Celebrity Narrator during the nightly event at EPCOT in December, is “not only the greatest story ever told, but the story that changed [his] life.”
Bart and the rest of the MercyMe group were routinely a part of the amazing line-up at Walt Disney World’s Night of Joy, an annual event at the Central Florida parks from 1983 to 2017 that featured the musical and vocal talents of dozens of Contemporary Christian musicians, groups, and bands.
Bart and MercyMe have enjoyed amazing success, but they retain a spirit of humility and kindness. The story of Bart’s life, his struggles, and his triumphs permeate the lyrics of every song sung by MercyMe. And that’s probably just one of the reasons he’s my favorite. I hope you’ll enjoy him too at the Candlelight Processional this year!
I can only imagine what it will be like to hear Bart read the Christmas story against a backdrop of festive colors, pageantry, and harmonious voices at EPCOT’s Candlelight Processional on December 8, 9, and 10, 2021. But if you don’t hurry and make plans, you’ll only be able to imagine it! So get those plans in place! The event fills up very quickly!