If writing what you know is the key to success, then 27-year-old Francesca Battistelli has struck gold. Her first studio album, My Paper Heart, came out on Fervent Records in 2008 and it went flying up the Christian music charts like proverbial wildfire. “I’m Letting Go,” the album’s first single, came out that spring and found its way to the Top 10 of the Christian charts by July. It also made an appearance in the Meryl Streep-powered feature film Julie
and Julia, and helped boost My Paper Heart into the Top 10 Christian albums.
Meanwhile, the single “It’s Your Life” was heard on the 2009 season finale of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance. In fact, the album’s release turned out to be the biggest seller for a debut Christian artist in nearly a decade—and the longest-running #1 for a female artist in Billboard Christian Album Chart history.
“I was writing about my life,” she says. “What was real to me.”
All in all, My Paper Heart helped Battistelli rack up Dove Awards for Female Vocalist of the Year and Short Form Video, as well as netting a Grammy nomination.
“No one prepared me for that,” says Battistelli, sounding both bemused and amazed. “I knew that I would find success, but it’s something that takes years, and this has been such a
A willowy, blue-eyed singer with long dark hair and a voice that evokes both funky folk stylings and the occasional bluesy bent, Battistelli spent most of 2008 and 2009 vacillating between touring and recording. She crammed in 120 tour dates, time in the studio and making videos that show off her girl-next-door persona. In the middle of it all, she married fellow musician Matthew Goodwin, a member of the Christian group NewSong, whom she met on tour in 2008. The couple married in Nashville in August of 2009 and settled in Atlanta, where today they are raising their son. Atlanta is near his family and a close enough jump to Nashville that it’s a perfect fit.
Battistelli followed up My Paper Heart with last year’s Hundred More Years, a collection that she says is about her own life and becoming a grown up, married, juggling a career, with a child. The first single “This is the Stuff,” a poppy anthem to all the little things that can be so frustrating, with fun lyrics like “I lost my keys in the great unknown/and call me please/’cause I can’t find my phone” went to Billboard’s #3.
While she might be slightly dazed from all the accolades and success, this is a young woman who knows firmly who she is.
“I’ve always been a ham,” Francesca Battistelli laughs.
Born in New York to a conductor father and singer/actress mother, there’s no question that musical talent was in her blood.
“I really did inherit all their gifts,” she says.
Battistelli’s family moved to Orlando when she was seven, and by 15, she was part of an all-girl group, Bella, with whom she toured. Her work with the group included both singing and dancing, something the Broadway-loving artist adored. Homeschooled, she graduated high school a year earlier than her peers and went on to graduate from the University of Central Florida with an English degree.
But it was always music that made her happy. When Bella broke up, Battistelli got serious about the guitar, and says that when she wrote songs, the gospel-edged, Christian-pop tunes that came forth just seemed natural. On her first album, she wrote about being a young woman, trying to figure out what she was doing with her life and how her abiding faith helped her understand that she was okay as she was. The lyrics to “Free to Be Me” say it all: “I’ve got a couple dents in my fenders, a couple of rips in my jeans/trying to fit the pieces together but perfection is my enemy/on my own I’m so clumsy, but on your shoulders I can see/I’m free to be me.” With Hundred More Years, her songs took on a more mature approach, this time drawing from her marriage and motherhood.
“I do get overwhelmed,” she admits cheerfully, abut everything she’s juggling these days. “But my relationships keep me grounded. Family and friends really help you realize what’s important.”
Faith and family
Battistelli understands that she’s living a dream, and she knows that comes with hectic times. But, she says, she loves making a living singing and says she realizes what a gift she’s been given, both with her stardom and her family.
“My husband is great at keeping my head on straight,” she says. Matthew also travels with her, something she readily admits helps them to keep their family life intact.
“This life fits us,” she says. “I’m not sure I ever thought I’d have kids so soon after being married, but I definitely saw myself on a tour bus with the kids in tow.”
When she speaks of her career and her music, she does so with both the passion of a true believer in the idea that art can move the world, and the savvy pragmatism of a seasoned pro. She knows her style isn’t for everyone—so while she’d be thrilled if mainstream stations played her music, she’s not pushing to be a crossover artist. The grounding she gets from family, friends and faith means that she feels she has work to do where she is, and she knows that the messages in her songs can be influential.
“I know that a lot of different people listen to my music,” she says. “But I see many young girls at my concerts. And I hope that I can give them some example of how to figure out life.”
Living in Atlanta has proved to be a great thing for Battistelli and her family. Grossman grew up there, so the couple have family around, and she says they enjoy the quiet separation the city provides from Nashville’s industry vibe.
“When I write, I try to write super honestly,” she says. “And everything in my life points to God. Our genre is unique, and I am really very content where I am.”