TV host, actress and singer Kathie Lee Gifford recently celebrated her recent No. 1 appearance on the Christian Digital Song Sales chart with "He Saw Jesus," a song inspired by her late husband Frank Gifford. Gifford co-wrote the song with Brett James (who also wrote Carrie Underwood's Christian #1 song "Jesus Take the Wheel").
The two met last June when Gifford was in Nashville for the CMT Music Awards. "He said he was a big fan of my husband and he was so sorry for my loss," she tells Billboard. "He asked, 'How are you doing?' I told him the truth. I said, 'You know what Brett? I found him that morning. This was the look on his face, this look of awe. He saw Jesus and Jesus took his breath away.' And I said, 'Someday I'm going to write that song.' And he smiles and goes, 'Well then let's write that song.'"
Gifford says James tricked her into recording the song. "I don't even sing professionally any more. He rooked me into that. Now that I know him, I should have seen it coming, but I didn't," she laughs. "After we wrote the song in Nashville, he flew up to my house to record it and he said, 'Kathie, you've got to record this,' because I was saying, 'Let's get Faith Hill or Wynonna. Let's get Trisha Yearwood -- people that are all still singing professionally and just sound great.' He said, 'We can talk about that, but in the meantime, you record the demo.'"
Gifford was initially hesitant because of a previous illness that diminished her breathing. "I have damage that was done to my vocal chords 15 years ago," she shares. "When my father was dying, I had double pneumonia and I didn't get antibiotics in time because my daddy was in hospice and we were giving him morphine every 15 minutes. You're not thinking about taking care of yourself when your beloved precious father is passing away, so by the time I got antibiotics there was scar tissue on my lungs which makes it harder to breathe, so I've lost between 25-30 percent of my breathing capacity. Singing isn't easy for me anymore. It never was easy for me, but it's really hard now.... I love writing. I'm writing for Broadway, off Broadway. I'm writing films. I'm happy to close that [singing] chapter of my life."
James, however, had other ideas and coaxed her into singing the demo. He then returned to Nashville with her vocals and fully produced the song. "He said, 'Only Kathie Lee can sing this song. It is such a personal song.' And he was absolutely right," Gifford admits. "And then I was scared to death to sing it live on the Todayshow. Now I'm coming to Nashville and we're recording songs for the movie and I'm going, 'How did this man get me singing again after 15 years?'"