Jamie Grace Harper may be the world’s only musician with Tourette syndrome, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, echolalia, anxiety disorder—and a Grammy nod. Nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Song (for her breakout hit “Hold Me”), Harper, 20, attended February’s Grammy ceremony with her family; the rest of the year, she lives in Atlanta with her parents, James and Mona Harper, cofounders and pastors of Kingdom City Church.
Harper is open about her struggles with Tourette syndrome, which started when she was about 8 years old in the form of tics—involuntary movements and sounds—and an obsession to repeat certain behaviors and phrases. “It took our lives for a spin,” she says of the diagnosis. “I learned early on that Tourette’s is not life-threatening, but it is life-altering.”
Harper has been crazy busy since releasing her debut album, One Song at a Time, in September 2011. In addition to more than 100 shows, she’s been working on a new album, writing a novel, recording a Christmas song (with older sister Morgan) for a holiday project, speaking on the Revolve Tour (for teen girls), acting in a movie (Grace Unplugged, due in 2013), and, incredibly, graduating from college, with a degree in children’s ministry from Point University (formerly Atlanta Christian College). All before her 21st birthday.
Your Facebook page includes your phone number. Why?
It’s a public number anybody can call if they just want to say hey or leave a voice mail. A couple times a month I’ll reply to a few of them, and sometimes I’ll just answer it myself, and we’ll chat about life and stuff. It’s fun to connect with people.
Why is that important to you?
As a kid, I was always on message boards for my favorite singers. I once sent ZOEgirl a message about something I was struggling with, and when [they] replied, it was like the kindest thing ever. I just want to do the same thing.
How does Tourette syndrome affect you today?
Mostly I repeat things I hear, sometimes obscure and random things, over and over. Lately, I’ve been saying one line from a movie, The Master of Disguise. I’ll start saying, “I’m going to be the master of disguise,” and I don’t even realize it. My friends will say, “Jamie, you’re quoting The Master of Disguise again.” Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself! But I’ve been able to train myself out of it a little bit. I’ll cover it up by singing it instead of saying it, or saying it under my breath. Or I’ll do something to distract myself, like play my drums or go for a run.
You became an overnight sensation when “Hold Me” exploded. How has sudden fame affected you?
It was a little overwhelming. “Hold Me” was just a very personal song between me and Jesus. I was thinking it was like the worst song ever; I didn’t even want it on the album! I’ve always prayed that God [could] use my story to touch other people, but I never thought he’d use that song. But my mom encouraged it—which just goes to show you that, one, moms know everything, and, two, God can take your dreams and do more than you can ever imagine.
Church: Kingdom City Church
Reading now: Books by Lisa Harper; The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
On your iPod: Johnnyswim, Natalie Grant, Reba McEntire
Favorite movie: Princess Diaries 2
Favorite Bible verse: Psalm 30:5
Favorite website: YouTube
Your hero My parents
What makes you laugh? When 2-year-olds sing my songs
Best meal you cook? Ham, cheese, and spinach omelet