From tragedy to success: How Blake Helms found his way to Nashville

Blake Helms received quite the surprise last week when he learned he had been nominated for Positive Country Male Artist Of The Year as part of the 2023 Absolutely Gospel Music Awards.

This is the first time the Christian country singer, who has been in the business for about two years, has been nominated. The success is a testament to Helms’ fortitude and resilience, not just in establishing himself in a profession notoriously difficult for aspiring performers to crack, but also in overcoming hardships as a teenager that could have derailed his musical dreams.

“It is a very high honor and I consider it another one of God’s blessing in my life for faithfully following him,” said Helms, 34.

Voting for the awards is open to the public through Wednesday. The winners will be revealed on April 18.

‘You Better Be Ready To Be Hungry’

The Locust native, who lives with his wife and daughter in Stanfield, has always had a love for music, which dates back to his grandfather Jimmy Helms, who played steel guitar and was friends with Patsy Cline and Hawkshaw Hawkins. Both artists died in a plane crash in 1963 that Helms said his grandfather was originally supposed to be on before his plans changed.

Taking a cue from his grandfather and his famous friends, Helms wanted to have a similar career in country music.

Knowing his grandson had a dream of becoming a professional musician, Helms remembered his grandfather dispensed some tough love.

“He told me, ‘There’s a bunch of starving artists in Nashville so if you want to go there, you better be ready to be hungry,‘ ” Helms said.

Helms, who began singing when he was 10, took chorus classes and was involved with the marching band. He also took part in school talent shows.

Almost Derailed By Tragedy

His career was almost sidelined before it even began when his mother, Michele Helms, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2004 when he was only 15. She was one of his biggest musical supporters, he said, noting she bought him a guitar one Christmas.

Helms briefly lived with his father in Stanfield, but because of their strained relationship, he moved to Rowan County to live with his grandparents. They struggled to take care of Helms, who left their home on High Rock Lake after they caught him smoking pot.

For about a year, Helms — who was no longer in school — was homeless, living with his dog in his truck. He made a modest income fixing fences for local farmers before later working for a landscaping company.

Helms eventually saved enough money to move back to Locust, where he lived in his mother’s mobile home. It was during this time that he renewed his passion for music, playing at local bars and honky tonks.

“I was out in the world getting around to different places,” he said, including performing in venues in Charlotte, Monroe and Rock Hill.

Helms, who later received his GED, said the many hardships he experienced as a teenager helped to inform the kind of music he puts out.

“All those raw emotions that I felt during that time are just poured into my music now,” he said. “It definitely affects my music in a way because I know the struggles and hardships of life and I’m able to relate to people going through that stuff.”

Taking Advantage Of An Opportunity 

Having spent many years playing at a variety of joints — which also involved a good deal of drinking and drugs — he decided he needed to change his life.

Helms took time away from his music. In 2019, he became a member of Central Station Cowboy Church in Midland. The decision had a profound impact on not just his life but his career aspirations, as he transitioned from country and southern rock to Christian music.

“The feeling I got from that first church session was amazing and so I knew right then that that was what I was supposed to be doing,” he said.

Having found a new sense of purpose, Helms started playing music again each week at the church. He seriously considered going to school to become a preacher, but a friend, who was a preacher, told him that his focus should remain on music.

“It really stuck with me,” Helms said about what his friend told him. “And so I just dug in and started playing at church as much as I could.”

Helms’ first big break occurred in 2020, when his pastor informed him about an upcoming talent show for the American Christian Country Music Association in Troy. Not sure he was up to the task as he was recovering from a bout with Covid, his pastor convinced him he should do it.

Though he finished second, Helms, who performed two of Zach Williams’ songs, made such an impression that even the winners came up to him, expressing surprise with the results. Helms attracted the attention of several music producers, who quickly reached out and signed him to Square One Records. In the blink of an eye, his life had changed.

“I was there on Saturday night and on Monday morning, I was in the studio with them in Nashville,” he said.

Not sure how he could afford to travel to Nashville, as he was struggling financially, Helms trusted in his faith that God would look out for him — and good fortune soon followed. Having improved his relationship with his father, he was told to come to his house. Not sure what to expect, his dad reached into his wallet and gave him all the cash he possessed — more than enough to get Helms to Nashville.

“The Lord was just looking out for me,” he said.

Finding His Place In Nashville

Since taking part in the talent show in Troy, Helms has made the roughly seven-hour trip from Stanfield to Nashville many times, as he works to make his childhood dream of becoming a professional musician a reality.

But, like his grandfather warned him, it has not been easy making a name for himself in Music City.

“It’s tough just because I have to sacrifice so much time,” he said, noting how competitive the environment is. “It’s crazy up there… The joke is you work half days when you get to Nashville but half days are 12 hours.”

But the work has also been rewarding, as he has already released three songs, including “Tryin’ To Forget,” which was written by his producers after he told them about his backstory, including the loss of his mother.

The song, which debuted last January, describes the difficulty of moving on from the pain of a loss.

“This hole in my heart doesn’t seem to heal and this pain and the hurt that’s so unreal,” Helms sings. “I haven’t figured out this forgiveness thing yet.”

The song quickly shot to No. 2 on the Christian Music Weekly charts, Helms said, beating out singers such as Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton.

“It was the first one that got me on the charts,” he said. “Knowing what it was written behind, there is a lot of feeling I have with that song.”

He released his second song, “Best Part Of Me,” in May and his most recent, “Wanted,” last month. They both have also performed well on the charts.

‘I Just Want To Make Her Proud’

Even as he has achieved notable success, Helms has remained even-keeled and humble about his situation, remember in keep everything in perspective. He is just a “small town guy competing in the big music scene,” he said.

Helms credits his success to God, noting that “there’s no doubt in my mind I’ve been a faithful servant to the Lord for the past few years and he’s just blessed this music thing all over the place.”

As Helms continues expanding upon his music career, he draws comfort in knowing his mother has been by his side the whole time.

“I know she is in heaven looking at me and watching me and the Bible says they can see us from heaven,” he said. “I want to make her proud and…she gets to see every single thing I do now.”

As someone who has gone through his share of trials, Helms wants to convey the message through his music and his story that no matter what people are going through, there is hope that things can get better.

“Whatever you’re going through right now, it going to be different tomorrow,” he said. “You’re not going to stay in the position that you’re in.”