The History of “Mary Did You Know?”

| December 20, 2021
Category: Featured
crown laying in manger with hay
crown laying in manger with hay

Not quite 40 years ago, an energetic,-never-stop-working young man named Mark Lowry wrote the words to the popular Christmas song “Mary Did You Know?” You may be surprised to learn that the beautiful lyrics were written by a man that suffers from ADHD. Let’s learn his story.

Mark Lowry and ADHD

You could almost say that Mark Lowry was born singing! From an early age, he had a love of music and belted it out for all to hear. He began singing solos as a preschooler and continued every chance he got through grade school. While he excelled at singing, he struggled in the classroom. It was soon discovered that Mark had Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. This made it difficult for him to focus on the task at hand and also gave him incredible energy.

While many children with ADHD can channel their energy into sports, Mark, unfortunately, had zero athletic ability. This made him basically an energetic bull-in-a-china shop! While society primarily views ADHD as a negative because it is often difficult to manage in children, Mark’s parents were wise and chose to emphasize the positive side of it. 

Early on, Mark’s parents taught him that God had a plan for his life and that he was fearfully and wonderfully made even with his ADHD diagnosis. They welcomed his energy and curiosity. Since Mark loved to sing and perform, they made sure he had every opportunity to do so. From church programs to community plays and musicals, Mark was part of it. It was at the National Quartet Convention where Mark received his first big break. He sang in front of 15,000 gospel music fans and was an instant hit. Benson Records then signed Mark and he began recording albums. 

The Writing of “Mary Did You Know?”

In 1984 while living in Houston, Texas, Mark’s pastor asked him to write the program for the living Christmas tree performance. His job was to write the bridges between the traditional holiday carols they sang. During his work for this, Mark began to imagine what it would have been like to have been Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

“When I wrote this thing about Mary, I began by thinking I was interviewing her on her thoughts of being a mother to Jesus. A couple of the lines I wrote really stood out like ‘when you kiss your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God.’ I just thought this needed to be a song.” Mark explained. 

With this interviewer-style writing in mind, “Mary Did You Know?” was born as a beautiful poem. The thought of adding music and melody to his words was a bigger challenge for him. He did share the words with an established music writer but the music created did not feel right so Mark tabled the poem for the time being. 

Mark Lowry and the Gaither Vocal Band

In 1988, Mark joined the Gaither Vocal Band, a Grammy Award-winning vocal group that sings Gospel music all over the world. Two years after joining, a talented musician and songwriter named Buddy Greene joined the group also. After seeing his work and getting to know him, Mark decided to share the poem “Mary Did You Know?” with him. In true Mark Lowry style, he scribbled these words meant as a joke, on a note along with the song and handed it to Buddy Greene: “Buddy, here are some God-inspired words. Please add some beautiful music and make it a profitable hit.”

Greene saw the humor in his note but saw the potential and went to work. A few weeks later he called Mark and sang the song to him and within a week they had a demo together to give to their favorite artists. 

“Mary Did You Know?” is Released to the World

When esteemed Christian artist Michael English released “Mary Did You Know?” Mark and Buddy were thrilled and felt very blessed. They never expected that others would follow. Soon country singer Kathy Mattea recorded and released it. So many other artists both Christian and secular would adopt and sing the song over the decades. Choirs and churches made it a staple in their Christmas programs. President Bill Clinton declared it to be his favorite Christmas song! It has now been performed by countless artists and all over the world by congregations!

For the first time in decades, the world received a new Christmas song that would become a tradition each year and it was brought for the very first time by southern gospel music. While many view ADHD as a problem, people of faith believe that God created every mind with a purpose. Mark’s energy and creativity spurred on by ADHD allowed him to think outside the box and write these lyrics about the mother of Jesus Christ. Through the encouragement of his parents, Mark Lowry turned what some call the curse of ADHD into a beautiful Christ-honoring life. What a beautiful way to use your talents for God!

If you enjoyed this blog, you might also enjoy reading The History of “Joy to the World” and The History of “Silent Night.”

If you have a submission that you would like to share, send it our way!

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The Dogwood Journal is an online magazine produced by Dogwood Media Solutions based out of Montgomery, Alabama.


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