Former BR resident takes Grammy stage

A love of music and his commitment as a Christian took 33-year-old Ben Washer to the stage of the Grammys.

During the Grammy pre-show, Washer accepted the award for Best Gospel Album on behalf of Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae. The album, “Gravity,” was produced by Reach Records, a company owned by Washer and Lecrae.

Washer, who now lives in Atlanta, grew up in Baton Rouge “down the street from LSU in the same house I lived in my whole life,” he said.

He attended University Baptist Church with his parents, Jeanie and Russell Washer.

“It was a part of my life in different degrees,” he said, “but it was not until my freshman year in college that I realized how Christ saved me and changed my heart.”

Washer was attending Auburn University at the time. His commitment to Christ came through a friend who lived in his dormitory.

“I started asking him questions about God and Jesus,” Washer said. “We prayed together. I asked Christ to take over my life.”

After he graduated from Auburn in 2001, Washer went to Denton, Texas, to study the Bible with Tom Nelson, senior pastor of Denton Bible Church.

“I had heard him speak at a conference,” Washer said. “He takes 30 to 40 guys a year to teach.”

Lecrae Moore, who goes professionally by his first name only, was also studying with Nelson.

Lecrae and Washer volunteered together at a juvenile halfway house, an alternative jail system where children were incarcerated.

“We tutored them and held church for them on Sunday,” Washer said.

Lecrae would often rap with the kids with songs he had written himself.

“I saw everybody embrace his music,” Washer said.

In 2003, Washer, Lecrae and a friend, Chris Carreker, decided to start a record label.

“We had no prior experience in the music industry, but we had the passion,” Washer said. “We just went for it.”

After a brief stint back in Baton Rouge working in real estate with his father, Washer returned to Denton in 2005 to focus completely on the record company. Lecrae and Washer are now sole owners of the company, which they moved to Memphis, Tenn., in 2006. Its present headquarters are in Atlanta, where Washer lives with his wife, Ashley; son Sloan, 5; and daughters, Haley, 3, and Peyton, 1.

“We have done more than 25 records,” Washer said. “We have been around 10 years now. We do three to five albums a year.”

The company has five artists, all hip-hop. “Our aim is for the global audience,” Washer said.

Lecrae and Washer also have a nonprofit organization, ReachLife, focused on hip-hop culture.

“ReachLife goes deep with leadership training and educational resources for the urban community,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to change the way people see the world. To interpret, positive and hopeful, not negative and destructive.”

For Washer, the amazing thing about Lecrae’s Grammy is that a hip-hop album won the award for Best Gospel Album.

“The unique thing is that it is not gospel music,” he said. “But his faith came out in the music.”

‘Gravity” debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 for all music during the week it was released in September 2012. “It was a big group effort to get it out, to see that it was done well, to get it in front of the right audience,” Washer said. “It helped to get the Grammy. It put Lecrae as an artist in front of a lot more people.”

Lecrae should have accepted the Grammy himself, but when his name was called, he was on the Red Carpet doing interviews.

“We were calling him, texting him, but it was too late,” Washer said. “When they said, Lecrae, ‘Gravity,’ myself and Torrance Esmond ended up having to go on stage accepting the award.”

Washer said that the award was a great moment to celebrate, but they immediately had to go back to work.

“We love that we won a Grammy, but we realize that we have to dive back into creating what we love,” he said.

Washer sees his company and the nonprofit as important work.

“It’s a life-giving lens to see the world, for us as a Biblical lens,” he said.