Pastor, Musician Dana Key Dies at 56

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Dana Key, partner in the pioneering Christian rock duo Degarmo & Key, former A&R VP of Ardent Records, and recent pastor who died last night from a ruptured pulmonary embolism at the age of 56.

Dana had an incredible impact on Contemporary Christian Music. It’s hard to put into words the influence and passion that he exhibited in Christian music and with Ardent.

Dana first became affiliated with Ardent as a recording artist in 1978 while a member of the ground breaking contemporary Christian group DeGarmo & Key. The group became regulars at Ardent studios, recording Heat It Up, To Extremes, and 10 other records at Ardent. Over the years, they penned more than 40 top 10 radio singles, garnered numerous Dove and Grammy nominations, and reached countless of thousands for Christ.

In 1994, Dana approached Ardent expressing his wishes to get involved with the career of an Ardent artist, Steve Wiggins. These discussions became the base for starting the Ardent Records label in conjunction with ForeFront Records which Dana had co-founded. With Dana on board, Ardent Records launched a Christian rock label in 1995. Even now as a music executive, Dana’s deep desire to continue spreading the Gospel through music was clearly exhibited in the label’s mission statement which he helped write:

“The goal of the Ardent Records label is to produce recordings that are at once completely authentic modern music and completely consistent with the Gospel. We seek to offer the Christian fan of mainstream music, who may struggle with its message, a true alternative. A vehicle for sharing their faith that needs no apologies for the music. We place a great deal of emphasis on quality music and its production. But of paramount importance we, along with our label artists, are passionate about presenting the hope of Christ clearly in our recordings.”

Dana co-produced the debut album of Ardent’s first artist, Big Tent Revival – lead by Steve Wiggins, which released in the spring of 1995. With his first Ardent producer credit inked in history, he went on to produce many of Ardent’s artists including Smalltown Poets and Skillet and was also an executive producer on all Ardent label releases through 2002. Ardent has since released over 40 albums and garnered 9 Grammy nominations with an artist roster including Big Tent Revival, Skillet, Smalltown Poets, Todd Agnew, Joy Whitlock and developing artist Jeremy Horn.

Dana’s continued passion for reaching the world for Christ took on a new role in the summer of 2001 as he considered a career change from the music world to a new calling on his life as head pastor of a new church in Memphis, TN. After six months of devoted prayer, a Sunday night Bible study formed and in September of 2002, The Love of Christ church launched its first morning service.

TLC Church was based on one of Dana’s favorite passages of scripture, Eph. 3:16-19:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Its core values were essentially three-fold: Embrace with Love, Equip with Truth, and Engage in Service – all of which he sought to fulfill in his life here on earth as a father, brother, son, friend, musician, music executive, mentor, and pastor. And while he has passed on from this life, we can still rejoice knowing he is being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God, finally experiencing how wide, long, high, and deep the love of Christ truly is.

Please continue to uplift the entire Key family and the Ardent family as well during this difficult time. A Memorial service will be held on Thurs. Jun 10th at 1pm at Woodland Hills Event Center (TLC Church) which is located at 10000 Woodland Hills Dr. Cordova, TN, 38018. Flowers may also be sent to this address. If you would like to make a financial contribution to the memorial fund, please send to: TLC Church – Dana Key Family, 4199 Pheasant Hill Cove N, Lakeland TN, 38002.

UPDATE: Ardent Studios founder and owner John Fry had these words to add:

I had known Dana since 1978 when Degarmo & Key recorded their second album at Ardent Studios. They went on to record most of their subsequent albums at Ardent. After they started their own Forefront Records, Ardent was offered the wonderful opportunity to have distribution for Ardent’s Christian music artists through an Ardent/Forefront partnership.

Degarmo & Key had stopped touring, and when Dana elected not to move to Nashville and continue as a partner in Forefront, he joined us at Ardent in 1995 as a founding partner in our new Christian music label. He was a creative and spiritual mentor to all of our artists.

Dana’s priorities were always Christ first, great music second, and commerce third, but those priorities reached millions of people for Christ through authentic music that people valued enough to purchase millions of albums.

Even after his calling to full time ministry as pastor of TLC Church, he retained his love and enthusiasm for music and continued his mentoring of many young and growing Christian musicians.

He is deeply respected, much loved, and sorely missed.


Ardent Music partner Pat Scholes had this to add:

“Dana Key remains one of the strongest influences in my life forever.  I unknowingly encountered him for the first time on a hot summer night in 1973 where he and Eddie were playing on a flatbed trailer in the middle of a field, blasting the gospel at a decibel level I enjoyed.  I came for the music and left with a Savior.  Little did I know that 20 years later that Dana and I would come together to start the Ardent Records Christian label with our colleagues John Fry and Kim Jenkins.  Lots of records were made and the razor-sharp truth of the gospel continued to go out in a manner of excellence, musically and spiritually, under Dana’s able influence.

And so it is with earthy sadness that this chapter in God’s unfolding story comes to a close with Dana’s passing.  But it is indeed in recognizing the Divine Design that Dana wrote about himself that gives me eternal hope and assurance that God has used, and still uses, this very special man’s life to win many to Christ – and that he now is enjoying His presence forever.  See you again my friend, in the twinkling of an eye,

Pat Scholes”


In the pictures, top to bottom: 1) Steve Wiggins, Dana Key; 2) John Fry, Pat Scholes, Dana Key; 3) Eddie DeGarmo, Dana Key, Greg Morrow, and Tommy Cathy.

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