A little girl's song about child abuse, produced and distributed by an evangelical Christian group, has become one of the biggest hits on the airwaves.
"In 15 years of radio, I have never seen a record that elicited this many requests and so much emotion from listeners," said Bruce Kelly, morning disc jockey for KZZP-FM in Phoenix. " 'We Are The World' pales in comparison."
The song, "Dear Mr. Jesus" was recorded in September 1985 by a Texas Christian youth group called PowerSource, organized by Jan Batts, whose daughter, Sharon, is the singer.
"Dear Mr. Jesus,/ I just had to write to you/ Something really scared me/ when I saw it on the news./ A story about a little girl/ beaten black and blue," the song begins.
After asking Jesus to help abused children, the song concludes, "Dear Mr. Jesus,/ please tell me what to do./ And please don't tell my daddy/ but my mommy hits me, too."
Released last year in a PowerSource album entitled "Shelter From the Storm," the song became an immediate hit and attracted a response from hundreds of callers who wanted to share their own experiences with child abuse.
This fall a traffic reporter for WRBQ in Tampa, Fla., heard the song on a Christian station and secured a copy. The first week the song was played in Tampa it drew 516 requests.
Disc jockey Scott Shannon of station WHTZ in New York City, a former employe of the Tampa station, obtained a copy and played it Nov. 13, the day of the funeral of 6-year-old Lisa Steinberg, whose adoptive parents have been charged with beating her to death. The New York station now gets an average of 3,000 requests a day for the song.
In Fort Worth, station KSCS has received up to 500 calls a day, of which at least 50 have come from parents who say they abuse their children.
One woman wrote that the song forced her to think of how she'd beaten her child. "I realized that the cycle of abuse was continuing with this generation . . . . The cycle stops with this letter," she wrote.
Batts said PowerSource has sold about 30,000 records by mail at $7.95 each, and has a backlog of 50,000 orders. Despite its popularity, it is not available in stores but can be ordered by mail from PowerSource at P.O. Box 916, Bedford, Tex. 76021.
With none of the promotion efforts usually devoted to commercial records, the record cracked Billboard magazine's Hot 100 singles chart last week at 82. In next week's issue, it will be No. 63 with a bullet, denoting a fast-rising song, said Thomas Noonan, the magazine's director of charts.
"This falls in a different category," Noonan said. "It's a topical record that happens to hit on a sensitive area at a sensitive time. This kind of phenomenon is exciting to our business."
The Gospel Workshop for Children Inc., a nonprofit, nondenominational group, started PowerSource five years ago to produce records and videos for troubled children who have no one to help them.
The group commissioned songwriter Richard Klender to write "Dear Mr. Jesus" at the suggestion of a board member who had been abused as a child.