NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – A new wave of Christian artists dominated the 34th annual Gospel Music Association Awards, with MercyMe, Switchfoot, Stacie Orrico and Jeremy Camp among the big winners Wednesday night.

MercyMe won a Dove Award – gospel music’s version of the Grammy– in the coveted artist of the year category, and also took home honors for top group and top pop/contemporary recorded song for “Word of God Speak.”

“Word of God Speak” also won song of the year, giving band leader and songwriter Bart Millard and co-writer Pete Kipley each a pair of Doves.

“None of this overshadows what Christ has done for us,” Millard said in accepting the group of the year award.

Millard later said he hopes MercyMe’s success on mainstream radio causes other Christian groups to be bold with their music – without watering down their message.

“We do this because Jesus Christ is the only thing that’s ever changed our lives,” he said.

Switchfoot lead singer and songwriter Jonathan Foreman captured the most awards. The band won rock song of the year for “Ammunition,” rock/contemporary song for “Meant to Live,” and rock/contemporary album for “The Beautiful Letdown.”

Foreman also picked up three individual honors: two in the recorded song categories for songwriting credits, and one for a producer’s credit on the album.

Orrico won female vocalist of the year, pop/contemporary album for her self-titled sophomore project and short form video for “(There’s Gotta Be) More to Life.”

Camp won a pair of Doves for male vocalist and new artist of the year.

“My God has restored my life in so many ways,” Camp said. “This is such a blessing.”

The songwriter award went to Mark Hall of Casting Crowns.

Double Dove winners were Smokie Norful, Third Day, The Martins, The Crabb Family, Randy Travis, CeCe Winans and Michael Tait.

Perennial favorites Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman, who led all nominees this year with seven, were shut out.

Former NFL star Deion Sanders and gospel music singer Yolanda Adams hosted the show, and several gospel artists performed, including MercyMe, Norful, Camp, Third Day, Winans and Travis. Amy Grant and Vince Gill introduced a video message from U2 singer Bono.

Adams said gospel music’s uplifting message has special significance with the war in Iraq: “Gospel music is really blazing right now.”

Movie theaters in 50 cities simulcast the show at Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theatres and Edwards Theatres. UPN network will televise it at 8 p.m EDT on May 28.

The Dove Awards recognize everything from gospel quartets and country to rock, rap and teen pop. The 4,500 members of the Gospel Music Association nominate and vote for the winners.

Awards were given in 44 categories for recordings released between Nov. 1, 2002, and Oct. 31, 2003.

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AP-ES-04-29-04 0008EDT

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