“I never would have thought I would be doing what I love to do and getting paid for it,” said Joel Salazar, singer, songwriter, conductor and worship leader. “I love being around people. I’ve always wanted to touch people’s lives, and God has given me the opportunity to share my music with people.”
For Joel, who grew up as one of nine children on a farm in south Texas, a musical career seemed like a dream. His father wanted him to do something practical, like farming or mechanics. “He didn’t think that a guitar and music would ever help me make money, but he didn’t realize that when the Lord gives you a plan, He makes everything possible.”
“I’ve always had music in my heart, in my soul,” Joel said. “My sisters tell me that even when I was a baby I was in the crib jumping and dancing whenever they were singing. My first grade teacher, Ms. Adair had a little talent show. When the Beatels were really popular, I sang, ‘When she was just 17, you know what I mean…oooooh oooooh’, and I became popular. We didn’t have money for a guitar or a piano then, but by the time I was a freshman, my older brother Abel had just bought a nice guitar, a Ventura with mother-of-pearl. He left it behind when he left for the Peace Corps, and I got that guitar. I only knew three chords,” said Joel, now an accomplished musician who has played back-up and lead on a variety of instruments in numerous live and recorded events.
During that time, Joel’s older brother Danny went to a revival in Kingsville, and committed his life to Jesus. His transformation was dramatic, and Joel was impressed. “He kept inviting me, and on Friday night, the last night of the revival, I did go. The evangelist Bobby Mankin spoke about Jesus in a very vivid way, and something happened–for the first time ever, I found out that Jesus loved me, and I found what I was missing. It changed everything. On the way home, I was looking up at the stars. I saw them so bright. I wrote my first song, in chords G, C and D, ‘One Starry Night’, my testimony song,” Joel recalled.
Danny and Joel, with their new-found faith, turned their quiet, traditional, little German church upside-down. “Danny and I brought a lot of passion to the church. I was one of the first at the church to play a guitar. I started a band called The Jesus Express. Danny played bass. I got people from the youth group, we wrote some songs and went around playing them. It all grew from there. We played at church, youth events, retreats, camps, and revivals. I was hired to go to Galveston to perform at a PBS concert. That’s when I realized it was something I could do that people appreciate, something that makes a difference,” Joel said.
As the band grew in popularity, Joel was noticed by high-profile people who would open important doors to his future. These included contacts at Central Baptist Church in Livingston, Texas, where he would later serve in music ministry for 19 years; and the Miralez Family with whom he would begin to travel for the next 13 years. The whole Miralez family had recently come to faith, and had started a musical group of their own. “Mrs. Miralez was writing music. The kids were starting to sing in churches. They called me to see if I would play guitar or bass to help them,” Joel recalled.
“I was doing that when I realized I had to do more than that. If I was going to do whatever I was going to do in ministry, I was going to have to go to college and get my masters. My family couldn’t afford to let me go to high school, much less college. My high school counselor told me I wasn’t college material. But when God tells you what to do, you do it. I never looked back. If God wants you to do it, He’ll provide the resources. I went to Howard Payne University, scared to death because I went on probation; I had terrible AP scores. I was in my room and in the library studying when all my friends were out at Denny’s having fun, but I made sure that I did what I had to do. There were a lot of people helping me, and I wasn’t going to let them down. When it came time to decide between pastoring or music ministry, I took Greek and I was terrible. I also took music theory, and I made an A. A lot of people dropped out, but I had no problem; I made it through. I had no idea what it took to be a music minister, but little by little, as I went to seminary, it solidified where I needed to go,” Joel recalled. Joel now holds degrees from Howard Payne University, Houston Baptist University, and Southwestern Theological Seminary.
Joel met his wife, a fellow-musician, Rebecca, at Houston Baptist University. They married after graduation, and have been performing together ever since. Together they have three adult children; one, in ministry, another, in music. Their family, who often performs together, will be in concert in April 2022, showcasing their considerable vocal, instrumental, song-writng and arranging talents.
“Working hard has never been hard for me, especially when it’s stuff I like to do, like music and putting a program together. Those are the things I really enjoy. The whole thing is not just about music, but touching people’s lives and how people respond–not only the people listening, but the people who are doing the music,” Joel said. To that end, he continues to write music and create groups like the Sweet Strings, a dulcimer band; Prairie Sounds, a bluegrass band; The Chorale Choir and Orchestra, the church singers and instrumentalists; Serendipity, a senior choir; and the Praise Band that leads Sunday worship at his church, many of whom will be performing at the concert.
“It’s easy to find musical talent and gifted performers–and don’t get me wrong, I love to work with super-talented people–but I like to find people who are the underdogs, who need to be brought up and encouraged through singing or instrument playing. That’s where I land. Even with my education and experience, my God-given drive and passion, I didn’t think we could do the things we did, or be where we are today. I’ve seen that it has been successful because God was in it, and it touched people’s lives. Those people make the difference,” Joel said.
The free concert, Praises ‘cross the Prairie, will be held Sunday, April 26, 2022, 6:45 p.m., at First Baptist Church Grand Prairie. In addition to one of the songs written by Delfa Miralez, the show will feature several original works written and arranged by Joel and Rebecca, along with their friends, Jimmy Baas, Josh Smith, and Diana Garcia. The songs, many written during Covid, will be a celebration of survival and hope. Among those songs are The Cloud, written after the covid-related death of a dear friend who is now in the great cloud of heavenly witnesses; The Window, following a visit with Joel’s brother Ben who was in lockdown on the other side of the glass; See Us Through, after a sermon about how God sees His people through; and Sheltered in Your Love, while sheltering in place. Sheltered has since become an award winning video. “Historically, it will remind us of all that we went through in 2020-2021; how God sheltered us and allowed us to be here today. The church is not dead! The church is strong because the church is us, and [trial has] made us stronger than ever,” Joel said.