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Hannah Shackelford: Fear is Not Her Future

Although she is a classically trained pianist, Hannah Shackleford AB '13 never considered music as a career. Instead, she plays just for the love of it on the worship team at the suburban Atlanta church where she works. Could a Grammy award change that? (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

UGA's newest Grammy winner is perhaps its unlikeliest.

Every Sunday morning at Northlands Church in Peachtree Corners, Hannah Shackelford plays keys for the worship team. The music is frequently upbeat and empowering, the parishioners participatory. The worship team plays traditional hymns and contemporary Christian hits. Sometimes they improvise.

Such was the case one Sunday morning a couple of years ago when vocalist Nicole Hannel started singing some unfamiliar lines. Shackelford followed along from her unobtrusive spot in the back, stage right.

“As a keys player, I’ve become really good at reading the back of people’s heads,” Shackelford AB ’13 says. “So, when Nicole is out front, I’m just watching her and catching her vibe, and the rest of the team is doing that too.”

That type of improvisation is known as spontaneous worship. Hannel’s words sprung from a journal entry she had written during a particularly difficult time.

Fear is not my future
You are, You are
Sickness is not my story
You are, You are
Heartbreak’s not my home
You are, You are
Death is not the end
You are, You are

Those words connected immediately. The crowd joined in that morning—and for many mornings after.

“That was an anthem for about a year at our church,” says Shackelford, who serves as director of operations at Northlands. Hannel is the church’s director of events. Music is not their full-time job, but they know a transformative song when they hear it.

During their off-time, Shackelford, Hannel, and Jonathan Jay—a worship leader at Northlands and co-founder of the Atlanta-based Maverick City Music collective—fleshed out the music and built on Hannel’s lyrics, which would become the bridge of “Fear Is Not My Future.”

Jay shared the work with contemporary Christian music (CCM) star and Maverick City contributor Brandon Lake, and they added verses. Eventually, gospel legend Kirk Franklin got involved and applied the finishing touches. Lake released a single version in May 2022, and it debuted at No. 13 on the Hot Christian Songs chart.

Two months later, Maverick City released a live version. Four months after that, “Fear Is Not My Future” was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song category, a songwriter’s award.

In February, Shackelford walked the red carpet at the Grammys, and as Maverick City began cleaning up the CCM awards (the collective won four on the night), her category came up.

“I heard them say ‘Fear,’ and I don’t remember anything after that,” Shackelford says. Shock aside, she made it to the stage where she stood next to Hannel, beaming, as Lake accepted the Grammy.

“Fear Is Not My Future” is the first song Shackelford has ever published. And she won a Grammy for it. It’s an impressive starting point.

“It feels almost too big to understand,” Shackelford says. “Someone told me that winning a Grammy is like a dream come true. Actually, it’s not a dream come true because I literally never dreamed this. I never imagined it.”

The Making of a Grammy Winner

All Grammy nominees receive a medallion like this one. For the winners, the trophies they hold on Grammy night are props and are given back at the end of the night. The engraved, personalized Grammys are mailed out later. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

As a kindergartner, Shackelford could play Bach by ear. She wrote her first song when she was 5: “Mom, I Got Stung by a Bee.”

It was autobiographical.

And while Shackelford’s talent is easy to see and hear, she never considered music as a career.

At UGA, she majored in psychology and had a job playing piano in the O-House dining hall. She kept a sheet of paper that listed all the songs she knew—from Katy Perry to John Mayer to Chopin—and took requests from student diners.

“I was like a little jukebox at O-House,” she says.

Shackelford also played keys on the worship team at the Wesley Foundation, where she met her husband Rob BS ’14, BSES ’14, MS ’17.

She joined the Northlands Church staff in 2018. It’s the ideal place for her—one where she can easily blend her professional, creative, and faithful sides.

Someone told me that winning a Grammy is like a dream come true. Actually, it’s not a dream come true because I literally never dreamed this. I never imagined it.” — Hannah Shackelford AB ’13, Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song 2023

After the success of “Fear is Not My Future,” Shackelford and Hannel are already talking about writing new material, and Shackelford co-wrote a song with CCM artist The Bluejay House that will be released later this summer.

“As someone who connects deeply with music, it’s so powerful when music and faith collide,” Shackelford says. “Music can express thoughts and emotions that people don’t yet have the words for. Music that brings hope, that brings healing, and reminds us of God’s promises—that type of music, for me and for a lot of people, is an irreplaceable part of life.

“Even if you take it outside of a Christian context, music has this power to set us in mental and emotional spaces that we don’t reach otherwise. That’s the way God designed us to be.”