The words for this song were written by former Gaither Vocal Band baritone singer Mark Lowry after his pastor asked him to write a Christmas musical for their church. Lowry ended up penning a series of monologues based on Christmas songs including a conversation with Mary about the birth and life of her son Jesus. "I wanted to ask her what it was like to raise God," he told The Lubbock Avalanche Journal. "We read that the word became flesh, and it was just a very powerful thought, to look at those little hands of Jesus that had scooped out oceans, land and rivers."
Lowry worked on the lyrics for years, until he approached southern gospel singer-songwriter and harmonica player Buddy Greene on a tour bus and told him he had written some "questions for Mary." Greene agreed to Lowry's request to come up with some music for his words, completing the instrumentation within a few days. The result was this Christmas classic. "That's what happened," said Lowry. "Really, all I did was write a poem. Buddy turned it into a song."
American Christian singer Michael English was the first artist to record and release the song when he included it on his 1991 self-titled debut solo album. English had been in the Gaither Vocal Band between 1985 and 1994, for the last six years with Mark Lowry.
Pentatonix recorded the song for their 2014 album That's Christmas to Me. Their a cappella version became a Hot 100 Top 40 hit, after its video took the internet by storm.
The song had its first widespread exposure to country radio when Nashville artist Kathy Mattea recorded her version of the song in 1993 for her Christmas album Good News. Other recordings of the tune by country artists include a 1997 duet version by Wynonna Judd and Kenny Rogers, which peaked at #55 on the country chart. Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts and Scotty McCreery are some of the other Nashville artists who have recorded the song.
Many gospel and R&B artists have also covered the song. The first African-American performer to record the tune was Vickie Winans, who included it on her 1994 self-titled album. Cee Lo Green's 2012 rendition reached #22 on the R&B chart in 2012.
The song was used as the basis for a Bruce Greer penned stage musical, also titled Mary, Did You Know. The production won the 1999 Dove Award for Musical of the Year.
Kevin Olusola of Pentatonix told Artist Direct why the a cappella group recorded a festive album. "Christmas is such a great time, especially for a cappella music," he said. "People are more willing to listen to that style."
"We realized that after our Christmas single 'The Little Drummer Boy
,'" he continued. "It did so well. We knew we wanted to do something more extensive. That's when we got the idea of doing a full-length Christmas album."
Jordan Smith performed this song
during the 2015 season nine finals of The Voice
and went onto to win the competition. The following week his version debuted at #24 on the Billboard Hot 100.