Green took to music at a young age, beginning with the ukulele at the age of three, the guitar at five, and the piano at seven years of age. His talents were noted by a major newspaper by the time he was only eight years old. Following a performance of Arthur Laurents' The Time of the Cuckoo, a local review by the Los Angeles Times wrote that "roguish-looking, eight-year-old Keith Green gave a winning [character] portrayal" as "the little Italian street urchin, Mauro"; another review commented that he "stole the show". The show was Green's first appearance in live theater, which was held in Chatsworth, California, in September 1962. According to the LA Times, Green had already "done a number of television commercials and...made a TV pilot."
At 10 years of age, Green went on to play the role of "Kurt von Trapp" in a local community theatre production of The Sound of Music at the Valley Music Theater in Woodland Hills, California.
In February 1965, having written forty original songs already, Green and his father, Harvey, signed a five-year contract with Decca Records with Harvey as business manager. The first song released on disc was A Go-Go Getter in May 1965 (produced by Gary Usher), which he had earlier composed and published before signing with Decca. Upon publication of this song, Green, at 11 years of age, became the youngest person ever to sign with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).
Decca Records planned to make Green a teen idol, regularly getting the young pre-teen featured in fanzines like Teen Scene and on popular television shows like The Jack Benny Show and The Steve Allen Show. Green was a guest on the television game show I've Got a Secret on May 3, 1965. His secret was "I just signed a five-year contract as a rock-'n'-roll singer." The segment included a live performance of We'll Do a Lot of Things Together.
By the time Green was twelve, he had written ten more songs, and Time magazine ran a short piece about Green in an article about aspiring young rock-'n'-roll singers, referring to him as Decca Records' "prepubescent dreamboat". However, after national attention envisioned by Decca Records failed to materialize for Green, Donny Osmond captured the attention of pre-teens and teenagers, eclipsing Green's newfound stardom, and he was quickly forgotten by the public.
Green had a Jewish heritage and was raised in Christian Science. He grew up reading the New Testament and called the mixture of being Jewish and learning about Jesus "an odd combination" that left him open minded but deeply unsatisfied. He began doing drugs and became interested in eastern mysticism and "free love." After experiencing what Green described as a "bad trip," he abandoned drug use and became interested in philosophy and theology. "When Green was 19 he met a fellow seeker/musician named Melody. They were inseparable and got married a year later – now he had a partner as his spiritual and musical quest continued." Green later stated, however, that in the midst of his skepticism, he had, "been lost in a fantasy, till [God's] love broke through." and he renounced Christian Science and became a Jewish believer in Jesus the Messiah. A week later, Green's wife Melody, whom he had married in 1973 and was also Jewish, became a Jewish believer in Jesus. It was during this time that the newlyweds became involved with the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Southern California.
In 1975, the Greens, just new believers, began taking people who needed help into their small home in the suburbs of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley. Both were staff songwriters for CBS Records in Hollywood and used their income to support all who came. Early on, their close friend Randy Stonehill, who was struggling at the time, stayed for a while. Their home was later dubbed "The Greenhouse"—a place where people grew. The Greens continued to invite guests into their home. They eventually ran out of space and, purchasing the home next door to their own and renting an additional five in the same neighborhood, they provided an environment of Christian teaching for a group of young adults, the majority of whom were of college age. Much to the consternation of neighbors, there came to be 75 people living in the Green's homes and traipsing down the suburban streets—including recovering drug addicts and prostitutes, bikers, the homeless, and many single pregnant girls needing shelter and safety. Some were referred to the Greens by other ministries and shelters, but most just crossed their path during their normal life at home and on the road. In 1977 the Greens personal outreach became a non-profit ministry they called Last Days Ministries.
Green's initial tone of ministry was largely influenced by Leonard Ravenhill, who pointed him to Charles Finney, a nineteenth century revivalist preacher who preached the holiness of God to provoke conviction in his hearers. During his concerts he would often exhort his listeners to repent and commit themselves more wholly to following Christ. Green later softened his approach, and this transition is evident in his music beginning with So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt in 1980. He described the changes he went through in his next-to-last article for the Last Days Magazine.
Green was signed to Contemporary Christian music label Sparrow Records in 1976 and worked on the album Firewind (1976) with Christian artists 2nd Chapter of Acts, Terry and John Michael Talbot, and Barry McGuire. Prior to Keith's signing with Sparrow Records, and two years before the release of No Compromise, Tommy James, of Tommy James and the Shondells, released "Don't Wanna Fall Away from You" on his 1976 Fantasy album titled "In Touch".
His first solo project, For Him Who Has Ears to Hear, was released in 1977 and his second solo release, No Compromise, followed in 1978. In 1979, after negotiating a release from his contract with Sparrow, Green initiated a new policy of refusing to charge money for concerts or albums. Keith and Melody mortgaged their home to privately finance Green's next album, So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt. The album, which featured a guest appearance by Bob Dylan, was offered through mail-order and at concerts for a price determined by the purchaser. By May 1982, Green had shipped out more than 200,000 units of his album – 61,000 for free. Subsequent albums included The Keith Green Collection (1981) and Songs for the Shepherd (1982).
When his music was carried by Christian bookstores, a second cassette was included free of charge for every cassette purchased to give away to a friend to help spread the Gospel.
In 1978, Last Days Ministries (LDM) began publishing the Last Days Newsletter. Originally printed on a few pages of loose paper, the newsletter grew in content to eventually become a "small, colorful magazine" and was renamed in mid-1985 as the Last Days Magazine. The magazine featured articles by Green and his wife Melody, as well as contemporary Christian authors David Wilkerson, Leonard Ravenhill, and Winkie Pratney, all of whom lived in the area. The publication also later included the reprinted works of classic Christian authors such as Charles Finney, John Wesley, and William Booth and his wife Catherine. Most of the articles were reprinted as tracts. By the mid-1980s, the Last Days Magazine was sent out to over 500,000 people worldwide.
In 1979, the ministry relocated from the San Fernando Valley to a 40-acre (16 ha) plot of land in Garden Valley, Texas, a crossroads community about 9 miles (14 km) west of Lindale, Texas. Within a few years, Last Days purchased additional land, bringing the total to 140 acres (56.7 ha).
Along with eleven others, Green died on July 28, 1982, when the Robertson STOL-modified Cessna 414 leased by Last Days Ministries crashed after takeoff from the private airstrip located on the LDM property. The small two-engine plane was carrying eleven passengers and the pilot, Don Burmeister, for an aerial tour of the LDM property and the surrounding area. Green and two of his children, three-year-old Josiah and two-year-old Bethany, were on board the plane, along with visiting church planters, John and Dede Smalley and their six children. Green's wife Melody was at home with one-year-old Rebekah and six weeks pregnant with their fourth child, Rachel, born in March 1983.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the crash was caused by the pilot in command (PIC) allowing the aircraft to be loaded beyond its operating limitations. The required pre-flight weight and balance computations would have shown it was dangerously overloaded and also outside its weight and balance operating envelope, but in this instance the pilot in command, as a former military pilot, was neither accustomed to nor responsible for computing weight and balance computations during his military career, as this was the responsibility of the military loadmaster, and thus it is believed he may have by force of habit overlooked this responsibility as a civilian pilot is required to do. Don Alan Burmeister was a former United States Marine Corps aviator, but FAA records show he had very limited experience / training in flying conventional (vs. centerline thrust) twin engine aircraft. Records show it was only a short time prior to the accident (6/9/82) that he completed a check-ride to remove the "centerline thrust" restriction from his pilot's certificate. This check-ride should have fully evaluated his ability to fly a conventional multi-engine aircraft throughout its designed range of operations, but the flight examiner was decertified the next month (7/10/82) by the FAA due to a "history of incomplete or substandard check-rides". Additionally, the insurance carrier (Ideal Mutual Insurance Co.) required Burmeister to log 1,045 hrs of flying time, attend a Cessna ground and flight training course, as well as log 15 hours in a Cessna 414 (C-414) prior to acting as the PIC of the leased aircraft. The NTSB record shows he failed to accomplish all of these requirements, with disastrous results. With pilot and eleven passengers, the aircraft was overloaded by an estimated 445 pounds (202 kg), and the location of the center of gravity was found to be 4.26 inches (108 mm) beyond the maximum aft limit. Combined with an air temperature of 90 °F (32 °C), creating a condition known as "hot and high" (high density altitude, producing a slower climb rate on takeoff and greater danger of stalling), the C-414 could do little but struggle into the air within ground effect, and once airborne was left virtually uncontrollable. These factors prevented the aircraft from ever attaining sufficient altitude, and it crashed into trees less than a mile from the airport.
Keith Gordon Green, Josiah David Green (September 18, 1978 – July 28, 1982), and Bethany Grace Green (February 5, 1980 – July 28, 1982) are interred at Garden Valley Cemetery behind the Garden Valley Baptist Church, less than a half-mile from the LDM property. He was survived by his wife and two daughters, Rebekah Joy Green (b. 1981) and Rachel Hope Green (b. March 1983, eight months after Green's death).
Melody Green continued to operate Last Days Ministries from Texas until 1996, when she moved to California and launched Last Days Ministries Online where all of Green's writings are free and his music can be found. The free monthly Last Days Ministries Newsletter is also sent out by request.
Melody maintains the Keith Green Facebook page to honor Keith and also the Melody Green Facebook Page where she interacts with Green's fans and Last Days Ministries fans.
Two full albums of original Green songs were released posthumously: The Prodigal Son (1983) and Jesus Commands Us to Go! (1984). Another release, I Only Want to See You There (1983) contained mostly previously released material. A compilation of his recorded work, The Ministry Years, was released as a two-volume set in 1987 and 1988 and included five previously unreleased songs.
Another unreleased Christian song known to have been recorded by Green was "Born Again," which was finally released in 1999, 17 years after his death, on the First Love compilation video and CD. Both feature a two-song tribute to Green by other Christian artists.
In 2008, Last Days Ministries and Sparrow Records partnered together and released The Live Experience – Special Edition, a CD/DVD combination of 16 live recordings and 4 hours of DVD footage including video of live performances as well as details regarding Green's life and his passing. A "Greatest Hits" album was also released at the same time, including 17 of Green's most popular songs and one more previously unreleased Christian song, "Your Love Came Over Me".
On November 23, 2009, the EP Happy Birthday to You Jesus was released, containing a talk by Green about Christmas and another previously unreleased song, "Happy Birthday to You Jesus".
A prolific personal journalist, Green's writings were published as excerpts in the books A Cry in the Wilderness (Sparrow, 1993), If You Love the Lord (Harvest House, 2000), and Make My Life a Prayer (Harvest House, 2001).
In 1992, several artists joined together to re-record many of Green's best-known songs for a tribute album called No Compromise: Remembering the Music of Keith Green under the Sparrow Records label. Artists contributing to the recording include Petra, Charlie Peacock, Susan Ashton, Margaret Becker, Michael Card, GLAD, Rich Mullins, Steven Curtis Chapman, Steve Green, and Russ Taff.
In 2001, BEC Recordings released a second tribute record Start Right Here: Remembering the Life of Keith Green. Produced by Derri Daugherty, the album included performances by new contemporary Christian artists MxPx, Joy Electric, Starflyer 59, among others.
At the twentieth anniversary of Green's death, Sparrow Records released another tribute album, Your Love Broke Through: The Worship Songs of Keith Green. The 2002 album contains re-recordings by Rebecca St. James, Michelle Tumes, Chris Tomlin, Twila Paris, Darlene Zschech, Jason Upton, Martin Smith, Charlie Hall, Joanne Hogg, Matt Redman, Paul Oakley, and Sarah Sadler. The album contains contemporary Christian and mainstream artist Michael W. Smith's version of the song There Is One, an unfinished work by Green. Composition of the song was completed by Smith, along with British songwriter and Christian music artist Martin Smith.
On November 27, 2001, Green was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
On April 3, 2006, Green was honored with the ASCAP Crescendo Award at the 28th annual ASCAP Christian Music Awards presentation dinner. His widow, Melody Green, was present to receive the award for her late husband.
In 2011 Melody Green announced that a feature film about Green's life was in development. After the initial producers failed to exercise their contract to obtain the film rights, Melody began to gather a new production team. As of 2013 the film is currently under development.
Besides the first disc release in May 1965 (pictured above), two more Decca disc releases occurred before Donny Osmond took the spotlight.For Him Who Has Ears to Hear (May 20, 1977)
No Compromise (November 9, 1978)
So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt (May 7, 1980)
The Keith Green Collection (August 11, 1981)
Songs for the Shepherd (April 12, 1982)
I Only Want to See You There (March 21, 1983)
The Prodigal Son (August 15, 1983)
Jesus Commands Us to Go! (July 20, 1984)
The Ministry Years, Volume One (1987)
The Ministry Years, Volume Two (1988)
The Early Years (1996)
Best of Keith Green: Asleep in the Light (1996)
Because of You: Songs of Testimony (1998)
Here Am I, Send Me: Songs of Evangelism (1998)
Make My Life a Prayer to You: Songs of Devotion (1998)
Oh Lord, You're Beautiful: Songs of Worship (1998)
The Ultimate Collection (DVD/CD Release) (2002)
Live Experience (CD Release) (April 29, 2008)
Live Experience Special Edition (CD/DVD Release) (April 29, 2008)
Greatest Hits (April 29, 2008)
Happy Birthday to You Jesus (November 23, 2009)
Icon (July 16, 2013)
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: The Best of Keith Green (February 3, 2015)
Keith Green Live (His Incredible Youth) (1995)
The Early Word (February 13, 2009)
No Compromise: Remembering the Music of Keith Green (1993)
Start Right Here: Remembering the Life of Keith Green (2001)
Your Love Broke Through: The Worship Songs Of Keith Green (2002)