Guest Post: The Vocal Highs and Lows of Gospel Music’s Greatest Quartet Man

Please join me in welcoming Brian, whom you have frequently talked with in the discussions here, for his first guest post. And what a way to start! It is safe to say that this is one of the most extraordinary posts ever to appear on this site!

This project was born from my quest to obtain every album on which my all-time favorite gospel singer, Mark Trammell, has appeared. My inherent nerdiness eventually led me to try to find out just how wide his impressive vocal range was. What you are reading now is a result of many dollars spent on music, and many hours of listening to songs. But those are dollars and hours I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I made a list of every song Mark has been featured on in a recording since he joined the Cathedral Quartet in 1980. I defined a “feature song” as one in which Mark sings by himself for an extended period (typically at least a verse). The final count of songs was 154 (130 of them unique, not including different recordings of the same song), spanning his recording career with the Cathedrals, Greater Vision, Gold City, and the Mark Trammell Trio/Quartet, as well as his solo work. I then listened to every song and recorded the highest and lowest notes he hits in the song, while singing solo (including harmony notes would have overcomplicated the project). I got help from Daniel Mount himself on one song, from a Cathedrals album I don’t yet have. Unfortunately, I don’t have the albums from Mark’s days with the Kingsmen and the Senators, so this list is admittedly incomplete. Maybe an update will be in order one day.

The spreadsheet containing the data can be found here: /reference/cathedral-quartet/mark-trammell/range. There you will find the full list of songs, with their high and low notes, and ranges. The notes are translated to numerical values, as explained at the top of the spreadsheet.

Here are the highlights (and “low”lights)!

Highest Notes

Bflat5 – “He Keeps Me Singing”, Treasures of the Heart: Volume 1, Solo, 2003
Mark climbs the ladder with a big finish, hitting his first recorded high B-flat at the end of the song. This would be a good time to mention that none of these high notes are cheap; they are all in full voice, and exceedingly powerful.

Bflat5 – “If Only Just a Few”, Always Have a Song, Mark Trammell Trio, 2008
Perhaps overshadowed by “Loving the Lamb” on the same album, this is a tremendous, huge ballad with an equally strong message and arguably an even more dramatic arrangement. Mark’s knocks a B-flat out of the park near the end of the song to put icing on the cake.

A5 – “Go Jonah”, Oh Happy Day, Cathedrals, 1982
This gospel remake of the Oak Ridge Boys’ classic “Elvira” is certainly one of the most unique songs in Mark’s recording career. It’s also the feature song where he is consistently the highest, never dropping under the A-flat below middle C, and topping at a high A natural.

A5 – “Come on Home”, Travelin’ Live, Cathedrals, 1986
One of my all-time Trammell favorites, and one I’d love to see his quartet record some time. Mark’s impressive range is just part of what makes this song special. The Spirit-led spontaneity of “Go ahead, sister” in the repeated second verse makes the song. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, find a copy today.

A5 – “Look for Me (Around the Throne)”, I’ve Just Started Living!, Cathedrals, 1989
Mark takes the last verse from George and gets a-way up there.

A5 – “Calvary Came Through”, Renewed, Gold City, 1994
Mark hits a high A at the beginning of the bridge, which is a chorus of the hymn “I will Glory in the Cross”. A trend-setter for his tenure with the quartet, it was the first of the powerful ballads that he would record on almost every Gold City project he was on.

A5 – “He Who Was and Is to Come”, Pressed Down, Shaken Together, Running Over, Gold City, 2001
With another power ballad, Mark finishes his Gold City tenure on a high note…literally.

A5 – “Even Thomas Couldn’t Doubt It”, Once Upon a Cross, Mark Trammell Trio, 2007
Mark finishes high on the second verse of this up-tempo number.

A5 – “Once Upon a Cross”, Once Upon a Cross, Mark Trammell Trio, 2007
One of many songs about the cross that Mark delivers with power and conviction. More on this one later.

A5 – “Heaven Came Down”, Treasures of the Heart: Volume 2, Solo, 2007
One of my favorite hymns, with a high finish.

Lowest Notes

E2 – “More Than You’ll Ever Know”, This Time, Mark Trammell Trio, 2005
Mark reaches down into a bass range on this largely forgotten song. Most of these lowest notes are very quick drop-downs, but are still legitimate pitches.

E2 – “Once Upon a Cross”, Once Upon a Cross, Mark Trammell Trio, 2007
While most of the high notes are at or near the end of songs, logically, most of the low notes are toward the beginning. This is no exception. Notice that this song is on the “highest” and “lowest” lists…

F2 – “Show Me the Cross”, Standing in the Gap, Gold City, 1995
Mark shows off a rich, low baritone range in the verses of this country-flavored tune.

F2 – “Hold Me”, Vintage Gospel, Mark Trammell Trio/Quartet, 2009
This is on-average the lowest song Mark has been featured on, never rising above the G below middle C. He sings it only one half step above where George Younce recorded it in 1988.

The lowest sustained note Mark has recorded is a G2, which he hits with authority on solo recordings of “Until Then” (Treasures of the Heart: Volume 1) and “How Great Thou Art” (Treasures of the Heart: Volume 2).

Largest Range (# of half-steps)

29 – “Once Upon a Cross”, Once Upon a Cross, Mark Trammell Trio, 2007
Mark covers 30 half steps (E2 to Bflat5) in his recording career, and he spans 29 of them (two and a half octaves) in this one song. In other words, this is without a doubt one of his most impressive vocal performances.

25 – “More Than You’ll Ever Know”, This Time, Mark Trammell Trio, 2005

24 – “Calvary Came Through”, Renewed, Gold City, 1994
Gold City gives Mark a two-octave workout in his first feature with the group, and he doesn’t disappoint.

24 – “The Lighthouse”, King’s Gold 4, Gold City, 1996
Parker Jonathan does an admirable job on the first verse, but Mark steals the show with a fantastic, and fully live, 2-octave range on the second.

24 – “He Who Was and Is to Come”, Pressed Down, Shaken Together, Running Over, Gold City, 2001

24 – “Until Then”, Treasures of the Heart: Volume 1, Solo, 2003

24 – “How Great Thou Art”, Treasures of the Heart: Volume 2, Solo, 2007

24 – “Loving the Lamb”, Always Have a Song, Mark Trammell Trio, 2008

One amazing thing about Mark Trammell’s voice is that it hasn’t lost any steam after over 30 years in gospel music. Most of these two-octave songs are in the most recent decade of his career. Most recently, he goes from a low A-flat to a high A-flat on the Mark Trammell Trio/Quartet’s biggest hit to date.

This post has obviously been primarily about the vocal abilities and performances of one of the greatest singers in the history of gospel music. But Mark Trammell would be the first to tell you that all of that means nothing compared to what is done for the kingdom of God. Few if any gospel music artists can claim his vocal track record, but just as few have as strong a testimony of service to Jesus Christ. I can’t help but think that he’ll be one of God’s featured singers in heaven one day. And he’ll be singing whatever part he wants.


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23 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Wow… This was detailed and a huge amount of work. His range is incredible. I’ve always wondered if he wasn’t motivated by George Younce who had a very impressive range himself.

    I love to hear Mark sing alone – and he is the ultimate trio/quartet baritone. None finer…

    JEB

    • It was a huge amount of work! I was thrilled to be the one to run this.

  2. I believe Mark is the most under-rated singers in SGM! He is the common denominator in 4 of the greatest groups (IMO) in the history of SGM. He is very, very, under-rated. I have often wondered if it’s because of his strong conservative appearance, as well as his high moral “Biblical” standards that he seems to live by. Good article Daniel! I’m thankful for your “nerdiness!” 🙂

    • I can’t take credit – this is a guest post. 🙂

  3. Wow!! Way to go, Brian! You did awesome! And meet a fellow geek when it comes to this stuff.

  4. Thanks for the compliments so far. I honestly did this for fun. I didn’t consider it “work” really at all. Daniel graciously offered to host it, which was never my goal. But I hope people enjoy it.

  5. I’ll kick of some related discussion. What are some of your favorite Mark Trammell feature songs over the years? As an admitted MT nerd, I have to separate by group:

    Cathedrals:
    1. Come on Home
    2. Scars and Stripes
    3. He Saw What I Could Be
    4. He Didn’t Come Down
    5. Master Builder

    Greater Vision:
    1. He Is Mine
    2. Stand in Awe
    3. Unworthy
    4. I’ve Got a Love
    5. In the Shelter of His Arms

    Gold City:
    1. Between Me and the Storm
    2. Calvary’s Hill
    3. When He Knocked on the Door of My Heart
    4. Calvary Came Through
    5. Mercy Rescues Me

    Mark Trammell Trio/Quartet:
    1. Loving the Lamb
    2. If Only Just a Few
    3. Let Me Bring Your Children Home
    4. It’s Jesus
    5. Even Thomas Couldn’t Doubt It

    • “Master Builder” with the Cathedrals is awesome.

      “Loving the Lamb” is really cool with the MTT.

      I honestly have heard that much of Mark’s stuff, so this is just fun for me to watch.

      I have to say though, and maybe this is heresy, but I actually prefer Doug Anderson on “He Didn’t Come Down.” Is that heresy, Brian?

      • *haven’t heard, sorry

      • No, not heresy. The Ground is Level is one of the 2 EHSS CDs I don’t have, so I haven’t heard Doug’s rendition. He is an excellent singer, though…the best in the group.

      • Mark’s recorded version of “He Didn’t Come Down” isn’t his best. He did it live better and could do even better now I am sure.

  6. Oh sorry I see that now. Great job Brian!

  7. I think Mark is wonderful also!! I always wondered how and why he moved from one ‘a list’ group to another? He must have had a sterling reputation to have been able to do that as much as he did.

  8. I knew Mark had hit an E2 up to a Bb5, but it is nice to have all of the songs together in organized fashion like this.

    As far as Mark leaving groups. The move from the Kingsmen to the Cathedrals was a big one. He was able to be out front all of the time (meaning singing) instead of essentially (I believe) a bass guitarist / sometime vocalist).

    I don’t know this, but I suspect he left for Greater Vision in part at least because maybe he saw that the Cathedrals would retire or have to stop and wanted to get something else going. I have no proof, but think this could be the case. Or he might have just been ready for a change. I have some other suspicions, but won’t post them. It was evident that the Cats loved him and he loved them for sure. That doesn’t have anything to do with my other opinions. He also gave them a lot of years.

    Daniel had an interview here that I believe told about going to Gold City to preach and then after they started booking Sunday dates, he moved on.

    He is an awesome vocalist. Even though I have a similar range, man, I wish I had his voice.

    • I’m with you – he’s explained each of his other switches, and while I’ve heard him tell the story of him talking Gerald Wolfe up on what was practically a dare, “You’d never leave the Cathedrals to start a group with me!” – I don’t know why he did.

  9. I don’t want to over state this, but for me, Mark is the baritone all other baritones are measured by. The man is in a class by himself.

  10. Mark Trammell has always been one of my favorite singers. I’ve learned many of my placements just from listening to him sing over the past 20 plus years.

    Here’s a YouTube clip from this past NQC that I just found. I love watching and listening to him sing harmonies like these. When you’re someone who is very interested in learning the mechanics of singing, especially this kind of music, Mark Trammell is one of the masters.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoLCWCW7kBE&NR=1

  11. Mark Trammell definitely got better as the years passed. In his early years with the Cathedrals he was just above average. Roy Pauley stated the same opinion in a Singing News article. Around the mid eighties he hit his stride to become a great singer. The Cathedrals group with him and Danny Funderburk was the best

    • I agree…the Cathedral Quartet with Mark and Danny (circa 1984-1989) had amazing vocal ability, and more importantly, the power of God on them.

  12. Brian,

    I must confess I wouldn’t know a “Bflat5” if it fell on my head –

    However, I do know a thorough piece of detective work when I see it!

    I do rate Mark, and his longevity is fast becoming legendary in SG. That he moved through a tenure in some of the greatest quartets in SG history is testimony to his qualities.

    Master Builder is not my fave song, but, George did say the best rendition was on the Cathedral’s Reunion video – an awesome landmark which should be re-released on DVD!

    BTW: This kind of thorough appraisal is welcome on other SG legends – how about doing George and Glen too?

    I wonder who has the greatest “live performance” recorded range in SG?

    • I believe the greatest live performance recorded range I’ve ever seen in SG is here:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oS118_-Qelg

      This tenor, former Kingsmen tenor Jeremy Peace, can sing all the way from a C two octaves above middle C to a credibly rich and low bass part.

    • David, it’s the B flat above middle C. Do you know where middle C is? 😉

  13. Sure enjoyed this article, Brian. There are many songs that Mark sings that I love so I can’t pick out a favorite. Mark is certainly an awesome singer & a great Christian. They don’t come any better!