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)!
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.
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.