On the Minor Leagues
Contemporary Christian Music is a genre comparable to professional football, where there are no minor leagues. You’ve either made it or you haven’t, but you rarely move from one group to another. Group turnover is rare; it is more common for a group with differences to simply disband.
On the other hand, Southern Gospel is more like baseball, where we have a minor league system. We have the local, the regional, the semi-pro, and the professional groups. In Southern Gospel, a typical career path that ends in a professional group will involve a few years spent in at least two of the three lower levels.
Some view this as a flaw in our genre, but I view it as a feature of this distinctively American genre of music no more troublesome than minor leagues in that distinctively American sport. It’s just part of the American way that hard work can bring you to the top, and that success rarely happens suddenly, from being in the right place at the right time without having made any effort to get to that place.
Time would fail me, of course, to tell of all the Southern Gospel legends who became legends over time. Since it is basically all of them, with few exceptions, it would be a waste of time to point out a few individually. (Those few exceptions were usually people like James Blackwood, Howard and Vestal Goodman, or the Speer Family who spent years with their group as a local or regional group before the group made it to the major leagues.)
Why is this?
When a major group hires a singer, they have a vested interest in finding a singer who will stay around for ten or more years, to establish name recognition with the fans and to have the faces on their CDs consistently be the faces seen on stage. How do they find such singers?
They could hire singers who have never traveled with a group. But, if you think about it, it makes sense for a group to hire someone who has spent several years in a less popular group. A major group will seek a singer who can step into his role and already be experienced at blending smoothly. But even more importantly, major groups want to hire singers they they can count on to stick around for a while. Singers who have spent several years in the minor leagues typically know by then if they are cut out for a life on the road, and are ready to step into the spotlight of being a member of a major group.