Has the Super-High Tenor Era ended?

In the quarter century during which the Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen defined the Southern Gospel genre, 1950-1975, the genre’s strongest tenors frequently either had classical training or emulated the stylings of those who did. Denver Crumpler, Bill Shaw, Cat Freeman, and Bobby Clark, among others, set the standard by which the other tenors of their generation were measured.

The following quarter century, 1975-2000, was defined by very different quartets with very different tenors. Gold City, the Kingsmen, and the Cathedral Quartet were the three most popular and awarded quartets of the quarter century. Over the years, the Cathedrals had several very different styles of tenors. But the Kingsmen and Gold City both became known for the same style of tenors. Their tenors used reinforced head tones to reach incredibly high notes, frequently approaching or reaching a full octave above the highest notes of a classical tenor.

Some tenors, including Ernie Phillips, Brian Free, and Jay Parrack, had one-in-ten-thousand freak-of-nature voices which permitted ease and consistency at these notes. While the previous generation of tenors emulated Shaw and Crumpler, this generation of tenors—in local, regional, and national groups—attempted to emulate Phillips, Free, and Parrack. But since most human voices cannot do what they did on a consistent basis, many of these attempts fell short.

By the 1990s, another change was in the air. Tenors like Danny Funderburk and Ernie Haase employed a belting voice technique (defined here) to achieve power tenor notes in a way that reinforced head tones cannot, and to convey emotion in a way that classical deliveries cannot. Funderburk and Haase were, of course, the final two tenors with the most popular quartet of the 1990s, the Cathedrals, and won numerous Tenor of the Year awards along the way.

In the years since, it seems that increasingly few tenors emulate Free, Phillips, or Parrack, and more use belting tones. As a matter of fact, the most remarkable evidence in favor of this point can be found by looking at the current Kingsmen and Gold City lineups. Both employ tenors—Harold Reed and Dan Keeton, respectively—who use the belting technique. Additionally, two of the strongest former Kingsmen tenors still on the road, Jerry Martin and Jeremy Peace, have both moved away from the lighter head tones to a greater emphasis on power belting notes.

The era of the classically influenced tenor is long past—which is regrettable, since they brought something to the genre that no other voice type can bring. Is the era of the super-high tenor also on its way out?

Is belting voice technique the future of Southern Gospel tenor singing?


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122 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Well…someone will comeback and pick up that style again…it seems to me that singers tend to emualte the groups they like…Steve Ladd’s favorite- Brian Free…Dan Keeton’s favorite- Danny Funderburk..
    I will say I love the endings where the tenor is in the rafters and the bass is in the basement…I hope we don’t lose that…like southern gospel or not, those endings will get anyone’s attention!

    • I understand what you’re saying. Singers do tend to emulate the groups they like. And we’re still in an era where the new singers starting out grew up on the classic Kingsmen and Gold City.

      But that’s not quite my point. If today’s favorite groups hire tenors who use the belting voice more than rafters-high tones, the next generation will grow up primarily / only having that to emulate.

      • I also think its because most tenors today are not CAPABILE of singing that requires a tenor to hit those super high notes on the end of a song. Im not talking about the Johnny Parrack or Ernie Phillips soaring style a full octave above the last note. That is not what I call quality tenor singing. That’s showing off. I prefer the Crumpler, Rozell, Shaw style.

  2. Hmmm…I kinda like the Super-High stuff. But it does seem like more top groups are going for a less “extreme” sound.

    Would you consider Archie Watkins a “belter?” He would have been an early one.

    • I’m not sure. With his mountain tenor stylings, he rarely if ever went above what a classical tenor would sing (B-flat over middle C).

  3. You know it is interesting, I never was very fond of Ernie Haase’s voice during his Cathedral years – but today I actually like his voice. Something changed… He always could have pleasant notes etc, but on occasion; there were some very unpleasant sounds during the 90’s. The group was so good – I just tuned it out.

    I guess things are changing.

    JEB

  4. One more thing… I could listen to Greater Vision all day now. Without a doubt – the return of GV’s original tenor is a gift to SG.

    JEB

    • I’m kind of gonna piggy back on what Jeb just said. I believe that right Chris Allman has the most powerful Tenor voice of anyone in Southern Gospel. And Chris can sing high. I also think Jerry Martin will be singing some high stuff with the Kingdom Heirs because of Arthur’s range.

      But I do agree with Daniel that the “super high Tenor” is pretty much gone. There are not too many tenors who are naturally high. Alot of tenors I think are singers who have a higher register voice, but not really a natural tenor.

      • Chris is incredible! And I’m sure Jerry will be hitting some very high notes.

        And yes, some people who would be classically termed baritones have some very, very strong head tone tenor notes and perform as tenors in our industry.

  5. Well just like JEB was saying about ERnie Haas’e voice, that’s how i feel about Brian Free. I think his voice is much more pleasant now with his Assurance, that it was in the early Gold City days. Back then it seemed very schrill.

  6. Maybe groups are going for a more tight-knit “harmony” sound. Less extreme on the top and bottom.

    • Could be. But power tenors often don’t blend quite as tightly as some other sorts!

      • David Phelps I understand is a classically trained singer. Ive noticed when he hits high notes on songs like He Touched Me, his high notes have a hoarse quality, instead of that traditional piercing sound a tenor SHOULD have on a song like that.

  7. Jeremy Peace may actually be the highest tenor singing today. He does still use the tone Daniel described… maybe just not as much as he did with the Kingsmen.

    I do think that style is fading out a bit. However, as long as groups are still singing songs like “Glory Road,” you’ll always have that style. Could you imagine David Phelps singing “Glory Road.” I’m sure it would be great, however, it would be very different.

    • Jeremy and Jerry Martin both can do it, no question – they’re just doing it less often.

      • And I think it is by choice. Ernie Haase has said a lot lately about taking care or his voice so that he can sing as long as he wants to. I think more of the tenors are taking this approach.

      • Remember Jerry and some others are over 40 years old. Ye ole’ voice changes after 40…unless you’re Brian Free! Heard him two weeks ago and he STILL nails it and he’s over 50!

      • Brian’s voice today really doesn’t sound identical to the way it did when he was eighteen – however, I think many of his fans would say that the change has indeed been for the better.

    • Don’t forget about Lil’ Robert Richardson with the Melodyaires. He’s one of the highest in the industry. Especially a few years ago. Look at forgottentenor on YouTube Robert singing Oh what a savior.

  8. I certainly hope so…I love high tenors but I love consistency in groups and pleasing harmonies better. Think Booth Brothers..by his own admission Michael Booth doesn’t even consider himself a tenor (he’s a niner he said), but they are my favorite group…hands down…and according to the fan awards. The majoirty of everyone else’s too. I love the harmony

    • The genre is big enough to accomodate multiple styles, if those styles are done well.

  9. This discussion should hinge on which tenors defined their respective eras vs. which tenors tried to emulate them.

    I’m not sure how many tenors copied Bill Shaw, but there’s not doubt that Rosie Rosell was a huge influence in his day.

    Later it was Johnny Parrack and Ernie Phillips, and then the next generation had Danny Funderburk and Brian Free.

    Up next was Jay Parrack.

    Ernie Haase is another tenor who has been extremely popular as an entertainer, but I don’t hear that many tenors who try to sound just like him.

    Most recently, it’s been David Phelps. No one is capable of sounding just like him, but that hasn’t stopped hundreds of tenors from trying.

    Otherwise, almost any tenor you can think of was either so unique that no one really attempted to copy them (think Larry Ford) or they copied one of the influential tenors I’ve already mentioned.

    • I hear tenors who emulate Haase – Matt Felts, currently with the Dixie Melody Boys, is the first to come to mind.

      • The first time I met Matt, about 10 years ago, I thought that he, fom a distance, looked like Ernie.
        Heard him, and thought he sounded better than Ernie.
        Honestly, that was my first impression.

    • In reply to David Bruce Murray July 20, 2011 statement. I sang tenor in a quartet based in Louisville, Ky. in the early 90s, and I can say there were three tenors I was influenced by, one was Lew Dewitt original tenor of the Statler Brothers, then there was Rosie Rozell, & then Bill Baise tenor for JD Sumner & The Stamps . For me, these three men were the epitome of what a tenor should sound like. And if I was going to sing tenor again for a quartet that’s the style I would still or I wouldn’t do it.

  10. What ever style saves the voice, keeps them singing with quality and promotes the message.
    It’s great to discuss style since I like Brian so much but nothing wrong with Mr. Haas either.

    • In reply to Dave July 20, 2012, As a tenor myself , when I was learning to sing my voice coach told me when singing in my normal range put the same power into it as I would when Im TALKING. When Im hitting a high note, support it from my diaphragm and don’t try to bring the power & volume from my throat. A tenor who is doing that now, is Matthew Hagee who is singing tenor for a new group called Canton Junction. He brings all the power & volume from his throat & when he hits his high notes, he has veins popping out all over his face. He actually makes my head hurt to watch him, but I gotta wonder how long can his voice last singing that way ?

  11. You have to have blend … even the Jay Parrack years of GC had blend. If you don’t have that, no matter the style of tenor, all you have is an ending with no substance in the rest of the song.

    Listen to barber shop quartets … maybe not the same style but the four parts are there and good groups have more blend than most “full time” SG groups.

    I get Daniel’s objective for this post … the reinforced head tones tenors are fewer in number if not gone (not talking about Free, Phillips, or Parrack as they are still going … and going … and going). But given the choice of hearing two tenors singing, say Dan Keeton of GC current vs. a want-to-be Parrack-style that doesn’t really pull it off … I’ll go hear Keeton. (case in point http://youtu.be/JUXVoVXX_MU )

    • I 100% agree with your last point. My wife & I heard Gold City back in May. She commented that Dan Keeton sounded like a voice she had heard before – as in “I should know that voice!” A classic voice. I would agree with her. Not that Gold City’s last several tenor hires weren’t good. I just think Keeton seems to “fit” better. Anyway, sorry for that little bunny trail. 🙂

      • Oh my goodness. I know it has been over a year since you posted this link, but in going back over some older threads I just found it. It is almost unbelievable that “that voice” would emanate from “that body.”

  12. i agree with the comment from 2miles, harmonies are more attractive to true southern gospel music! mayb im biased but listening to Gus Caches of Legacy five who has a gr8 range but harmonies are so tight and arrangements plus the likes of Booth brothers prove that you dont need high finishes all the tym! i cld b biased but thats wat i look for when singing

  13. Actually, *Kurt Young* and Ernie Haase were the Cathedrals’ last two tenors. Kurt Young was short-lived with the group and wasn’t featured on any albums, but he was still there. Sorry if this has been pointed out already.

    • Well, I am aware that he was there for a few months, but it was so brief that I think of him much the same way I do for Chris Collins with Gold City – practically an interim tenor.

      • You mean Chris Cooper?

      • Oops! Yes.

  14. While I loved the voices of Ernie Philips, Brian Free and the other super high tenors, I know it takes a toll on their voices. Maybe they could still treat us to a couple of super high notes during concerts just for those of us who love them and also maintain the health of their voices on the other songs??

    • Stacy – that is viable. However, the three tenors I specifically mentioned, as well as Eric Phillips, Jerry Martin, and a few others, have voices that are so freak-of-nature-ish (since no better term comes to mind!) that they can do this.

      Other tenors – even, at points, later tenors with the same groups – had voices that weren’t *QUITE* as freak-of-nature-ish, and would do damage to their voices trying to do the part.

  15. Anyone want to venture where Johnny Cook would fit in with all of this -would he be a “belter?” And from an earlier era, what about Coy Cook or Laddie Cain from the Florida Boys?
    I like your term, Dan, of “mountain tenor” for Archie Watkins. He and the great Norm Wilson of the Primitive Quartet fill that bill very well. Sometimes, the less polished, the better. You don’t need to grimace and make “American Idol” faces to be real -just be yourself, and let the chips fall wherever.

    • With Johnny Cook, it really would be a guess. I think he used some element of classically influenced full voice to a point, but beyond that point … my mouth just hangs open! 🙂

      • I agree….. And my mind lifts in grateful prayer that he shared that gift through gospel music.

      • As a tenor myself, I have to say, and I know some Johnny Cook fans wont like this, but Johnny did use some headtone. NOT FALSETTO. But, headtone. theres a difference. Again, as a tenor myself I can tell you that tenors are trained to have at least 2-4 of their TOP notes in HEADTONE. We cultivate it to where it sounds natural. But the 2-4 notes in headtone takes the strain off our vocal cords if we have to hit a really high end note and hold it for long period of beats.

    • In my opinion Johnny Cook was/is the BEST tenor ever! Not to say that I don’t have other favs, such as Brian Free, Dan Keeton, David Sutton,Jonathan Price and David Phelps, just to name a few. But there has been no one like him….well maybe one…….. that could even attempt to hit the notes he did…….. David Phelps.

      • For that high tenor clear sound – Curtis Elkins and Johnny Cook

    • Coy Cook definitely fits in to the Crumpler, Rozell, Shaw category .

  16. To someones point earlier…I hope we don’t also lose low bass singing….just to “tighten” the sound…we have had some great bass singers who didn’t sing that low…but I really love it!

  17. One last comment… Chris Allman is the man right now. He is fabulous. I would call him a tenor’s tenor.

    However, my favorite person to ever sing the tenor part was a baritone – Roy Tremble for the Cathedrals.

    Exceptional…

    JEB

  18. Jerry Martin and Chris Allman are the 2 best tenors in SGM right now. Some tenors of the past not mentioned are Willie Wynn who could hit the high note and Sherrill Neilson.

    • As great as Sherrill Neilson was I felt he used too much vibrato. Listen to his version of Walk With Me, and then Gary Buckles version. For MY enjoyment GARYs version was much smoother to listen to.

  19. Keeton is higher than Cobb (who did very well with Gold City, but really had to work to sing the upper notes). But, Keeton doesn’t have the G-A’s above high C that Parrack and Ladd had. I did like a few songs with those freakish high notes and a bass 4 octaves down. That is the one thing Gold City hasn’t had since Ladd left. But, I also like the power tenor way that Funderburk, Phelps, Haase etc. have.

    • Dan is capable of those notes, so obviously, he hasn’t used them yet.
      Keep in mind, the songs on the new recording were arranged, if I remember correctly, for Cobb’s voice.

      As far as Steve goes, I was listening to “Moment of Truth” a few days ago, and had forgot just how good Steve was with them.

      They’re slightly different tenors, yes.
      Yet, in my opinion, if Steve and Dan were “competing” on “Looking For A City”, I have a feeling Dan would be able to go higher and still have a, for lack of a better word, fuller sound.

      • Now that you mention it (well, you mentioned it a while ago ; ) ) I do remember Dan hitting those notes pre-Gold City, but I am talking on songs like “When He Blessed My Soul” or “When He Calls I’ll Fly Away”, I’ve not heard him take them even though Parrack and Ladd had before.

  20. I think that David Sutton has one of the best tenor voices in all of Southern Gospel and doesn’t get the recognition that he should get.

    • Bev – David is indeed a fan favorite, but this post is more a technical post about voice types and less a “who’s your favorite tenor?” post.

  21. Well let me tell you I have heard Brian Free Recently like as recent as last week, and I still don’t think there is a better Tenor in Gospel Music than him. He can still hit those high notes like nobody’s business, and seems to do it with ease. And I also agree that his voice is better now wih Assurance , than it was with Gold City.

    • Brian Free is great, but hes better with Assurance because he built that groups sound around his own voice. There nothing wrong with that Im just saying that’s the difference between the way he sounded with Gold City & the way he sounds with Assurance.

  22. How would you consider Jodi Hosterman’s style? He’s a quality tenor, the notes seem to come out with relative ease and seems to be consistent.

    • Jodi is one of the remaining holdouts in the Free/Parrack style.

  23. Brian Free has the highest natural voice of any tenor I sang with. Technically he sings his highest notes in the same voice he sings his lower notes. He does not have a break point where he has to flip into a head voice to continue up the scale. Along with the fact that he has great vocal control, the tone and texture of his voice does not have a “belting it out” sound even at it’s most forceful output. He really is a vocal freak! ha ha

    • That he is! I’ve heard other people say that, but this is the first I’ve heard someone say that who has sung with him!

  24. One kid who hasn’t been mentioned yet is Riley Harrison Clark. Where does he fit in?

    • Yet to be determined, I think. He’s on a bus with voice coaches, and he’s working to find out what works. He’s tried some classically-influenced full voice and some belting (take the end of “Bring on the Joy,” for example).

      • Some of his tones on “The Waiting Is Over” sounded operatic and Phelps-esque, almost (“Homecoming Day,” for example.) Certainly nothing wrong with that; he has developed so much over his short time with Tribute! Gary Casto knows how to hire.

  25. Go to youtube and type in Johnny Cook singing That Sounds Like Home To Me”. Recorded in the late 70’s. No tuning, no fixing, just “belting it out”. With a natural tenor voice that is unsurpassed.
    I was there when he took the industry by storm.

    • Johnny was a one of a kind talent. Oh, how I wish I could have heard him live!

      • You and me both Daniel!!!

        I’ve always said that Johnny and Anthony Burger are two performers (in their own right) who died far too soon. But everyone dies on Gods time table just saying I would have LOVED to hear Johnny live!!!

      • If I remember correctly, Johnny left SG and was working as a financial guy for a hospital just prior to his death. I wish he had stayed in the business and lived much, much longer.

      • Shane, it is sweet that you wish Daniel could have heard him live too. JK. 😉

      • It was phenomenal ….

      • I would have loved to hear Johnny Cook live as well. The man could sing. I have heard Brian Free live as well. He can put it out there. He and David Phelps are freaks of nature for sure. I heard David Phelps this past December. WOW! What a voice. As a singer, and songwriter, I love to hear different voices out there. To me, that is what makes the music industry so awesome, the uniqueness of the singers voices.

    • I was too!!! He was/is awesome!!! Never will be another like him!

      • Actually I think Johnny was singing tenor for the Statesmen Quartet when they reorganized in the early 90s. I believe he was still with them just before his death. If NOT, he had only been gone from the group a short time when he passed. I went to see them twice in 1991 and they were fantastic. Johnnys solo on A Sinners Plea made me envious as a tenor myself . LOL

  26. You are correct Ed. Johnny was working in that field when he joined the Statesmen in 1992. He had several health issues and decided he had to return to a job that provided good health insurance benefits so he went back to his old job..or at least a similar one. I lost touch with him after he left the group but I would suppose he stayed in that same field until his death.

  27. While blending is very important to me, the high tenor is the life of the song in most cases. A group with no super-high or at least HIGH tenor with a strong part tends to be exceedingly one dimensional. To me, what’s been changing over the years is what Daniel was speaking of, the ‘belting’ sound over the softer, more operatic blending. Have to say I hope to hear more of that…

    • I know I’m picking the best examples, but I really don’t think the Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen were one-dimensional.

      • Daniel, I can tell you for a FACT that the Blackwoods & the Statesmen were not one dimentional. May I suggest you go to Youtube & listen to the Statesmen sing either Happy Am I or Just A Little While, and I would say that not very many of todays groups could sing EITHER of these two songs using the SAME arrangement with JUST a piano. That’s not a judgement, that’s an observation.

  28. I have heard guys like David Phelps referred to as “a tenor with a baritone voice quality”. I believe that he has a once in a generation gift. I don’t always like him as a quartet tenor. (And being a SGM tenor myself he is one of my favorites) I know a lot of people were shocked with the GVB chose Wes Hampton as their tenor. I loved the blending style of tenor and the group was better for it.

    I grew up on the Cathedrals, Gold City etc. I can appreciate both kinds of tenors. I heard Harold Reed just this year and I love how he can be a belting tenor when the time calls for it but also go back to his Dixie Melody Boys/Florida Boys roots and sing a great head tone high note. I miss that.

    • Again as a tenor myself I feel David Phelps is not a true traditional Southern Gospel tenor. he would make a much better lead singer. The higher piercing notes when he hits those notes is just not there.

  29. I think someone mentioned this person once … but I think Ernie Philips’ son Eric Philips has to be in the top best list.

    http://youtu.be/kPp_vy8eIAg

    • Eric is incredible, and I’d rank him at head of class there, or at least tied with Free, if he’d stayed on the road.

  30. A couple thoughts…

    Wasn’t there a tenor with Palmetto State back in the 90’s that reflected a more classical tenor sound? I forget his name…

    I am a big Greater Vision fan. One of the things that has kept me “tuned in” to their music is that while their tenors are more than capable of “belting” a high ending, they don’t feel the need to arrange every song for that purpose. Instead, high notes appear to be used (in most cases) to put an exclamation point on a message in the lyric that calls for extra attention.

    In a conversation with Charles Billingsley a few years ago, I asked him about vocal endurance when singing such a demading schedule in such a high range. He quoted advice he had received from the amazing tenor, Larnelle Harris, “Only unload it when you have to.” Interesting thought.

    • Would that Palmetto State tenor be Brion Carter? That’s who I’m thinking it is in respect to the “classical” sound. He was followed by John Rulapaugh.

      • That’s the one! Thanks.

      • I e-mailed Pat Baker, asking him if he could feature Brion in “Where Are They Now?”
        He said that severall people have already asked about him, but he couldn’t track Brion down.

        I was just listening this afternoon to PSQ’s “When He Blessed My Soul/ Reliving The Sounds of Yesterday” project. Brion, Kerry Beatty, Tony Peace, and Jeff Pearles, re-recorded some songs that date back to the 50’s and 60’s on that project.
        I have to say that this is one superb project.
        REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wish more groups would sing this style of song.
        Brion has a KILLER!!!!!!!!! lead on “Tell My Friends”, best I’ve ever heard anyone sing it.
        WONDERFULL project. Go to Crossraods website and download it for yourself !

      • The last I heard, Brion was driving a truck. He had throat problems.
        I think he was one of the greatest tenors of all time.

  31. “Blending” has always been overrated, in my opinion. The great quartets had great individual singers, the “blending” came second. “Blending”, without the individual talents, gets old fast.

    • Tom Gervat, I have to disagree with you Case in point, Ive always been a Statesmen Quartet fan. My favorite lineup was Rozell-Hess-Ott-Chief. Then when Hess left Jack Toney took his place . Their sound stayed pretty much the same because they had the same blend. There a phenomenon in vocal harmony called a RINGING TONE. This is a tone created when 4 or more voices blend together, & the sound waves created cause notes that are not being actually sung. That is created by the BLEND. Now, in the case of the Statesmen that blend I preferred was there until Jack Toney left & was replaced by lead singer Jim Hill. Later tenor Rozell left & was replaced by Sherrill Neilson. But for me, the blend I like was no longer there. You have to have a COMBINATION of individual talents & blend to make it work. Good example is JD Sumner & The Stamps in the early 1970s. JD had a perfect blend of individual talents there.

  32. I read with intrest about tenors,belting
    and all the nonsense about high singing
    going out of style.

    In europe the pitch has been raise up past 440.Its considerably higher now then
    when Enrico Caruso sang A Bb in his day
    was not high.Today a Bb is now two steps
    higher then 50 years ago.The Diapason has
    been changed,to force the higher pitched
    voices to sing higher to please those who
    want to hear glorious top notes……

    Chdck it out…..Bobby Clark

    • A Bb today is now two steps higher than it was fifty years ago? That is an incredibly fascinating tidbit; I’ll have to investigate that at some point.

  33. Daniel : According to what I read and conversation with my wifes Piano tuner.

    Sorry for the errors in spelling…

    B.C.

    • No problem at all – I understood what you meant.

      • I don’t know what tuning they do over there, but A440 is standard here and that has stayed the same. However, if they are tuning higher there, they yes playing a Bb on a piano would sound higher the same way a capo is used on a guitar here.

  34. I normally like power tenors like Phelps and Funderburk but for smoe reason my favorite tenor ever is Jay Parrack. I think it was because of the songs he sang — they fit his voice so well. Just like the Cathedrals changed a lot of their songs when Ernie jonied the group. There are videos of him doing songs like “I’ve Just Started Living”, but his vioce wasn’t as well suited to it as Danny’s.
    Also, as a sidenote, I have never really cared for Ernie’s style that much. He uses a lot of head voice. The one thing I think he does very well though was when the Cats would do a capella songs. Head voice works very well with that.

  35. Has the super-low bass era ended?

    • No, and I have proof. Tim Riley is still on the road.

      🙂

      (Well, that, and the fact that probably 1/3 of Southern Gospel bass singers try to sing like him, with varying levels of success!)

      • Haha touche.

        But with the addition of more melodic basses recently like Jennings, Davis, and even Owens, I think the question has to be considered.

      • I don’t think Owens is in a new tradition of bass singers; he falls more in line with the long-standing Armond Morales tradition of bass singers. These singers actually have more vocal range overlap with baritone singers, and a tone and timbre much like a baritone singer for most of their range, but are able to go a few notes lower than the typical baritone can.

  36. I think Bill Shaw of the Blackwood Brothers was the best. He not only could sing great but he was a great guy. Very personable and nice to talk to. Wish I could go back to the days when the Blackwood Brothers were still around with James, Bill, Cecil, JD and Wally.

  37. Hey, what about Steve Warren?
    He’s quite like Danny, but has more of a “horn-mid tone” ( I don’t mean that negativly at all!!! Just trying to put in words a way to describe his tone.) A great tenor. Best the Masters V had, in my opinion. Yes, even above Rosie.
    And Terry Franklin? I’d have to say for sure that Terry is belting on the end of “Champion of Love”.

    Would Cris Collins (Kingsmen, after “Shep”, and before Martin) be a belter, or not ?

    • Quaid with due respect, Steve Warren was great, but for me as a tenor myself, Rosie Rozell wrote the book on singing tenor.

      • Another tenor that dosent get much attention these days is Eddie Broome. Eddie sang tenor for the Palmetto State Quartet in the early 1990s. His solos on such songs as The Great Physician & Its In Your Hands was fantastic.

  38. In my opinion John Parrack was the best tenor of all time. He had such a smooth voice for singing the lead in a song and had the ability to go higher than anyone I have ever heard as effortlessly as I have ever seen. Watch his performance on the Kingsmen 40th anniversary tape for examples. He is often forgotten because his traveling days with the Kingsmen ended in 1977.
    Another great tenor from that era was Curtis Elkins who sang with Bob Wills and the Inspirationals for many years. And Willie Wynn was an all-time great as well.

  39. I may be able to provide some small insight here. I’m training as a tenor and currently sing high tenor for my college group. I’ve learned a little bit about classical classifications for voice and can say with some confidence that Jay Parrack, Earnie Philips, and the most recent one I know, Jodi Hosterman, would classically be called “tenore leggiero”. I learned this after unlocking my high range imitating Jodi and Jay. The leggiero tenor shifts into head voice at G# or A and can take this form of full voice up to at least the D# above the high tenor C. Some can go as high as F. What really sets this Voice type apart is the ease and consistancy or tone from chest voice through middle voice through head voice all the way up to falsetto. Jay’s highest note on the 2000 NCQ “Get up get ready” was falsetto. But because of it’s strength and the smooth transition, it can be used like full voice. This type of tenor is rare to find. This voice type has no “belting” high ability, and since an untrained singer usually belts, a leggiero tenor can walk around his whole life with the range of a baritone. I found my high voice in my third year of college after singing for two years. Jodi also found his high voice after singing for years. It’s not quite a freak of nature voice (though some of my friends think I am a freak) but it is hard to find. Maybe the christian desire to be manly reduces the desire and willingness to become tenors?

    • Jonathan, that is fascinating! Thanks! I assume the G#/A you are talking about are the ones above middle C?

      What I can’t figure out is how a few tenors – Ernie Phillips and Jeremy Peace among them – can go a half-octave beyond even that, singing B-flats and Cs two octaves above middle C. Those are the genuine freaks of nature. 🙂

    • Jonathon Glass, you gave an interesting insight. As a Southern Gospel quartet tenor myself I can tell you from MY training, a quartet tenor singing in classical music would be categorized as a counter-tenor. You are right however in your evaluation of Jay Parrack, voice coaches discourage tenors using falsetto because it sounds too thin. I was trained to maintain 2-4 notes above my last natural top note, which is a high C. I have 2-4 headnotes above THAT if I need to hold that last note for a long period of beats. I have cultivated those headnotes so they sound natural. When singing in my lower or chest tone, I was taught to sing with the same power I use to talk . But to support it with my diaphragm as I do my higher notes.

  40. Let me ask something here: is “lyric tenor” an appropriate term for singers like Dan Huskey, Cat Freeman, Bill Shaw, Tommy Atwood, and others who had the style perdominant in the 50’s/60’s?.
    thefreedictionary.com says this:
    a. Having a singing voice of light volume and modest range.
    b. Of, relating to, or being musical drama, especially opera: the lyric stage.
    c. Having a pleasing succession of sounds; melodious.
    d. Of or relating to the lyre or harp.
    e. Appropriate for accompaniment by the lyre.

    Of course, the latter 2 don’t apply to southern gospel.

    And what about a “lyric bass”?
    Perhaps Pat Baker, Mike Jennings, Ed O’Neal, and Rex Nelon could be described as such. What do you think?

  41. As for the original question….. no, the super high tenor era has not ended.
    2 days ago, I watched the 2000 NQC “Get Up, Get Ready” video, Jay did G# 5, from my understanding. Yesterday, I watched the “Heather sings opera” video that Sisters uploaded.
    Well, it either inspired me, or made me crazy: this morning, I was messing around, recording “Get Up…”‘s last chorus acapella.
    Brace yourselves……… a bass singer hit a G# 6 on the end. You may not want to hear it, but anyway, I did it, by golly!

  42. To answer Daniel, yes those notes (G#\A) are in the 4th octave, right above middle C. C5 is the high tenor C, C6 is the soprano C. I have heard that Jeremy Peace of the Old Paths (another leggiero tenor I recently discovered) can hit a soprano C using that strong leggiero falsetto. The highest I’ve gotten is an A#, so yeah, even for a tenore leggiero that’s pretty freakish. Interestingly, many lower voices have a very high falsetto. It lacks the natural quality of a leggiero tenor voice, but can exceed the tenor’s range. If you look up ‘countertenor’ or ‘falsettist’ you’ll find some male sopranos who’s voice type is that of a baritone, but have chosen to a devolop a womanly falsetto instead. Noticeably lacking in that type of singing is the hardness or ‘edge’ that Tenors like Parrack or Phillips highest notes had.

    I would say that tenors like funderburke, Haase, and probably the majority of modern tenors would fall into the ‘lyric’ or ‘spinto’ tenor voice fach. Capable of much more power than a leggiero voice, but lacking some of the hight. On the lowest end Archie Watkins is probably a dramatic tenor, without the range for a readily accessible high C, but a possessing lot of richness, volume and Power. A lot of lead singers are probably dramatic tenors or lyric baritones since it takes a fairly high range to complete a chord that has a high tenor note at the top. Some voice teachers no longer follow the old German ‘Fach’ system, but I think that’s a mistake since trying to force a powerful belted sound out of my high range can cause damage and voice loss, while trying to get a thin leggiero sound from a heavier tenor has the same effect. I’m hardly an expert, you can find most of this info with simple google searches. 🙂

    The classical singing technique is radically different from what the vast majority of modern singers use. It connects the chest voice up into the high notes using some concepts like larengeal tilt, and although it is a fuller sound, it is not well suited for most gospel singing. It requires a lot more training and concentration, and precludes most personal style. While a powerful lyric tenor may be able to imitate the classical sound somewhat, even in older music I haven’t heard many who were truly using the technique. Singers who do not will almost always have a lighter ‘headier’ sound, some call it ‘metallic’ even when they richen their voices and use vibrato. A classical high note is usually, for lack of a better description, rounder, with a chesty, almost shouty quality. The only exception being leggiero tenors like the well known Juan Diego florez. I’m sorry for rambling, I just find the study of voices to be fascinating. 🙂

    • No need to apologize! I find this fascinating! 🙂

    • To Jonathon, I as a Southern Gospel tenor can sing along with my favorite classical tenor Luciano Pavorotti, I can hit the same notes he can hit. The difference is in the texture. My texture is similar to his until I get to some of the high notes, then MY texture is more counter – tenor. But my end notes in that range are more upper alto quality.

  43. I would like to comment on “Tenor’s” I am one. When singing with the Origi nal Cathedral Quartet,Glen,Danny,George
    we all agreed,when you can’t sing,don’t know how to sing correctly,many tenors revert to belting. Which is forcing
    the legato line in your range.I am 77 now my voice is still in tact……. My good friends Bill Shaw,Denver Crumpler which have been mentioned in these replies can and have sung all genre of music,there are many tenors who have been in gospel quartet music. I started singing quartet music while studying voice at College,and then Wayne State
    University in Detroit,with Mr.Every Crew,Then on a scholarship to Cleveland Institute of Music,with Miss Elenore Steber,I have had good basic teaching. I am writting these things not to boast,or to brag,I think I am the only tenor who has sung in major Operetic works,with two Companies. I have many recordings doing this.I intent to put them on
    CD’s soon.All major aria’s in live performance……..My experience says to those who are wanting to
    “Belt when they sing”……Don’t do it,that kind of vocal reproduction will last a while,until you won’t be able to sing…….

    My best to all love to sing……Dr.Bobby Clark B.A.,D.D.,

  44. I have to wonder if the audiences have changed a bit. I’ve learned that to many, my voice, and those like it, is not well liked. Modern country, rock, even broadway, are dominated by belt singers. The judges on America. Idol tell people they need “more power”. With such music and singing being piped into even conservative Christian homes, power has become the watchword. Even my group director at college makes much ado about “power”. Although good gospel tenors do not belt, tenors with a powerful head voice do seem to be the pick of the day. In opera also, I’ve seen much criticism of Juan Diego Florez, a leggiero tenor, for his lightweight voice. Personally I’ve always loved that light heady sound, long before I found my own voice. But it seems to be a voice type with a love/hate relationship with the audience. Love it or hate it, with more hate going around these days.

    • Jonathan, I don’t understand why people have criticized Juan Diego Florez , I have heard him and I think he is a great tenor. Certainly one of the finest tenors his age Ive herad in a long time.

  45. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard Jonathan Price? He is a Phenomenal tenor in my opinion. He is UP THERE. I think you’d love him, if you haven’t heard him. He was with the Dixie Melody Boys for a long time, then he was with The Dove Brothers for a good while. Listen to him if you haven’t heard him.

  46. I have always enjoyed the pleasing tenor singers, such as Bill Shaw, Bobby Clarke, Larry Ford and Brion Carter. The shrill screechings of some tenors just do not sound like music. As an example, [EDIT: Oh, dear, let’s not go there. Naming names with this sort of description would fall outside of the comment guidelines.] had a pleasing voice in a lead singer’s range, but when he sang tenor and tried to hit the high notes, it sounded like finger nails across a chalk board.

  47. Two names I didn’t see mentioned….Jim Murray and Rosie Rozell. I’m not sure you would call either the best but they should be mentioned. Both could do well on solo parts AND blend in the quartet.

  48. Was Ronnie Booth Sr. from the Rebels Quartet mentioned,….smooth as silk,,,and very nice in the blending field,….his son Michael kinda sounds like him.Roger McDuff of the McDuff Brothers another great tenor!! Oh…and then there was Roy McNeil…smooth!!!

  49. Dont know which group he would fit in but I always liked Pat Hoffmasters voice. He had such an awesome solo voice. He had a pleasant sound even on the high notes. Sorry I guess its kind of like the discussion on bass simgers. As for me I prefer a good singer over someone who can make the rafters rattle or destroy a subwoofer. Got say I do love Jay Parrack. He could hit those notes and still be relatively pleasant to listen to.

  50. What about Kirk Talley? Where would he fit in? Have not seen anyone mention him. He is also a great songwriter as well. Gotta love the Talley’s. 🙂

  51. I am a countertenor. I sing in the choir at the church I attend. We do contemporary Christian Music, and Praise and worship. There are times when the tenor keys are too low for me that I have to sing the alto parts. A lot of times I have to sing a First Tenor key, if the song has one, to be able to comfortably sing and harmonize.

    • However, I do not use falsetto. Just wanted to put that out there. LOL!

  52. Grew up on the Statesmen and Blackwood Bros. First show I saw was in 1960. Loved Rosie and Bill Shaw. However, I will take the high “freaky tenors” of the last 20 years hands down.

    Somebody said they are “1 in 10,000”. Not a chance! Try “1 in a few million”. They don’t grow these guys on trees. However most of these guys burn out by their early thirty’s. Look at Jerry Martin. He is a prime example of Tenor burnout. Can’t do that stuff to your voice and note pay the price. I know … I burned my voice out by 40.

  53. Thomas Ryant, tenor with the group the Fantastic Violinaires, a southern gospel group has the greatest sound that I have heard in years, he is definitely a tenors, tenor. Saw them live in LA a few weeks ago and they were Fantastic!!!!