Oftentimes, some Southern Gospel singer’s actions make him controversial. But it seems that there are a few whose voices alone are controversial.
If you read Southern Gospel message boards, it is quite possible that the most-discussed controversial voice is that of Brian Free. Does he sing in falsetto, as some claim, full chest voice, as others claim, or head voice, what many music professionals say is that voice lying between falsetto and chest voice in sound quality?
Another controversial voice is Michael Combs. He has a certain voice quality that someone on the Singing News message boards is imitated only by Kermit the Frog. Even though I have never heard Kermit the frog, that observation was decidedly memorable.
Yet another would be Jay Parrack. Jay, tenor for Gold City for ten years, sang one of the most consistently high tenor parts ever sung in Southern Gospel, generally singing well into the high soprano range. Some people liked it, some did not.
It seems that most controversial voices tend to be tenor voices, but at least one bass singer has often been discussed in recent months. Paul David Kenamer, of the trio Valor, uses a vocal technique known as vocal fry to produce extraordinarily low notes. On songs such as Valor’s rendition of “How Great Thou Art,” Kenamer hits a low C. While many think this is the same low C as J.D. Sumner would hit on “Lonesome Road,” some, including (if I recall correctly) no less an august personality than David Bruce Murray, speculated that it could be the C below the lowest note on the piano. [EDIT, 6/6/12: Broken link removed.]
Southern Gospel is a genre driven by vocals. In fact, in the old days of Southern Gospel music, all that was had for any given concert was four voices and a piano or guitar. So performers had to keep the audience entertained for an hour and a half on the basis of their voices alone. This is why Southern Gospel, perhaps more than any other genre, seeks and attracts singers who are (vocally) freaks of nature. And freaks of nature are bound to be controversial.