Jackie Wilburn passes away

Elaine & Jackie Wilburn

Elaine & Jackie Wilburn

Jackie Wilburn passed away this morning at age 74. The patriarch of the Wilburn clan was vacationing with his family in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Funeral arrangements will be handled by Sanderson Funeral Home in Carthage, Tennessee.

Jackie married Elaine Wilburn in May 1959. By the mid-1970s, he became an ordained preacher. They also started touring and singing with their three sons as The Wilburns. The group launched to national prominence in the late 1980s, retiring in 2004. Though they would have several hit songs, including “Outside the Gate,” “When Dust Shall Sing,” and “Resting Place,” their largest legacy is in the careers they launched. When their son Jonathan moved from The Wilburns to Gold City, the rest was history, and Gold City was on its way (back) to the top. 

But that was just the beginning. The list of prominent Wilburns alumni includes, in fact, most of their members: Tony Gore (Tony Gore & Majesty), Loren Harris (Perrys), Ricky Atkinson (songwriter / Ricky Atkinson & Compasson), Troy Peach (Steeles, First Love, Perrys), Michael Helwig (Dixie Echoes), and the list goes on. Rounding out that list are two members of the final (2004) Wilburns lineup, Gary Casto and Josh Singletary, who continue to perform together in their own group, Tribute Quartet.

Jackie Wilburn’s legacy continues today through his family: His son Jonathan and grandson Jordan Wilburn, the second and third generations of the Wilburn clan, recently launched the duo Wilburn & Wilburn, carrying the legacy forward.

Several weeks ago, in what may have been his final concert appearance, Jackie appeared with Elaine, Jonathan, Jordan, and Ricky Atkinson for a Wilburns Reunion concert. SGConcerts’ Diana Brantley was on the scene and posted several videos. Here’s an acappella song featuring Jackie, “The Old Story Will Never Grow Old”:

From the same evening, here are all five singing “Resting Place”:

Other videos from the night include Coming Out of the Wilderness, Let the First One Be Me, and Through it All.

For those new enough to the genre to not have grown up around Wilburns music, check out several more videos of the group in its prime: Coming Out of the Wilderness (1988, featuring a very young Jonathan Wilburn), When Dust Shall Sing (1992), Outside the Gate (1993).

As “When Dust Shall Sing” says:

Since Jesus died, the grave has lost its victory
And if you’re in Christ, death has lost its sting
You see, Christ conquered death, so He opened up the chorus
With voices raised, and shouts of praise, dust shall sing

When dust shall sing, on Resurrection morning… 

This morning brought death, not resurrection. Yet this morning, in the presence of the King, dust is singing.

UPDATE: Here are some comments from Jonathan Wilburn about his father’s last day.

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25 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. This has absolutely broken my heart. D’Jack was like a second father to me. Please pray for Mama’Laine, Jon, Jimmy, Jay and the entire Wilburn family – as well as all the great men and women who traveled with them over the years.

    • Over the years, I was a small-time promoter of gospel music. I remember the first time that I heard the Wilburns. I was driving Interstate 40, in North Carolina, listening to the radio, when I first heard them singing, “God’s Promised Land”. I had to park on the side of the road. I found a venue and booked The Wilburns to sing in Lexington, Tn., not even knowing what they looked like.

      Jordan, it is okay to claim your Djack as your hero. If it is okay Jordan . . . Jackie Wilburn has been one of my hero’s since 1990. I loved the man “In Christ”, the first time I met him.

      Keep looking up. Keep singing for Jesus….and God bless you and the Wilburn family . . . as your family has blessed me and many so much.

      Michael Alexander
      Hendersonville, Tn.

  2. I have been privileged and blessed in my life to have been raised to love and honor Christ and his music. My grandfather promoted Southern Gospel music throughout our part of the country for some years as I was growing up, which afforded me the opportunity to personally meet many different artists on multiple occasions. My grandfather hosted concerts with Southern Gospel greats such as the McKameys, the Kingsmen, the Inspirations, the Bishops, the Spencers, the Isaacs, the Hinsons, the Wilburns, and Tony Gore & Majesty. I have been also blessed to attend the National Quartet Convention for innumerable years, sitting in our familiear “six-rows-from-the-stage” seats. I say all of this thus far to say that Southern Gospel has always been a truly significant part of my life and has been so for many years now.

    Throughout my relationship with this great music, favorite songs and favorite artists ebb and flow from my “favorites” position, as is probably true with most followers of the genre. The artists I listen to most frequently this month might not be heard for a six-weeks period after their “rise to prominence” on my iPod. I have had a lot of “favorites” throughout my years, but if pinned down and made to answer, really only one group would ever roll off my tongue as my true favorite all-time Southern Gospel artists, and that was the Wilburns.

    I have had the distinct honor of meeting this wonderful family from time to time throughout my life. Jackie & Elaine were dear friends of my grandparents, the concert promotors. I have seen them countless time in concert and it is has been a pleasure on each occasion. My last opportunity to see the “original” Wiburns (not truly the orignal, but more actually the lineup that was present during their rise to national recognition) of Jackie, Elaine, Jonathan and Tony Gore for the last time at Tony’s restaurant for the Wilburns Reunion last fall, 2010. What an experience.

    Few could match the sheer excited in the air at a Wilburns event. With the power vocals by Jonathan, Elaine, and Tony on great songs such as “It’s Not So Hard To Praise Him” and “God’s Promised Land” coupled with Jackie’s MC work and (near)preaching episodes, the aura at a Wilburns concert was near uncontested.

    Jackie would get excited and begin to tell stories of his childhood growing up in the “hills of east Tennessee,” he would say, and how his aunts and uncles who helped to raise him were some of the Godliest people he ever knew. My friend Jackie is with his relatives again today, surely more excited now than ever that he is now in the presence of the Master.

    God bless you Jackie and the Wilburns for all that you have meant to this genre.

    • I forgot to add: beautiful obituary Daniel.

      • Yours was just as beautiful.

      • Jordan, thanks! I know that a sizable percentage of my regular readers are relatively new to this genre, and would not be familiar with the Wilburns’ music. (Even I started paying attention right around the time they disbanded.) So when someone like this (who has had the impact but not necessarily the credit) passes away, I feel a responsibility to capture some of that for my readers.

      • You grandaddy was a blessing to me he would always get down on his knees to by my wheel chair to talk to me i will miss him all family in prayers

      • Shane and YGG, this Jordan is not Jordan Wilburn. It’s the Jordan who regularly comments around here; I know his last name, but don’t want to reveal it. It’s not Wilburn, though.

      • You’d think this would’ve given it away…

        “Jackie & Elaine were dear friends of my grandparents, the concert promotors.”

      • Yes, but Shane and possibly YGG missed that, so I just thought I’d make it clear.

      • Sorry for the confusion. I never stopped to think about the correlation between our names, Jordan Wilburn and I.

  3. One of my all time favorite groups. You could feel the spirit when they sang. That is what is most important. May God bless this family during your time of loss. Bro. Jackie is really singing now though. We have the joy in knowing we will meet him again one day.

  4. Michael Helwig was also with the Stamps. The Wilburns really had a lot of talent pass through. Their contributions to the industry is likely very much underestimated by many. I am sure he was very proud of Jonathan and Jordan and their new ministry.

  5. So sad to hear this news. The Wilburns have been a blessing to my family for many years. My prayers are with the entire Wilburn family at this time.

  6. I was so grieved to see the news of this dear brother’s passing. I saw him and Elaine with Jonathan and Jordan here in my town just a few weeks ago, and had a good visit with Elaine and Jackie. I know the strongth faith of this dear family, and I know THEY know where Jackie Wilburn is today, and that we will see him again…and I don’t believe it will be very long. To Jonathan and Jordan, you and all your loved ones…and all who love Jackie Wilburn and what he stands for, you will ever be in my prayers. Much love! Dianne.

  7. A few years back when Gary and Josh were still with the Wilburns, we sang with them in Michigan one very cold and snowy night. As usual we left the generator on to keep the bus warm, and kept the DC powered interior bus lights on as well. When the concert was over the charger system that keeps the bus batteries charged had gone out and our cranking batteries were dead as a hammer. Jackie without anyone asking pulled his coach next to ours and proceeded to get the jumper cables out and connect the two bus’s together. It was a bitter cold night and neither Jackie nor I had proper clothing for such weather. But he endured the cold and the snow until our coach was up and running again. He and I took a few minutes to warm up in the front of their coach and we talked about Bible and Gospel music. I will never forget his willingness to help us that evening. He showed Christian love and charity, and in this day and time, thats hard to find. I am saddened by his passing, and my heart and prayers go out to all the Wilburn Family and extended family. We have lost a great man of God and he will be missed!

    • Ben: Are you the same Ben Harris that sings lead for Southern Sound?
      If so, I wanted to tell you that the current line-up is the best that I can remember you having. Great sound!

      • It’s one and the same … always an honor when he stops by!

      • Yes Dan, they are one and the same. 🙂

  8. As a pastor, there are times when I’ll say something that I consider a throw away line. A few years ago there was a young woman visiting our church, and I knew nothing of her situation. But this lady is suffering from a terminal illness and she “just happened” to be in service on a morning when the subject of the death of a believer was a peripheral topic of the message

    Margie said the words “there is no sadness in going home” has encouraged her greatly, and she no longer fears the ultimate appointment that we all face

    Jonathon and family, I’ve never met your parents but I have had the pleasure of speaking with you while you were with Gold City. From what I’ve read about your Daddy, I do believe that there’s no sadness in going home. May God’s peace be yours in the days, weeks and months to come

  9. What a loss not only in Southern Gospel Music, but in the PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL!!! Our prayers and sympathies to Elaine and the rest of the family. I’ve known these folks for MANY years! I have many notes in my old Bible from Brother Jackie’s sermons.
    What a great example of not only the Preaching the Word of God, but in LIVING IT! We love you all!

  10. Elaine, our hearts are broken for you, we love you and your family, I am go glad Bro. Jackie got to do our homecoming at Oak Grove, if you need us in any way, feel free to call me or Joyce anytime. Just call Oak Grove Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky and it will ring us. You all will always be in our hearts!

  11. Bro. Jackie and Sis. Elaine were friends of my family before I was ever introduced to this earth and I am now 53. My Dad and Bro. Jackie worked side by side as young boys in the hills of Smith County, TN often times praying together and enjoying each other’s company as they made a life by the sweat of their brow. I had the honor and privilige of playing bass for the Wilburns when they were known as the Cumberland Valley Singers in the late ’70’s. Many times we would be returning from a service, the Spirit would start moving, and the next thing you know, we were singing, shouting, and praising the Lord going down the highway! What a blessing it was being a part of such a God-fearing family and to be able to share many holiday gatherings in “Mom’s”, (Sis. Elaine’s), kitchen. I was always made to feel like one of their own son’s. My heart goes out to the entire Wilburn family because not only is this a great loss to their family, but also to ours and the entire Southern Gospel community. Although he left this earth and it’s a loss here, we all know that one day, all of the saints which have been saved by God’s precious grace will meet Bro. Jackie and the saints who have gone on before at the right hand of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ! What a day, glorius day, that will be!
    God bless you all.

  12. This is a lovely tribute. Well written.

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