The two greatest singers of our lifetime

In a recent Tumblr post, Mark Lowry linked to a video of David Phelps and Sandi Patty, asking, “Why hasn’t Broadway discovered the two greatest voices of our lifetime?”

I read that and thought, “Now this could be an interesting discussion.” Who would you say are the two greatest singers of our lifetime, from any genre, and why?

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151 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. I would have to think about who the two greatest are for awhile, but I am certain of one thing: they are not David Phelps and Sandy Patti.

    • Well, rather than stating the proposition negatively, who is not, let’s try to focus on the positive part of the equationβ€”who is. πŸ™‚

      • i like the two you have mentioned, however i think the best is TIFFANY COBURN. she has sung with Sandy Patti and when Sandy Patti could not hit the high notes Tiffany did it for her. Sandy and David are great together.

        tiffany is on you tube, she singes with voices of liberty at epcot, she is on staff at first baptist in orlando and has also won awards with the sweet adelines. she is a wonderful christian lady. she has been at gaithers. iw ish someone would give her the break she needs. please listen to her on you two.


        donna kenchel

      • hand down it would be george younce and vestal goodman

  2. Let the fur fly. πŸ˜‰ I am personally glad they haven’t discovered them. πŸ™‚ I presume he linked to their duet that they did on the “Mark Lowry on Broadway” video. Those two are arguably two of the best in Christian music in my opinion. I like stuff from both as well. I think saying they are the greatest in our lifetime in any genre is probably pushing it. Nonetheless, when you get into that there are several factors. Some would like the more pure singing of Charlotte Ritchie or the more pop sound of Steve Perry or the smoothness of Peter Cetera instead of the classical leaning. Others would find Emmylou Harris or Sonya Isaacs whatever her last name is now :). So, to me, even finding two greatest in any one genre is tough as we have different tastes. To do so in all genres, at least for me, is too hard.

    • Surely you can at least try. πŸ™‚

      • I don’t know. It is hard for me to pit some of my favorites against other favorites. That is within each genre even. It is hard to compare apples and oranges. Some picked John Rulapaugh as greater than David Phelps some years ago. Although I disagree from a technical standpoint, I can see how Rulapaugh is great for his type of tenor which apparently many preferred over Phelps’ more classical technique. By the way, don’t call me Shirley. πŸ˜‰

      • Shirley Goodnest and Marcy shall follow me… πŸ™‚

        It is indeed a hard challenge. I wouldn’t have thrown out a discussion topic like this if it had been easy! πŸ™‚

  3. I’m inclined to say that one of the two is Mark Trammell. I’m still mulling over the other.

    • Thanks….I second.

  4. Well, this is my personal opinion so take it with a grain of salt My first choice is Mark Trammell. He can sing pretty much anything and has made a name for himself in Southern Gospel. I could see him doing Country Music and being as big as George Jones. He is Just that Good. I wish he wwold do gospel solo album Country Style.That would be awesome.

    My second hoice is…..Gonna have to dip into the Country Genre for this pic. Martina McBride..Her voice is addictive whether she is singing a slow ballad or a fast uptempo song. She like Mark can take any son make it their own and own it. The power behind her voice is amazing and her tenderness on a slow song is a breath of fresh air.

    My opinion….But I could be wrong….It all comes down to taste.

    • Taste is part of it, but it’s not all of it – there is a certain level of technical competency necessary in the individuals selected for someone’s taste in the matter to be taken seriously. πŸ™‚

  5. Without a doubt, when considering the best singers (both secular and Christian), I have to include Larnelle Harris. He was at our church recently and is so technically sound and has such vocal control (in his 60’s now, I believe). He hasn’t lost much range over the years either which is a testament to his mastery of vocal technique.

  6. There is a difference between a singer and an artist. A singer sings a song, and an artist creates a masterpiece when they sing the song. There are many singers, far fewer artists.

    One such artist, to my hearing at least, is Taranda Greene. She does not merely sing, she creates art.

    For some of our SG singers, some of them mentioned above, I don’t think they would be widely accepted outside our genre. Some of them, while great at singing SG, are too styelized to make it any where else. (ducking and running for cover!)

    Other singers in our genre are versatile enough to make it anywhere, singing anything.

  7. When I think of the “BEST” singers of our lifetime, I would naturally think of an individual who could sing DIFFERENT styles of music. I think Phelps would absolutely be in the conversation. Michael English, Larnelle Harris, Gerald Wolfe, TaRanda Greene, Bobby Clark, Russ Taff, Ivan Parker, Sonya Isaacs, Steve Perry, Brad Delp, Steve Porcaro, Robert Plant, Adele, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Luther Vandross, Sting, Vince Gill, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles.

    I think there would be a few other southern gospel artists that could sing in some form, other styles of music. But I’d also say that all of those names mentioned above could fit right in to a southern gospel style.

    But if we’re talking straight southern gospel folks who could not sing most other styles yet still be considered the best and most “unique” voices, I think you would be putting the Mark Trammells, George Younce’s, Scott Inmans, Danny Funderburkes, and so forth. I think you’ll be having 2 very different lists.

    This is a good conversation, but in the end…it’s how you define “best”. I think of the best voices as TREMENDOUS voices that may sing 2 or 3 or more different styles of music (secular or Christian), and could do it well.

    • Sure miss your blogs… Please update and write more often.

      • When I first saw your comment come through via email, I thought it was directed to me! (One post each day isn’t enough! Come on! πŸ™‚ )

        But I agree, I’d love to see more from FNR.

  8. Elvis and Elvis

  9. I’m not even going to attempt to come up with the “two greatest”.

    Some names that jump out to me in SG as having truly “great” voices (in their prime, at least) are Mark Trammell, Gerald Wolfe, Michael English, and David Phelps. I believe any of those could transcend genres if they cared to.

    Outside of SG, I’ve always admired Vince Gill and Alison Krauss.

  10. From the SoGo world my favs are:

    George Younce
    Kim Hopper

    But, in all genres:

    Male: Luciano Pavoratti
    Enrico Caruso
    sentimental fav: Colm Wilkinson (Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera)

    Female: Cecilia Bartoli
    sentimental favorite: Rosemary Ashe (Carlotta in the original Les Miserables)

    But, have you seen the teenage boy that was on Britain’s Got Talent? The act name was Charlotte and Jonathan and I would recommend seeing it on YouTube if you haven’t already heard about them. Wow, he is a brilliant talent and so humble and shy.

  11. David Phelps definitely belongs in the conversation. While I’m not a fan of her life style or secular music, Mariah Carry’s Christmas music has shown her voice is amazing and, in my mind, deserves to be in the conversation.

  12. I don’t really have what I would call “the Greatest” of all time, but I will note my favorite ones:

    BASS – George Younce
    BARITONE – Mark Trammell
    LEAD – Jake Hess or Jack Toney
    TENOR – David Phelps/Danny Funderburke (vastly different, but both brought MANY fans to see their respective groups!)

    FEMALE SINGER – TaRanda Greene

    PIANIST – Lucas Shrout (He is a talent in my religious affiliation, and he is totally amazing!)
    Within the SG industry, I’d have to go with Gerald Wolfe.

  13. Almost an impossible task to choose just in SG, but to include any genre?

    That said, the two greatest in my lifetime (in SG) are Gerald Wolfe and Kim Hopper.

    In any genre? Wow… Freddy Mercury and Patsy Cline

    • Ohhh yeah… Freddie Mercury. Forgot about him. He was insanely good. I could hear him singing Southern Gospel tenor with ease.

      • Bwahahahaha. That one made me laugh. I’ve never heard Freddie Mercury and Southern Gospel in the same sentence. Let’s just throw in Stephen Tyler and Jon Bon Jovi for good measure! This is fun.

  14. I’m not even going to pretend I’m qualified to have a worthwhile opinion on this, but with all the Cathedral fans around, I am shocked that Glen Payne’s name has yet to be mentioned.

    • Brandon, I thought about it, but I’m 26, and was Glen one of the great singers of my lifetime? Yeah, probably so, but he was in his prime before I was born.

      • I, too, am inclined to limit my list to those I have heard live, or have had the opportunity (overlap in age / touring) to hear live.

  15. Great topic of convo,
    David Phelps would definatley come into mine when asked the greatest in my lifetime, also Mark Trammell and Gerald Wolfe, but if you go of any era, Mr Glenn Payne would definatley be up in my top 2!

  16. Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban

  17. Wow! What a question! I agree with Mark Lowry. Sandy, in her prime, was as good as any female vocalist I’ve ever heard… and David, well, again, I’ve not heard anyone that I would say is better.

    I’ll tell you a guy that would be toward the top of my list… Tim Rackley (lead, Old Paths). His tone, range, and control is really impressive. If I were drafting a quartet (sorry, tonight’s draft is on my mind), Tim would be my first pick!

  18. My lifetime is longer than most anyone else’s who posts regularly to this blog. But when it comes to SG, I can’t confine it to two, so I’ll name several and still leave out some who deserve to be mentioned. These are in no particular order. Terry Franklin, Roy McNeal, Arthur Rice, Mark Trammell, Smitty Gatlin, Glen Payne, Lily Fern Weatherford, Kim Hopper, Michael English. In the secular world, Frank Sinatra, Dick Haynes, Vic Damone, Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, Doris Day, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Vaughn, Ray Charles, George Jones, Steve Perry. Eclectic? Certainly! And I AM leaving out some who are nothing short of amazing. God put some unbelievable talents into his crowning creation. I know someone will think (if not say), “Dianne…that’s WAY too many. You just can’t “stand your ground” and pick a couple”…and that’s TRUE. I claim the privilege of an old person! πŸ™‚

    • Sorry for the typo…it’s Dick HAYMES.

    • I knew I could count on you to stop by and name Arthur and Terry! I just didn’t know if you’d go beyond that! πŸ™‚

      Arthur certainly crossed my mind, but as soon as I thought of picking him as my second pick besides Mark Trammell, I started thinking, And not Terry Franklin? And not Chris Allman? And not Glen Payne, or George Younce? πŸ™‚

  19. David Phelps is the greatest in my opinion…along with Whitney Houston. That would be a great duet.

    • Agree, David Phelps, Whitney Houston, nufff said

  20. One thing that I believe makes singers great is an ability to transcend musical genres. I’m not very familiar with singers outside of our genre, but I do know that Jason Crabb is one of the few who has successfully transcended genres (an SG artist being awarded a Dove Award as Male Vocalist of the Year and Artist of the Year is no joke, especially in this day and age). Crabb is accepted across genres, but hasn’t forgotten his SG roots.

    If you are looking for a pure SG singer only, I’d throw Doug Anderson out there as well.

    • There is no question Doug has earned a place in this discussion! I think that the more years he stays on the road, the more people will name him in this type of discussion.

  21. I am not a fan of the changes in David Phelps’ tone in the last few years. It’s as if he has abandoned the classical training for a more nasal tone lately.

    I would definitely put Michael English among the top singers. That guy, especially in his prime, could sing the snot out of anything you put in front of him. Same goes for Terry Franklin.

    Outside of SG, I’ve always liked Randy Owen, and while his style may not suit everyone, for my money, very few people can top Conway Twitty singing “Goodbye Time.”

  22. I don’t think you can pick a greatest singer(s) but the question might be better posed….

    “If you had to pick 2 artists… who would you rather listen to above all else.”

    The title singer is just too vague to be able to define in this question. (i.e. Jason Crabb is not a “technical” singer but I would rather listen to him than MANY who are)

    If I had to pick 2 who I would most like to listen too for all eternity (lol) they would be…. drumroll….

    Taranda Greene

    Jesse Campbell ( a recently eliminated artist from the voice who Aguilera felt threatened by so she voted him off)

    But ask me in 2 weeks and these answers will probably change because it is such a fluid question.

  23. Vocally, and in the SG world: Bass: Tim Riley, Lead: Jonathan Wilburn or Jason Crabb, Highest Tenor: Brian Free, Fullest Tenor: David Phelps

  24. For me the best voice is a beautiful voice and my favorite is Wes Hampton. I love his clear voice. And Michael English in his prime was also one of my favorites, not quite as much now though. I like David Phelps too. I don’t like gruff voices like Jason Crabb’s. I don’t think just because he won a Dove award that means he’s the best. How do you explain that David Phelps has never won a Dove or hardly any other award when so many people think he’s so great? I really would like to know why that may be.

    • “How do you explain that David Phelps has never won a Dove or hardly any other award when so many people think he’s so great? I really would like to know why that may be.”

      The simple answer is: Politics, friend. Politics.

      • I think part of the reason David hasn’t won is that he is a little too classical and perhaps show boaty (I made up that word) for people. Years ago Rulapaugh won over Phelps for choice in Singing News (I think). I think many like a different type of tenor and just don’t consider him SG. In fact, to some degree the Vocal Band itself might suffer from the same perception that they are seen as outsiders (with the exception of English who is a home boy).

  25. I wouldn’t dare try to say anyone is the best of all genres of music – however if I was going to say the two best in our genre of music – I’d go with Kim Lord (Sisters) and Bill Shivers (Brian Free & Assurance). IMHO – no one can touch those two…

  26. Can’t pick just 2 sorry….

    Kenny Hinson
    Michael English
    David Phelps
    Tim Riley

    Hmmmm…. I wonder what they woulda sounded like as a quartet?? πŸ™‚

    • Amzing That would Be So Amzing to hear them sing together πŸ™‚

  27. This is one to really think about! From those singers I have heard live and in our genre I would say:

    TaRanda Greene
    Karen Peck Gooch

    Mark Trammell
    Jason Crabb
    Tim Riley

  28. Wow, that is a tough question for our family to answer with all our varied favorites! πŸ™‚

    • Perhaps different ones can offer different answers. πŸ™‚

      • Perhaps. πŸ™‚ That would be very interesting.

  29. I agree with all of you who named Terry Franklin, Mike English, and Freddie Mercury, based solely on their versatility as vocalists while in their prime.

    Though a little of either of these two performers goes a long way for me, I’ll submit Celine Dion and Michael Jackson. Five seconds of most any track by either and I’m shaking my head wondering how they generate those sounds with two folds of flesh. Steve Perry almost made the list for the same reason.

    • Reluctantly I have to agree with the Micheal Jackson nomination. I remember what my Aunt Dawn used to say about him(and she was NOT a fan)…. “he has more talent in his pinky finger than most singers out there today.”

      When you listen to him sing when he was with the Jackson 5, he was quite phenomenal. As he got older his style changed, but there was something amazing about him.

  30. In his prime – and perhaps even now, one of the very best voices we’re all familiar with is Squire Parsons. Probably thirty years ago – he sang at a funeral for a music major who counted among her friends some very talented people. Many were talking about the soloist and his voice, I knew who it was and what music he sang, but never mentioned that I knew his music. They were amazed at his range and breath control. It is still strange that such a refined voice was part of the rowdy Kingsmen way back when…

    Even now – Larry Ford certainly should get honorable mention. You can’t say enough about Mark Trammell.


  31. Maybe not the greatest of my lifetime, but certainly my two favorites would be the aforementioned Glenn Payne and Janet Paschal.

  32. Well, I think in SG male voice alone has to be Mark Trammell who else could be so versatile? Now don’t get me wrong I LOVE David Phelps, however MT has him beat in one way – “versatility”.

    Now on to the greatest voices of all time:

    Hands down Freddie Mercury was one of those voices. Johnny Cook can’t go without being mentioned. Michael BublΓ¨, Josh Groban, and the incomparable Andrea Boccelli.

    There are many voices who come to mind, it all just depends on a matter of taste and preference. Everyone has their own opinion, this are just some of mine.

  33. Well, we discussed this subject and found it difficult to label two particular singers “the greatest”. We have many favorites, but those favorites may not be considered “the greatest” for technical singing abilities. The term “greatest” is so subjective, and therefore, while we may not consider these singers “the greatest”, these are some of our favorite. (And, it was also difficult for most of us to narrow it down to only two !)

    Ronnie Booth
    Gus Gaches
    Ernie Haase
    Michael Booth
    Glen Payne
    Jim Brady
    (“Sorry; I couldn’t decide!”)

    Michael Booth
    Ronnie Booth
    (and Jim Brady)

    Toby Mac
    President Barack Obama
    (Obviously, Sam could not come up with anyone he seriously considered his favorite/greatest!)

    Ronnie Booth
    David Phelps
    Josh Groban
    Jim Brady
    Joyce Martin
    Judy Martin

    Wes Hampton
    Natalie Grant
    Josh Groban
    Taranda Greene
    Doug Anderson

    Roger Bennett
    Mike Bowling
    Frank Seamans
    George Younce
    Pat Barker
    David Mann

    Mom Garms
    George Younce

    Dad Garms
    Bing Crosby

    And, two side notes: some of the greatest singers we have heard have been on the local classical radio station, and most of us agree that David Phelps is very accomplished in his singing ability. πŸ™‚


    • Wow, that was a mammoth comment! πŸ˜€

  34. How about Steve Green?

    • He’s certainly on my short list!

  35. When I think of the qualifications for “the greatest singer” I think of a couple different things. Tone quality, pitch, range and stylistic versatility. I have never heard David Phelps flat a note. (Even when he was sick) I have never heard someone with a round full tone on a high D or C like David. And when it comes to stylistic versatility there is very few like David. He could have been the next Pavarotti but instead he chose to sing southern gospel and contemporary christian music.
    This is certainly a matter of opinion but David Phelps is the greatest male vocalist I have ever heard.

    • David Phelps just cant be beat, period, that my humble opinion!!!!

  36. Steve Perry and Celine Deon come to mind. I could also mention Barbara Striesand, but knowing that she is so disliked by the vast majority of Christian people, I don’t think her mention would get very much approval, even though her talent is very likely without equal. I agree that David Phelps and Sandi Patty are both wonderful talents, but to lump either of them in a list that includes the three above mentioned is a stretch.

  37. There are so many great voices:
    Wintley Phipps
    David Phelps
    George Younce and the list goes on and on.
    So I’m going to pick 2 from each gender.

    The two greatest singers of my lifetime are:
    George Beverly Shea
    George Younce

    Charlotte Ritchie
    Faith Hill

  38. I’m going to stick with SGM singers since that is what we discuss here. My personal top two would be Gerald Wolfe and Sonya Isaacs because of their range and versatility to multiple styles of music. I’d be hard pressed to disregard Mark Trammel and Charlotte Ritchie too though or even Ronnie Booth who are arguably among the most smooth, clear, versatile singers in the genre.

  39. The 2 best are:
    1. George Younce
    2. Glen Payne
    2. Mark Trammell


  40. This is difficult but my list includes David Phelps, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Sonya Isaacs, Michael Buble, Bocelli, Jennifer Hudson, Adele and the incomparable Reba Rambo.

  41. I’m waiting for Ben Harris to say Terry Blackwood, Peter Cetera, and / or Jake Hess. Another one he might mention would be Greg Gordon. πŸ™‚

    • QM…I personally think Terry Blackwood is the best male singer that I have personally had the honor of singing with. He has no concept of what a bad note is, as he is always dead in tune, and right smack dab in the pocket. Now, I loved Jake Hess because he was a stylist and was also a great friend and mentor to me. I do not think for a moment that the two best singers in the world could necessarily come from Southern Gospel. There are many, such as Peter Cetera who I greatly admire for his immaculate talent….but thats the point…… there are many. I was not around Greg Gordan enough to comment about how good he may have been. To be selected to sing with the Imperials would immdeiately put him in a list most high in SG music however. I know many singers who have auditioned for the Imperials through the years, who eventually were turned down. Some of those went on to become stars in other genres. Their bar was set very high, very likely higher than any other gospel group in past history, and very likely a higher bar than most secular groups would dare to imagine. In short, they were the best SG has ever had the honer of calling their own.

    • Ben, I remembered things you had said before which made me feel comfortable in guessing who you might say. πŸ™‚ I thought I remembered your saying something fairly recently about the Greg Gordan version of the Imperials being the best (or one of the best) , but maybe that was Roger Wiles or something. It is interesting to ready the comments you just made. πŸ™‚

      • QM, Terry once told me that he thought the blend was the best they ever had when Greg Gordan was the baritone, but other than that one comment and hearing him on the two recordings they did when he was with the group, I really don’t know much about Greg, other than he is Anna Gordon’s son. Roger Wiles was a tremendous singer, and combined with Terry they swapped lead lines among them to great benefit. Of course, Jim Murray and Armond Morales were a part of the group at the time too, and both of them were great at blending. People speak of family harmony, but I cannot think of any group, any where, from any genre, that had the blend and vocal prowess as did the Imperials of that era.

  42. Thanks, Dianne, for the reference to me. I’ll second that mention of Terry Blackwood. How about Jim Murray?

    • Jim Murray’s time on the road hasn’t overlapped my time in Southern Gospel at all, regrettably.

      • Not only was Jim Murray a great soloist, but also a fabulous blend singer. Sometimes the two don’t mix, but they did with Jim.

      • I really liked Larnelle in the Vocal Band and Murray was a change. He did well. Then McSpadden left and I really hated that too. But, the group of Murray, English, Lowry and Bill had a real smooth, pop sound heard on songs like “Beyond the Open Door”, “Stand Tall”, “These Are They” etc.

      • Daniel, YOu should make a point to get some of the Imperials releases from the time era between 1968 and about 1975. Songs like “More Than YOu’ll Ever Know” and “David’s Psalm”. You have to listen to the quality of the voice and the arrangements, rather than the quality of the recording vs the quality of recordings today. Before Pro Tools, before Antares, before the ability to correct both pitch and meter. In that day and time, it had to be sung correctly, with passion and the abilty to wrap the listener into the song. An art we have all but lost. I am amazed at some of the names that have been offered here as the BEST. Not trying to put any artist down, but simply because we may love a singer or artist because of how he/she connects with us….this does not also make that person a great singer. Garth Brooks has charisma galore, and his audience loved him, but I don’t think anyone would dare say he was a great singer…he was however a decent singer, and a great entertainer. There is a huge difference.

      • Ben – I do have several from that era, including New Dimensions, Now, Live, Love is the Thing, and A Thing Called Love. But I must confess that, while I like a number of songs on each, whenever I am in the mood to listen to Imperials music, the songs and vocal performances on their 1964-1967 albums are so incredibly compelling that I will play those 99% of the time. πŸ™‚

      • Of all the great Imperial lineups through the years my favorite has to be the Sherman Andrus, Terry Blackwood version. Go back and listen to the “No Shortage” album. From a ministry standpoint it’s hard to beat the Russ Taff, Dave Will version . It’s fun to think about and compare different groups and voices but at the the end of the day it’s about souls and the lives you’ve touched.

    • I’m still not prepared to make a list, but I did think of Jim Murray as being on a list of my favorites. He wasn’t the highest tenor, but always silky smooth and sang some great tenor for many years.

      • Jim Murray has always been my favorite tenor of all time. There are not many tenors who I could set and listen to for hours on end….but with Jim, it would be an easy and enjoyable thing to do. He is also minister of music at the church where I attend.

      • Cool. I knew he did that, but I am not sure I knew you went there.

      • Hope I’m not getting off topic but there is something I’ve often thought about and that is an individual may not have the greatest solo voice but be an incredible harmony singer. I would put Mark Trammel, Cecil Blackwood, Glenn Alred, Buck Rambo, Dottie Rambo, and Ed Hill, and Bill Golden in this category. You put these people in a group singing harmony and magic happens.

      • Interesting point, Russell. That criteria brings Scotty Inman to mind. From the perspective of bringing an added dimension to a blend while singing harmonies, he may be the greatest of his generation. For proof, just pull out his old Poet Voices recordings, and compare that to what he brought to Triumphant’s harmonies.

  43. Like them all. As really can’t decide. As they are all great in their own ways. To put a list up to compare, really would come of be troubling for me LOL. But seriously, they have their own unique ways as God gave them those talents.

  44. Kenny Hinson & James Blackwood

  45. Gotta put Duane Allen in the mix for sure!

  46. If you want to be wowed check out the late great Eva Cassidy on Youtube. She is amazing. Many divas I know say she is their all time favorite. And then listen to George Younce on one of his solo albums near the end of his career. When he sings Stand By Me or Send the Light or At the Cross – you will hear more music in his tone than any low voiced singer ever. (IMHO) Riley was/is rock solid and low but Younce took a lead and sang it with the feeling you associate with higher voiced singers. His tone is one of the most beautiful I have ever heard. I think his voice would have worked in many different genres.
    When it comes to appeal to the masses Michael English and Jason Crabb have something no other Southern Gospel singers have had. (IMHO) They have/had the ability to transcended SG as solo artists. Both could (in their prime) be stars in Country Music or Rock Music. I think other voices are as unique (Taranda) but no one has ever gone as far in really
    doing it.

  47. For a quick primer on Eva Cassidy check out

  48. Am I missing something here? I love Mark Trammell – tremendous singer and great man of faith – but a versatile vocalist? I’ve never heard it. I’ve never heard him stretch outside of traditional southern gospel…

    • That’s probably more because he doesn’t want to than because he can’t. That’d be like driving a Mercedes, but trading it in for a Taurus. Best music in the world!

      • Brian – so, so true, and I love the way you put it!

    • Chris – yes, you are missing something. πŸ™‚ You really ought to check out this incredible group from the ’80s called the Cathedrals, and especially a song they pioneered called “Master Builder.” Nothing traditional about that song … and Mark was featured on it. πŸ™‚

      • Heard it many many many times. Still not outside the boundaries of his wheelhouse….

      • Sure, it’s not outside his wheelhouse, in that he can do a magnificent job with it. πŸ™‚

        However, it is indisputably outside of traditional Southern Gospel. Try taking that cut back in history and playing it for any quartet in the ’50s or ’60s … they would not have said it was Southern Gospel. That’s a reasonable way to measure Southern Gospel.

        OF course, it is Southern Gospel now, and a magnificent performance. It’s just decidedly not traditional Southern Gospel. πŸ™‚

      • But you’re still trying to show me that he’s a versatile singer by just giving me a Southern Gospel example. There are a lot of phenomenal vocalists in SG – but they can really only sing SG and there’s nothing wrong with that. A versatile singer can sing outside the scope of their preferred genre. I’ve yet to hear anything from Mark Trammell that would make me think he’s a versatile singer. A great, phenomenal singer? Absolutely. A versatile one? Not really seeing it…

      • Yes, it is a Southern Gospel song, but it isn’t a traditional Southern Gospel song, which is the point at hand.

        Anyone who can go from “He’s My Lord” to “Master Builder” to “Loving the Lamb” to “Leave Your Sorrows and Come Along” β€” that’s major diversity. πŸ™‚

      • As much as I hate to, I am going to have to agree with Chis. Mark Trammell is one of my favorites and one of the all-time best baritones. His range, flexibility within an SG group, professionalism etc. are top notch, but I have trouble imagining him doing anything out of SG other than possibly country. (Seen on songs like “Show Me The Cross”, “He Didn’t Come Down” , “Sin Will Take You Farther” etc. He is VERY flexible within an SG group in that he can sing lead or baritone (which itself isn’t incredibly unusual), but shines due to his talent, range, ability do sing whatever note you need him to essentially and could probably cover tenor in some groups (not the ones with the super high tenors). He is flexible in SG in that he can sing probably about whatever style you want within the SG genre and do them well, but that is different than what I think is being discussed here. One artist we have that does have that flexibility to some degree is Michael English. He can sing straight-ahead SG, contemporary, pop, blues, soul / black etc. but also blend in with other singers too. He was once called (perhaps by Terry Franklin) as a vocal chameleon due to his ability to blend with other singers and possibly in whatever style he is singing. Even he couldn’t do every style in the world, I am sure, but who can?

      • Southern Gospel is an incredibly diverse genre, and Mark can do practically anything that one can find in the genre.

      • *ability TO sing. πŸ˜€

      • Something I though of the other day, but forgot to include is that Mark could shine on Broadway I think. He’d excel on choir based type of vocals. I still maintain we might be talking two different things: Flexibility within SG and out of into secular-type styles

      • Mark’s already been on Broadway… you mean the other Mark? Can’t picture it!


      • I am saying that Trammel has a better voice than several who do stage work / musicals / theatre etc. and is as flexible or more so than many there. I am not saying he is of the same cloth as the classical singers, but he can still bring it on songs like “Loving The Lamb”.

  49. I think it it impossible to say who I think are the greatest two singers. Personally i have always been drawn to originality. I enjoy vocalist who you immediately know who they are when you hear the first word. The Paul McCartneys and Kenny Hinsons of the world, etc… To me Tim Greene has one of the more original and quality voices in SG. He has sort of flown under the radar vocally for many years due to all the power sopranos the Greenes had through the years. In spite of that I have always enjoyed hearing him sing and the first solo recording that he did is still one of my favorites.

  50. Great topic-From SGM- Brion Carter, Larry Ford, Doy Ott, R.W. Blackwood. James Blackwood, Bill Lyles,Chalmers Walker. Non-SGM- Andy Williams, John Gary, Barbra Stressand and Charlotte Church

  51. I’d have to say Arthur Rice and George Younce with Tim Riley and Jeff Chapman knocking on the door.

  52. Some interesting comments and choices!
    “Greatest” has to be just that – not “favourite”. “Best in genre” is also not the same as “best bass” etc. It seems we like to go there a lot πŸ™‚ !

    Best Current Generation SG Male: David Phelps, Laurnelle Harris, Wes Hampton, Terry Franklin, Larry Ford.

    Best Current Generation SG Female: Sandy Patty, Sonya Isaacs, Taranda Greene.

    Best of the Rest [i.e.] non-gospel? Mariah Carey; Josh Grobin,

    Best [Late] SG Male: George Yonce, James Blackwood.

    Best [Late] SG Female: Vestal Goodman.

    BEST EVER? I have no idea. David the son of Jesse, probably πŸ™‚

    • I was waiting for someone to mention Vestal Goodman. If we’re talking Gospel music, you almost have to put her at the VERY, VERY top. She wasn’t the queen for so long for nothing. A totally different generation i would opt for Sandi and David, but you can’t mention gospel as a whole without putting Vestal at the top. Just ask Bill Gaither.

  53. Well for me, 1 is Michael English.
    The other is probably Celine Dion.

  54. Would be interesting to see who some of those on our list of greatest, think of as the greatest… I have read and heard many artist say Kenny Hinson was their musical hero…..

  55. I would say Glen Payne, and Mary Jane(who sings w/the Pfeiffers). Can’t remember her last name. Have you heard her sing(I think it was) some Christmas Carol or something that got requested for when folks stopped by their booth at the NQC. I also like Jim Brady and Guy Penrod. For the girls I like Charlotte Ritchie, Cynthia Clawson, and Sheri Easter. The McKamey ladies have good voices, too. And I liked Tennessee Earnie Ford, Johnny Cash, and I could go on and on and on about this category. But stop I must! All you mothers out there have a nice mother’s day! The rest of you just have a nice day, week, etc…..! Later, Me

    • Thanks! Isn’t Mother’s Day in two weeks?

  56. Wow that’s a hard one. For the proper way to stand, pronounciation, and use of your diaphram it’s hard to beat Glenn Payne. It’s like watching a live voice lesson. Here are a few more some of who may be suprising. Bill Baize will forever in my mind be one of the 2 or 3 best tenors in the history of gospel music. He like Rosie Rozzelle had a beautiful tone on his lower notes and power to burn on the high notes a rare combination. Joe Thrasher is person who should not be left out. He could/can hit high notes with incredible power in his natural voice. There are also some incredible voices in the Contemporary Music scene. Mac Powell of Third has one of those voices that I could hear singing almost any style of music. It’s harder to identify great voices in Contempory Music because not as much ephasis on vocals. Tenth Avenue North lead singer Mike Mc Caunahey also has an awesome voice. He’ll sing the same song an octive lower then jump up a full octive and blow the roof out it. In country it’s hard to beat Randy Owen of Alabama. He always knocket out of the park.

    • Watching Glen Payne is like watching a live voice lesson! I love it! πŸ™‚

    • A good example of Joe Thrasher’s incredible voice is on display on Homeland Quartets youtube video of “Walk With Me”.

  57. I will have to say that my two favorites would be Barbra Streisand and Sandi Patty. Male Vocalists would be Larnelle Harris and George Younce. Any time I want to hear pure singing those are always my choices.

  58. I have to agree with Chris, I don’t see the versatility of Mark Trammell. Don’t get me wrong, he’s great at what he does, and arguably the greatest baritone of all time, but versatile? I also don’t see the versatility of bass singers other than George Younce. I know that versatility wasn’t the question, but I think versatility is one of the largest components that makes a singer great.

    Another name I might mention is Ryan Seaton. You find versatility all over his solo album, but when it comes to pure lead singing SG ability, there’s not many on the road today with a stronger voice than his.

    • Speaking of versatility, he can sing tenor, lead, baritone, and a little bass to boot. πŸ™‚

  59. An interesting way to look at this question is: Who would win an “American Idol: Southern Gospel” contest?

    My top 18 finalists are: (6 male, 6 female, 6 classic)
    Male: Jason Crabb, Doug Anderson, David Phelps, Gerald Wolfe, Michael English, Squire Parsons

    Female: TaRanda Greene, Sandi Patty, Lynda Randle, Kim Hopper, Sonya Isaacs, Karen Peck

    Classic: George Younce, Glen Payne, Jake Hess, Vestal Goodman, Eva Mae LeFevre, Lily Fern Weatherford

    • Doesn’t American Idol only pretty much pick skinny white teenage boys? At least those are the ones I’ve heard an acquaintance who seems to be obsessed with this sort of thing mention.

      • My two top finalists are George Younce and Glen Payne, but I am a huge Cathedrals fan. Regarding American Idol, you need to listen on Youtube to Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill sing How Great Thou Art from the Women Of ACM Program. She is awesome on this song and she was an American Idol winner.

    • Josh, That’s a neat list!

      Pretty much agree with it too…

      But, to refine the analogy, “SG Idol 2012 Finalists?”

      Perhaps that shifts the focus – since the thread has run all over the place anyway – to Up and Coming…

      That would throw Amber Thompson, Ryan Seaton & Wes Hampton into the mix.

  60. Kenny Hinson and how could nobody mention the great and versatile Rusty Goodman. For female vocalists I would include Vestal Goodman and Priscilla McGruder.

  61. I know very little of genres other than southern gospel so I’m going to be limited here, but I could go along with Mark Trammell and David Phelps being the best two singers of my generation. However, I’m surprised I haven’t seen Dale Shelnut mentioned here. He had an oustanding range and an ability to sing anything and make it sound good. He could move people with his singing and make them laugh too. He may or may not be one of the best two singers, but I think he at least deserves to be in the conversation.

  62. I read Daniels work sometimes about singers.I started singing in quartets on May of 1955,with The Deep South Qt,of Atlanta,Ga.I was just turned 20 of that same month.I have worked with the some of the best voices in Gospel Music.
    God blessed me with a natural lyric tenor voice.I had already had sung on season with The Starlight Opera Company
    in Kansas City Mo.I had studied Vocal training at Wayne State Univ,in Detroit,Mich.I studied with Leading Soprano
    Elenore Steber,of the Metropolitan Opera.She wanted me to Move to New York,to be trained at the Met.I was singing
    on Rex Humbard’s T.V. Program with the Weatherford Qt and then was the tenor with the Original Cathedral Qt.
    I left the Cathedral Qt,and started doing solo dates. I moved to Orlando,Fla and started an Independent Baptist church
    in Florida,it grew,God blessed it,he allowed us to build two buildings,we had a large Christian school.

    I sang with the Orlando Opera company in many performances.I was offered a job with the Sons of The Pioneers in 1962 by Tim Spencer.I am well qualified to speak about Quartet Tenors.

    I have found that a great many tenor’s in Quartets have small voices.In my opinion my good friend Larry Ford and the
    late lyric tenor Sherrill Neilson are two of the greatest tenors to ever step on stage to sing.They did not need soupped up mikes to be heard.Many of the tenors today in gospel music have to depend on sound systems to be heard.

    I am 77 years old as of May 30,My voice is still in tact,I don’t sing flat and God has blessed me with a what I call a wonderful vocal instrument. My vocal career speaks for its self.Opera singers do not depend on microphones to project
    their voices.Hence the very finiest voices in Gospel music could not make it singing opera or show tunes…..

  63. Those are my thoughts on teh greatest voices……I am sure God almighty,could care less who is the greatest gospel
    singers. What have you done for the cause of Jesus Christ.Pray about that…………Dr.Bobby Clark B.A.,D.D.,


    • Larry Ford and Sherrill Nielsen do indeed have great voices. I would have to agree with you that who the greatest Gospel singers are, from a technical standpoint, is not something God cares very much about!

  64. I have read with interest the comments of this subject.I think somebody compared David to Luchiano,thatshows lack of good sense,and ignorance. It’s a popularity contest.In many cases about who is popular at the time.

    I wish all your vocal critics ,Have a great day,and Jesus Christ is soon to return,I hope they all make the Rapture,thats
    the most important question,not who the greatest tenor,bass,lead singer,or piano picker is.Thats the question !

    Daniel,have a good day my friend……..Bobby Clark !

    • I hope you have a great day, too!

      I am sure David himself wouldn’t compare himself to Luciano. He’s had enough training that he certainly knows the stylistic differences between what he does and what an opera singer does.

  65. I’ve mulled this thread over for a while, but I’ve got to add my thoughts in. While David is a phenomenal talent in our genre, I can’t say he is the greatest singer of all time. Rolando VillazΓ³n, is arguably the best tenor alive, and in my opinion that there has been. His tone and range is really unmatched. I’d put on of his high C,C# against Phelps’ any day. Also, I don’t think you could have a discussion about a female vocalist without mentioning Natalie Grant. She is the very definition of versatility.

  66. Had to list several who havent been mentioned. Ed Enoch of the 70’s is one who deserves mention. Seems like what I heard of him in his later years sounds a lot like Jake Hess, but his work from the 70’s was incredible. Of the present day I think Scott Fowler is some how over looked. He has such a pleasant easy on the ear voice. I dont think there’s a better slow story song singer than Scott.

  67. Well, here in South Africa, we are mostly exposed to the Gaither side of ‘Southern Gospel’ but thanks to the net, I got to know more about the music. In my opinion, I’d say David Phelps would make it anywhere he wants to go, musically. And not forgetting Guy Penrod.
    I wish I knew what Mark Tramell’s talents, help??
    Gerald Wolfe is good.

    • Take, for example, Mark’s performance of this song:

      • WOW!!! *totally blown away*
        Ok! Now I think my other fav quartet is Mark Tramell Quartet … NO.. it is my other fav quartet.
        I understand why those who have mentioned him did so, I’d choosee him over Gerald.

  68. Kenny Hinson had countless imitators for reasons people,Kenny Hinson was offered millions to sing country music jones….Ronnie milsap….Johnny cash….even Alan Jackson all said Kenny is the best….George jones was asked who was the best singer to ever sing country…..George said the best ever to sing country didnt sing country he sing gospel.his name is Kenny hinson Elvis even seen Kenny sing at Nqc in Nashville Kenny even got Elvis attention….Kenny a league of his own.none of these guys come close……Kenny the one man choir the vocal atrobat number 1 forever.

  69. Bill Gaither could not sign Kenny hinson. Kenny wouldn’t sign……Kenny the best singer ever….Ronny Hinson the best songwriter ever. Mmit was like having two elvis on stage at once. Ronny hinson 15 number 1 songs penned….over 100 songs in the top 10′ no other writer comes close to those numbers.

  70. Kenny Hinson was a vocal freak he was not of this world with his vocals from another planet,

  71. Kenny Hinson offered millions to sing country……Kenny Hinson had countless imitators for jones Johnny cash Ronnie milsap. Alan Jackson all said Kenny is the best…..George said the best to ever sing country didn’t sing country he sing southern gospel.even Elvis knew who Kenny was…in the 70s Elvis would slip into Nqc in Nashville and he really liked Kenny….none of these others can say that.


  72. You can tell the best artist ever by how many imitators they had.none could match Kenny….Kenny had countless.

    • Oh, I think George Younce, Vestal Goodman, and Michael English have had more imitators, and a few others have tied.

    • Steven, what is your opinion on the late Kenny Hinson? πŸ˜‰ BTW, I believe that Kenny did record a country album. I am not sure it was totally completed and don’t know what happened that it wasn’t released, but I know at least one who has a copy of what was done.

  73. None of the people you mention we’re offered millions to sing country music. Kenny has imitators all over the can’t. Go in one of these churches without seeing a Kenny wanna bee…….plus Kenny is also in the international country music hall of just listen to Kenny vocals and tone. And stage presence and man did he have stage presence.kenny Hinson set the bench mark for sure.kenny could of sing any style of music…..Kenny had all the big names in nashville in love with his vocals…….Kenny brought a new style to sg music….that clown Roy pauley tried to say we don’t need all these Kenny wanna bees lol.

    • Umm…Michael English was offered quite a bit to switch genres.

  74. I see that this Post hasn’t been active for the last week,But I only saw one mention of Elvis? When Ive heard him sing a gospel song it always moves me, there was so much soul and power in his voice. He would always be number one on my list even though he wasn’t necessarily a gospel singer, number 2 would be a tie between about 10 people Big Cheif , Armond Morales and George Younce for bass for sure, Johnny Parrack, Brian Free and Rosie Rossell for tenor, Glen Payne and too many to list for lead, Squire Parsons, and Mark Trammell for baritone.. First post had to give Elvis a mention especially on the anniversary of his death… Sorry about the long post… And I still didn’t mention all of them!

  75. I see everyone saying David Phelps. Granted he can hit those high notes but would have to go with the tenor who not only hit the high notes but blew them out of the water and that would be Johnny Cook. I also would want to put Mark Trammell, Nat King Cole, and Marty Robbins on my list. Females: Patsy Cline Sara Evans. and the entire crew of Celtic Women.

    • David can’t blow the high notes out of the water? Okay.

  76. Ok, I made the first comment in this chain, have had over a year to think about it, and am now ready to make my choice. Of course, at this point few will see this comment.

    Since Mark Lowry selected a singer of each sex I will do the same, although Daniel’s question was “who are the the two greatest singers of our lieftime,” which could make them of the same sex.

    My lifetime has been longer than most who have posted here, but since my two choices are still alive they would be within the lifetime of all who have posted. I grew up with Elvis and Nat King Cole, bought Andy Williams records and have followed Southern Gospel since J.D. Sumner was with the Blackwood Bros, so I have been exposed to literally thousands of singers, and I admire many, if not all, of those named here. But how does one choose between a Glen Payne and a Jake Hess? Or between George Younce and Tim Riley, to cite two examples. I couldn’t. It comes down to a matter of preference, not greatness.

    For my female choice I would have to go with Barbra Streisand. For over 50 years she has been selling records, and her recent ones are as big hits as those of 50 years ago. She can still pack arenas on the rare occasions when she chooses to perform publicly. And she sounds as good today as she did 50 years ago. Anyone listening to her with a critical ear would have to be impressed with her vocal control and the way she interprets a song. I have never heard anyone better.

    My male choice might be a tad more obscure, but I would have to choose Harry Belafonte. Had someone suggested to me a year ago that he was one of the greatest ever I would have scoffed like many of you are doing right now. However, I was introduced to his album “Live at Carnegie Hall” by my much younger grandson and was blown away. Before dismissing this choice you must hear this album. If you haven’t heard it then you haven’t heard the greatest male singer of your lifetime yet.

  77. I think I would chose based not only on talent, because a lot of performers have talent, but on the impact and/or contributions they made to the industry they represent. Ex. Elvis to Rock and Roll, Kenny Hinson to Country Gospel, Barbara Streisand to Popular, Johnny Cash to Country, etc. etc. the list goes on and on. Some of the ones previously listed could not even make a solo career so how they could be considered the best, I don’t know. Talent is in the eye and ear of the beholder; greatness is based on the merits of the artist. So in each of the genres I listed above are the ones I chose, sorry not two but that’s what it is.

    • Southern Gospel is a harmony-based genre. Virtually all of our genre’s greatest singers have spent part of their career in groups; most have spent all of their career in groups. So who says that being a soloist is a necessary qualifier of being a good artist? πŸ™‚

  78. This is such an interesting topic…it really is difficult to pick just two. As far as technicality goes, Bryan Walker and David Ragan. (I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever heard David Ragan hit a sour note.) As far as feeling, Joseph Habedank and TaRanda Greene. But I have tons of other personal “favorites.” Doug Anderson (I think he is quite underrated), Michael English, ALL of the Collingsworth girls, Brian Free, Wes Hampton, Jon Epley, Dallas Rogers…and I don’t want to be negative AT ALL, but I see all these people mentioning David Phelps…really? He is very talented, sings very well, and really puts emotion in his performance. But…the best? Really?

    • Oh I forgot Kenny Hinson! Good grief, I think there is no end to the talent of SG.