What does Southern Gospel need to survive?

Periodically, Southern Gospel artists and fans will discuss whether Southern Gospel has a future. Newer and more musically aggressive styles have captured the fancy of a large portion of the American church. The decline in Christian bookstores and other facets of the traditional music industry has cut into revenues. That is not even mentioning the cost of fuel now as compared to twenty years ago! What does Southern Gospel need to survive?

First, of course, is God’s blessing. Remove the spiritual impact of the songs touching the lives of listeners and our genre has no value!

Second, our genre needs the right people. But if God blesses us with people who have both the determination to carry the work of the ministries forward and the talent and persistence to pull it off, Southern Gospel will survive and even thrive. There will be great challenges in a changing cultural and technological environment, but if the right people are in place and God blesses their efforts, those challenges can be solved.

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116 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 believe that anyone who is willing to serve the Lord faithfully will be equipped by the Lord to do that work. I believe anyone who is desirous of God’s will in their life will be empowered to perform His will. This applies to any Christian.

    For southern gospel as a genre to survive, the people in southern gospel have to:
    1. Be saved
    2. Follow God’s will
    3. Be faithful to serve the Lord

    And God will take care of the rest.

  2. Your comments caused me to stop and think of the people leading SG today. I think there are some very solid people leading the performance end…think of Claude Hopper, Dean Hopper, Scott Fowler, Gerald Wolfe, Steve French, Ronnie & Michael Booth, Karen Peck, Bill Gaither etc…all pretty solid people that could easily have been successful in other fields. Yet their faith and relationship with God have brought them to SG and they stayed and excelled.

    I don’t know much about recording level executives, but I would think there are some very solid people there also. I bet there are some promoters with very deep spiritual relationships with God. In fact, I know a couple.

    Does this mean everyone is perfect? No… Are there people out there without the proper relationship with God? Sure…

    But there are pastors, seminarians, counselors, church leaders…that fall short also!

    SG is so broad. I’ve been a fan all my life but have never purchased a McKameys’ CD. Why? I don’t like their music. I never purchased an Inspirations’ CD until their music started appealing to me. Yet, these two groups are wildly successful because of the very reasons Brian mentioned above…

    SG will survive and many will thrive. However, things will change. You can still go to PA or OH and buy a really nice buggy and everything you need to hook-up to a horse… 125 years ago, there were literally dozens and dozens of manufacturers. In a free market, the supply will meet the demand…perhaps even exceed it. Eventually, those who make music that is sub-par or doesn’t appeal to enough people will be forced to do something else. Sure, some will self-finance and continue to pour money into a losing proposition. And that does not mean they are not solid people with the right intentions. It means they are going to probably sing locally and will likely continue to impact some for Christ. But they will not likely be booked 500 miles from home.

    Perhaps one of our biggest issues is what gets played on radio, even satellite radio. I hear lower talent on Enlighten – and that really should not happen. With a national audience, they should play the best of the best… You’re always going to have the local DJ who plays his personal favorites, but that is not growing SG.

    I am 59 and strongly suspect I’ll be listening to brand new SG until the day I die…


  3. I can’t speak for the entire Southern Gospel market but were I am the audience is aging and not many new fans and/or artist are emerging. One of the problems is that the older demographic refuses to except new artist or ideas. This has very little to do with compromising the message of the music and more to do with allowing modern instrumentation, recording and vocal techniques to become accepted. What worked in the 50’s will not work today. What works today will not work tomorrow. The foundation remains to anchor the building but the building must be maintained and nurtured. We need to make sure young people are exposed to the music, encouraged to participate and bring their new ideas that others of their generation will want to join in. Most of all we need to pray for God to send revival to place a desire in young men and women to open their hearts to listen to the Holy Spirt. Without that guidence the message of the lyrics and music will not touch lives and change people.

    • Many may disagree with me, but as much as I hate to admit it, SG music is probably a dying American art form. Most concerts attract mostly older folks, many of them elderly. Some may say that fancy dance moves, facial hair, wild suits, etc. help attract a younger crowd. Not so sure about that. I tend to think that keeping a classic look and sound will best set our music apart from others. There is a certain attraction to anything retro or historic. Keeping close to our roots may help sustain SG. The overall popularity will probably diminish no matter what we do. Focusing on a purely SG style may be our only hope long term. Four conservatively dressed, clean cut men and a piano…

      • I think dying is too strong of a word, but shrinking is probably accurate. That said, the entire music industry is also shrinking, and the stars in other genres today aren’t selling anywhere near many units as they did before the advents of the mp3 and YouTube.

        I agree that Southern Gospel’s best hope for relevance – in an odd way – is staying true to what makes it distinctive – the solid Gospel message and the power harmonies. As I have said before, there’s no point in trying to be almost as good as country or CCM, because if someone wants to listen to country or CCM, they may as well listen to the real thing. Of course, I’m not at all opposed to using modern equipment, modern recording techniques, and a professional presentation!

        But I don’t think Southern Gospel needs to change those inherent factors which make it what it is. I also think that even if we did, we’d just be seen as a copycat of whatever it was we were copying, and it wouldn’t make our genre any more relevant or financially profitable than the genre we copied. 🙂

    • I disagree with “what worked in the 50’s”. I overheard a comment at NQC a couple years back when Ben Speer was asked, “If you could bring back the Statesmen in their prime and put them on the main stage today, how would they go over?” Mr. Speer’s reply was “They would tear this place apart and the people would go wild.” I become very saddened when I see the younger artists trying hard to “change” the genre they want to work in. Many have no desire to know anything of our history, and I firmly believe you cannot know where you are going without knowing where you have been. Cloaking CCM in a wrapper called Southern Gospel is a very thin veil. Our audience knows exactly what they want, they are extremely vocal about that, and they leave no questions concering their desires. But we as an industry at large are blind to their requests. NQC is a great example. Each year they bring on artists that stretch the boundaries of the genre, and each year the people voice their disapproval, both in future ticket sales and product bought at the table. But still our industry is cluelss. Instead of providing the style and quality that the people clamor for, we instead try with all our might, to convert them to a style of music they do not like nor recogonize. I have been involved in gospel music all my life, and I can tell you without hesitation, our audience was gray in the 60’s and it will remain so until the end of time, unless we continue to run them off by not providing what they want. Look at Gaither and his Homecoming success. What made that series such a success? Try Jake, George, JD, Glen, Vestal, Howard, Rex, Hovie and a few others from the era the genre seemingly wants to forget. I firmly believe we need to innovate, but not at the expense of losing our identity. There is this thing called quality that we have pushed to the back burner. What made our genre so great for all those years was great vocals, great arrangements and great presentation. When it is done in God’s name, it will stand! However, accepting those of questionable talents simply because they call themselves a ministry is not doing service to the mantle we have been given by those going before us. I remember the time that if you wanted to sing in a professional gospel group it was required that you read music and be able to sight read. Now most don’t have a clue and the simple triad chord arrangements reflect that very thing. “Study to show thy self approved” is straight out of the Bible. Surely we would all agree that teaching is still valuable and pertinent today?? Yes, be innovative, try different ideas and arrangements, but know what the glue is that holds our genre together. We have become a people of instant gratification. Words on a screen, singing unison to simple melodies and repetitive lyrics. My Grandfather who taught music would roll over in his grave if he could witness how far our music has declineed. Ok off my soap box now, I feel better!

      • Well, you made many great points on that soap box – and I would have to completely agree, even though my experience is limited to listening to (pretty nearly all of) their recordings from that era, that they would tear up the live stage today, and people would love it.

        I think that some people would be surprised at the percentage of a Southern Gospel audience who would be perfectly happy with nothing more than a top-notch piano player, three or four top-notch voices, and a program of top-notch songs.

  4. There are two crucial elements needed for Southern Gospel to survive. Everybody read and follow this : TIM RILEY and LIVE MUSIC instead of pre-recorded tracks. Amen and Amen

    • Tim Riley is not necessary for Southern Gospel to survive; he has retired before, and the genre did not die then.

    • Being a former southern gospel artist, one person can not carry the weight of the entire industry on his shoulders. One problem southern gospel has is that it is getting away from its roots. If it would hold steadfast and stop trying to progress into other genres then it would be fine. I can understand why they are doing, but in my opinion, if it isnt broke, dont fix it! Now as far as live bands go, it is very expensive to take a full band on the road. I know some groups with 3 or 4 member, which are all vocalist, runs around 5000, which I think is a little high, but they I understand they are supporting families and are doing what they can. Just imagine what it would cost to have a full band on the road. There is fuel cost, food, hotels, etc….. The list could go on and on, but to save time, I will close with this. Until you have traveled and seen what the cost is, then you have to do what is effective to keep what you have on the road.

  5. But it came close. The mid 2000’s are kinda blank years. Just having fun 🙂

  6. In all seriousness, a perfect example of a group that is doing what it takes to keep Southern Gospel alive and thriving is Ernie Haase and Signature Sound. They have several different styles but all are gospel songs. They appeal to all age groups. They have live music. if more groups did what they do then there would be a SoGo explosion. Regardless of what anyone thinks of them. As far as Here We Are Again cd goes, at first I was disappointed but it really grew on me. Way to go EHSSQ.

  7. Amen on a higher quality product. I would caution the minimization of the female contributions to this genre.

    • I’m not. All I’m saying is that the genre is rooted in the configuration of four men and a piano player, sometimes with a lady singing what for a man would be the tenor role.

      • I agree, there are not many true southern gospel male tenors out there anymore, well that are wanting to sing Southern Gospel that is. Women play a big part in southern gospel. Some of the most powerful singers on the national seen are females. Karen Peck, Libby Stuffle, Peg McCamey and so on……

  8. Dying is indeed a strong word or too of it. As there is a future. As it has survived a lot of music genres like Country, Rock, etc. But it still has a future. As someone says, never ever, say never! Just keep positive over SG!

  9. Daniel I agree with you about Tim Riley. Now, I love Tim and Daniel both, as they are good and trusted friends. Tim has the most powerful bass voice I have ever heard. He can sing a low G with as much volume as most can sing an octave above. But, our survival does not hinge on Tim anymore than any other single individual. There are many great bass singers with great talents that differ from Tim’s. The Big Chief had the best timing of any bass singer I have ever heard. Armond Morales was without doubt the smoothest blending bass ever, and George Younce could sing a solo as well as any lead singer in the biz. JD was considered the lowest of all, but no one would dare say he blended as well as any of the others mentioned above. Tim is in a calss by himself, and no one does better at the style of Tim Riley than Tim. Gold City used our sound system a couple weeks back and I got the opportunity to visit with both Tim and Danny for awhile, along with other members of GC. It is always an honor to work with them. As to 4 men and a piano, that was the roots of our genre and sometimes we forget that the lyrics are what make this music so very special. If you can’t understand or hear the words you’re making a useless presentation. There are times I think the orchestrations and the stax get in the way of the performance, our group included in that assessment. Good thread!

    • It certainly wasn’t my intent to minimize Tim Riley’s contributions; he is probably the most legendary bass singer on the road today. But the genre is bigger than any one person. 🙂

      • Did not think you were trying to minimize anyone Daniel. I think Tim would agree and would find troubling that anyone would think our genre hinges on him being there forever. Tim is a very wise man, with great forethought and purpose. He is totally impressive at what he does. But then Daniel, you and David Murray and a few others in this vien, are very good at what you bring to the table too. It takes all of our many pieces to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

      • Thanks, and yes, the genre is greater than the sum of its parts!

    • Ben, it is cool to hear about Tim’s volume on the low Gs. I suspected as much since his cut seems so good amplified, but it is nice to hear from someone who has heard him without amplification.

  10. This will not be the “all in all” for the survival of our genre but it would help immensely if all of the group members would stay put! Gold City has been mentioned several times here. Anyone who has seen the group lately knows that it is not what it once was. Can you imagine what kind of impact that quartet would be making for our music today if they’d all stayed?! You wouldn’t be able to fit the people in the building.

    When a group is different every time you see it, it causes a loss of interest in that group. All of those who are thriving have one thing in common… Minimal personality change. The Triumphant Quartet is a wonderful example of this truth!

    • I whole-heartedly agree!! The turn around in SG today is sickening. It’s gotten to the point where, any time I talk to someone in the SG industry, the conversation ALWAYS goes to, “So, who is where this week?”

    • Keeping members in place is sometimes like herding cats. Last fall we went through a major change and at the time I thought long and hard about folding the tent. The chairman of our board of directors seemed to have other ideas and he insisted that the group carry on. I went about the process of finding great Christian singers, asking God for His blessings, and now we have the finest group we have ever had, both in musical talent and in spirituality. Is it right to try to hold on to singers who have violated group rules, or done improper deeds or caused strife within the Christian family? Of course it is not. Not one solid Christian person would encourage any group owner or manager to continue associating with people who might fit these descriptions. However, on the other hand, many of these same people will shrink away from their favorite group when personnel changes occur. Gold City has been mentioned, for they have had a rash of changeover, but I personally believe in the Riley’s, both in Christian character and their ability to put together good groups. In my own experience as a teenager still in high school along the time when Jake Hess left the Statesmen and Jack Toney took his place, I never liked Jack. Not because he could not sing, but simply because he was not Jake. I did not like the man until years later when I had the honor of meeting him and spending time with Jack. He was a great guy and a great singer. I grew to love and appreciate Jack Toney, and he became a friend. I shutter when I remember all those years I did not give Jack his due simply because he was not the first lead singer of that group. I did Jack a disservice just as countless fans do to other “new” members in many groups within our genre. My advise is to give Gold City a little room, for I assure you if you feel pained by what they have endured, surely you can understand to some small degree what they were going through, for I assure you, it was magnitudes worse on their end. Sometimes we must do what we must do, and airing dirty laundry is not a Christian thing to do. Changes are sometimes made for family reasons, money reasons, some just don’t like traveling, and some see the grass greener across the fence. And then, some do things groups don’t make public for a varity of reasons. SG has always been filled with change. How many groups did Jim Hamel sing with before the Kingsmen?

      • As to Jim Hamill – about 15 groups? 🙂

        I totally agree with your point – definitely, give new group members a chance. I do think that it is inherent to our genre that the longer a group member stays, the higher percentage of fans of an old lineup give him a chance. Take, for example, Jonathan Wilburn with Gold City. Did Ivan Parker fans love him on day 1? Well, no. But after twelve or fourteen years, he had earned his own legendary spot in Gold City history.

        I also agree that group members often make personnel changes for the right reasons, and take criticism that would have been widely understood to be unjustified had they not done the honorable thing by keeping their mouths shut.

    • I’d like to qualify my comment for anyone who might consider it a criticism of Gold City. When said it’s not what it once was I was stating the obvious and that in NO way meant that they aren’t a wonderful quartet. I LOVE Daniel’s singing, Keaton rings the rafters and Tim’s better than ever. My comment was only to speak of personality change. It effects EVERY group.

      So, for the record… I LOVE GOLD CITY!

      • I agree on all points – yes, personality change effects every group, and yes, I love Gold City, too!

      • I do think turnover (warranted, good or bad) does effect things. I am not saying that moral failures should be tolerated, that people have no right to better themselves, get off the road, or whatever reasons they choose to leave their group. However, a group or a configuration of a group can gel better, build an audience better, develop better etc. if they stay together longer. So, finding the right people spiritually, goal-wise, talent-wise, personality-wise etc. is important. Although we as fans can get impatient about delays in finding the right person, if one does it can pay off in dividends later on instead of getting someone to fill the position faster.

        What makes personnel changes tougher are situations like Gold City’s who has had SO many in SUCH a short amount of time. It seemed about any time they were building steam and momentum there would be another change. Not just that, but trading off every position but the owners quite a few times. I don’t know the particulars in most, so I am not saying that they shouldn’t have happened, but their happening DID damage Gold City. I realize that it can be easy to spot someone’s talent and not see other things (personality, character, morals etc.). I realize at times even if you are looking for the other things, you can think you know a person and be wrong. Even the singers can think they want to be on the road, but get burnt out or miss home too much. So, personnel changes can’t always be helped. I don’t know either way, Gold City could have maybe done better or maybe they just had a long run of things they couldn’t have foreseen or helped, or maybe even the devil is trying to destroy them. I really don’t know.

        The Cathedrals had Roy, George Amon and Lorne leave at the same time. Gold City had Ivan and Brian leave fairly close together and then Jones a bit later. Ben mentioned his. The Kingdom Heirs had their’s. Each of these could have destroyed the groups. In some cases the owners were tempted to throw in the towel. Each has come back though. Gold City of the past few years have had it worse and perhaps a somewhat accurate comparison would be some of the lower tier groups who had a lot of turnover as people left to go higher up the ladder.

  11. I made the comment about Tim Riley and I was kidding about that. I’m just a huge fan of his. But look at the Gaither videos. There are no more Vestal Goodmans. No more Jake Hess’s. There are no more George Younce. There are no more JD Sumners. JD did a lot for southern gospel. Every quartet that travels in a quartet and uses 4 microphones have him to thank. There are a lot of up and comers but no visionaries. We have to maintain our connections to the legends of the genre for SoGo to survive.

    • There are no visionaries? Umm … Gaither’s not dead yet! 🙂 There are others, but Gaither is arguably the most significant visionary our genre has ever seen.

      • No doubt Gaither is a visionary but he leaning more progressive. That is evident on the last GVB cd Better Day. He’s not getting the current legends involved anymore except for Ben Speer. They’ve lost a lot of fans since the founders of SG have died.

      • (1) Gaither is actually far from the most progressive point in his career.

        (2) Ben Speer is not the only current legend Gaither gets involved; especially at tapings and other major events, there are quite a few.

        (3) Umm, Vestal, George, Hovie, and Jake weren’t the founders of SG. 🙂

      • Actually they did! We had this conversation before the term southern gospel wasn’t accepted until the 70’s. They people we have mentioned made the genre popular. Before that the only music close was convention music. They weren’t household names like George, Vestal, jake, and Hovie. Due to radio and tv shows like the jubilee show the genre became popular and the fanbase grew. Besides, listen to the testimony of todays SG stars. They were inspired by these people. You never hear anyone say that they started singing because of Arnold Hyles or Jim Waites or folks like that even though they were vital in spreading convention style music.

      • No, you’re confusing a term used to describe a genre with the genre itself. Yes, the genre which we now know as Southern Gospel was renamed Southern Gospel in the 1970s to distinguish it from other types of Gospel Music. However, it did not, all of a sudden, become a different genre. Hovie Lister and the Statesmen, the Blackwood Brothers, and the Speer Family belong to the same genre as the Happy Goodmans and the Cathedrals.

  12. As a person who loves SG music I think as long as the true gospel message is presented clearly then SG music survive. The message and music combination can’t be beat!

    Just as a side note…as a father of 6 children (2 – 18 years old) who all love SG music I will tell you that we prefer the older SG stuff (80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s) versus the newer progressive SG that some groups are moving towards. I know the progressive stuff may more appealing to a younger generation (my children excluded) but when things start sounding like the main stream secular music i think the message can get lost. Just my opinion.

    Keep up the good work Daniel!

    God Bless!

    • Being in my mid 70’s and a fan of gospel music for fifty plus years, I have seen many changes. In younger years we could afford to take the whole family of six to the concerts. I realize that prices have risen, but as a couple we can no longer afford to attend the concerts and buy a record or two to take home and enjoy. I am not complaining about their prices, but fact is fact. I also know where they need to make something. The groups have to pay more for the places they rent. I miss the groups going to churches. I know some still do, but not many where we live. We used to be able to for instance go to an outdoor singing such as Fayetteville, Arkansas and Konowa, Oklahoma for instance and be able to enjoy one to three days of gospel music, rent a motel and eat and spend little more than the tickets to those events today. I enjoyed being able to see who was singing without having to watch it on a screen. If that is necessary, lets just stay at home, buy a video and watch. I do not care for so much comedy that is added into the concerts. Most of it is silly! That is just my thinking. Getting old and those of us who have medical and med bills that we didn’t have in younger days causes us to make a choice of what we do and buy. Still love gospel music, and buy an occasional CD or DVD, but not like I used to. Enjoy your blog so much.

      • I’m glad you enjoy the blog, and I hope you find some great concerts in your area!

  13. Amen. See. We thought the same thing. Just say it differently. Daniel, you and me will be friends one day. I just know it 🙂

    • Could be! 🙂

      I guess I can get picky about terminology – probably sometimes more so than I need to be!

  14. Another thing I though of is the effect the church has on popular styles. In the church I was raised in we sang southern gospel and so did the choir. In a lot of churches one or two people (like the pastor or choir director) choose what style will be played in church. Church leaders think they will attract more young people with contemporary music because contemporary means new and relevant. But the old sg songs are still powerful and relevant and even exciting. So churches unknowingly decide what style is popular among church goers. Therefore churches should do more to promote survival to ensure its survival. Amend and amend.

    • I like the gospel music that preaches a sermon!

  15. I think the better question is who will be Bill Gaither’s predecessor. His efforts to preserve and revitalize southern gospel over the past couple decades has been amazing. When I’m at NQC and his portion of the night begins, the energy changes completely. Gaither Homecoming Concerts, in their heyday, were classy, massively attended, and just plain fun – minus the ****[edit] that most southern gospel groups currently allow on stage, i.e., lame soundtracks, political agendas, and mediocre song selections. Bless! But, at least we have a huge library of Gaither DVDs to go back to with all the legends captured.

    • O my goodness – I was edited! Hope I didn’t offend. 🙂 I don’t even remember what word I used now.

      • It was a word some people may be offended by for, to borrow a phrase from the King James, “that which cometh out of a man.” 🙂

        I was sure, from the rest of your quote, that there was no intent at all to offend, so I wasn’t offended. I just didn’t want other readers to be offended.

  16. I don’t think we will ever see the audience sizes that were the rule in the 50s and 60s. That was a different time. A great portion of “Christians” then did not partake in things considered worldly entertainment, like ball games, movies, and, at first, television even was taboo for a lot of them. Now they do all of those things, whether right or wrong, and are entertainment saturated. There is no need, in their mind, to go out to a gospel sing for entertainment when you have 500 channels on TV, and you can watch videos all day long of the singing groups. The excitement level is not there. Add to that the use of tracks instead of live music, and the excitement level is further diminished.

    Also, there were a lot more unique “characters” in gospel music back then. Now you have
    “cookie cutter” singers that can hardly be told apart.

    And last, but not least, a significant percentage of today’s singers look like Hollywood, dress like movie stars, and pretty much do everything the world does. There is little separation. This is a partly the result of churches preaching that we are all sinners, so it’s not surprising that people would start to act like it. They have lost sight of the fact that when you look and act like the world, it makes your message ring hollow. It galls me to hear someone made up like a harlot sing about how they are “changed” by the blood of Jesus. Where is the change?

    I realize this is not a popular view, but is the way most churches used to believe and teach. I don’t mean to be offensive, but we are going to have to get back to holiness of living and separation from the world. That is what brings power and anointing. There is no power without purity.

    • I don’t think that it is fair to the current generation of Southern Gospel performers to say that there are no characters on the stage today, and that all groups use tracks instead of live music. There are certainly groups that have personalities and do some or all live music. Of the many out there, one that comes to mind is Pat Barker of the Mark Trammell Quartet. I don’t think anyone who has seen them live in concert could deny that he’s a character and that he has plenty of personality. 🙂 Or take Josh Singletary, Gerald Wolfe, Stewart Varnado, or Michael Booth.

      • You’re right, I didn’t mean to imply that there were NO characters left, or that ALL use tracks. And I agree with you on Wolfe and Varnado. I’m not as familiar with the other two.

      • Okay, then I think we are in agreement. There is too much use of tracks, and there are fewer characters than there used to be. I can agree on both of those points.

      • I take it you think the other points are not valid.

      • Not necessarily. When I reply to a long comment, I don’t always feel obligated to reply to every point made. That’s what group discussion is for; different people can each comment on the points that most interest them! 🙂

  17. I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but one thing I think that will further the decline in popularity is the insistence on isolating the genre from other Christian genres. That puts SG on an island on its own, and it becomes much harder to gain new fans and followers.

    By isolating itself, word of mouth becomes the only way to publicize or to gain new fans. When probably 80% of southern gospel followers are 60+, that hurts the chances to grow even more.

    A great example of a strong SG group is EHSS. Sure, they can stretch the boundaries quite a bit musically from traditional SG, but they haven’t abandoned it entirely. It’s songs like Get Away Jordan and Any Other Man that get the more diverse audience in the doors, but it’s the songs like Oh What a Savior, I’ve Been Here Before, and Then Came the Morning that keep them coming back for more.

    EHSS isn’t afraid to put themselves out there. Many fans inside SG music see EHSS doing events like Easterfest and NASCAR races as being worldly and that they are straying from godly music. However, it’s these types of things that can attract new fans to EHSS and to southern gospel music in general.

    With groups like EHSS still out on the road, I think SG has a better chance for survival. But once a major exposure group like that stops touring (which EH has hinted at), I think it becomes more difficult to attract new fans because it’s back to word of mouth. Not impossible, but more difficult.

    • If you dig into the historical roots of the isolation in the ’70s and ’80s, you will find that a very small percentage of the blame is to be placed on the shoulders of the SG industry leaders.

  18. Oh no! What has Ernie Haase said to be a hint at stopping touring?

    • Nothing, that I know of. He has said he plans to do fewer dates as he gets older.

      • I guess you’re right. I must’ve misremembered.

  19. Ok I’m gonna jump in! If we are going to use the Statesmen as a Map then ok. Did Hovie and the guys do a tribute album to the Rangers QT or concerts? Did they Change the way Quartets sing and perform? Did they record songs that were out of the Box?

    You can come up with your own answers. There is only one Jake, Hovie! Chief and so on! If that was the answer then we would be growing not shrinking. We have enough qts singing that style because the Blackwoods and the Statesmen didn’t need anybody else on the program to pack the place!

    Do I have the answer? No I don’t ! I just know it has change and the same old thing is not doing enough. You’ve got a handful of events doing great some are good and some are almost gone! You can live in a Dream world if you want too but the karaoke Gospel is shrinking everyday!

    • I have the highest respect for you, for bringing a live band back. Good for you!

      No, the Statesmen didn’t record a tribute to another *group,* but at the peak of their popularity, they recorded a tribute to Albert E. Brumley. 🙂

  20. For me persoanlly, I was raised on the old hymns and quartet music; that is what i heard each Sunday growing up. i strayed away from church during my 18-28 years old period, but then felt God (and family) pulling me back. That is when I really discovered SG and started attedning concerts, purchasing CD’s etc. I beleive that one of the reasons I am a fan now is that it links me back to my younger days. I will always be a fan. I am now 45 years old.
    With that said, many, many churches during the recent 10 years have moved from the hymns and SG style to a contemporary style of worship music. Even southern baptist and previously traditonal music churches have stopped using the hymnals and now sing contempory music projected on large screens or a wall. i have no problem with this if it is what attrats more peole to church.
    My concern is that this new generation of chruch goers will always go back to what they grew up on, just like I did….and it won’t be SG.

  21. I knew that would be brought up! I have that album! An artist is as good as there songs are. Without the song writer you don’t have a song for the singer to sing Statesmen did it first again! Lol So I guess all we can do is just do what has already been done. If so are industry is Sad. Not the Message but the way we create new ways to present the message! I wanted to get that straight before someone who has never travel a mile or had to make payroll with a gospel group started to let me know its all about the message!

    • You have a good point that it’s not exactly the same thing.

  22. I don’t see tribute albums to writers as the same thing. For one thing, writers now (and probably so then) weren’t all that popular as far as name and celebrity. So, to honor them and to sing an album full of their songs was pretty cool. Paying tribute to great groups and singing their songs can be good in some ways, but is also sort of comes across as (even if not intended) as riding on their coattails as well as doing what they already did the first time and usually if not always not as well). At the right point of a group’s career and not overdone it can be okay, but it is better for a group to find their own hit songs, own arrangements, own sound etc. Otherwise they are a poor imitation of a better thing (usually). Now, sometimes a group has taken a song (even well-known one), placed their own spin on it, and sometimes surpassed the original. In that case it is okay, but still maybe needs to be done some time down the road.

    • If you’re going to make the case that groups should quit doing table projects and re-recording the classic songs that everyone else has recorded, I see your point.

      If, on the other hand, a group is going to do a table project anyhow, I think it may as well be one with a theme – if they can pull it off, put their own spin on the songs, and do the songs justice. The Mark Trammell Quartet project of Cathedrals songs and the Kingdom Heirs project of Statesmen songs are, I think, the two best table projects issued in the last decade. At any rate, they are surely two of the 3-5 best.

      • I have not heard the KH at all and only a few songs from the MTQ, so I won’t comment. If anything, it is interesting at times hearing for instance the Gold City table projects singing songs by others such as the Cathedrals, and they could sell them cheaply at the time in addition to being somewhat rare, costly and desired today. However,their basic purpose was to sell product. There is nothing wrong with that per se, and certainly groups need to do so to make a living. However, they typically do nothing much for an artist’s career or the industry. That is more what we are talking about I think. At one point tribute projects were somewhat interesting , but typically not so much now. Now you have groups like the legacy groups of the Cathedrals or say new members of existing groups who re-cut hits because people want recordings of the current groups’ take on them. These can please some fans for sure and sell some product, but it doesn’t equal progress.

        Talking about this reminded me of the Oaks. For years people pushed them to re-record hits. Although they preferred doing new music, they did consider it a while back in part, but didn’t get it done. Then, they did for Cracker Barrel (mixed with new songs). Now you know to some degree how much I love the Oaks. Hearing the new takes was interesting for sure, but in nearly all cases the originals surpassed the re-cuts. I think that is in part due to the fact that if you really loved the originals, and consider those the definitive versions, then any attempt at redoing is going to fall short and the further away they stray from the originals, the less you will like them. I did find some interest there and perhaps the songs had a chance at reaching people today who never heard the originals. But, overall if something was done and done well, then it is probably best to leave them alone although there have been some good exceptions.

  23. The sad reality is that almost all, if not all, churches are doing contemporary music. This isn’t working so well for SG. The few churches that still sing the old hymns do it in contemporary style arrangements, this too is not working for the advancement of SG. However there is no doubt that till Jesus comes, there will always be SG. I also agree that Gaither has a greatly contributed towards the preservation and advancement of the genre. If SG had ten of his kind, it would grow incredibly.

    About the use of tracks and stacks in the genre, its not the most ideal nor the most appealing, but for a genre the size of SG, its very understandable. No matter how much people complain, the trend will not disappear. If a law were to be introduced that would restrict SG artists to perform without tracks and stacks, most of the artists would get off the road. Now we dont want that, do we? So people should be supportive and not complacent. If one doesn’t like tracks and stacks, one ought to stay at home. Live music is expensive and if fans ask for it, they have to be willing to pay more. But if they want to attend the cheapest concert, let them not complain, its annoying. SG will not grow with the meagre fares that it has to get along with.

  24. This discussion has been around for a long time now! The answers aren’t as simple as some of the above would want us to believe. I must say that Ben Harris, and Chris Allman pointed some issues out that may be part of the problem. Quality and longevity are a problem. One of my favorite Qt’s The Cathedrals had quite a few personel changes, but George and Glen’s real friendship,love and respect for eachother was what made The Cats really special. They were the Qt’s backbone, no fake ‘we’re best buddies’ stuff…the real thing!!!
    Southern Gospel could use some realness and class…..enough with the fake, i’m trying to hard to be cool…real singing, sung by real people.

  25. There’s some great and very interesting comments here, and many are “spot on”. Everyone seems to be accurately addressing the symptoms of our genre’s problem, rather than the actual cause. The cause of our genre’s woes is rooted in the Church. What brought our style of Gospel Music into it’s heyday was the fact that the music was heard in the Church. When James D. Vaughn began selling his Convention Songbooks to churches, it began to introduce an audience to a “new” and “contemporary” kind of music… Shaped-note, Quartet Music. Many churches rejected it for many years, because it was “worldly”. Slowly, over time, it became more accepted. Churches had Singing Schools and Sunday-afternoon Singing Conventions. Gospel Music became accepted, loved, and even embraced by the Church. It’s the very same sort of thing that began happening more than thirty years ago now, when “Contemporary Choruses” were introduced into the church. Bill Gaither became known as “the father of Contemporary Christian Music”, with songs like “The Family Of God”, and “There’s Just Something About That Name”. At first, many churches refused to sing these “modern” choruses, but slowly, over time, they were embraced. As the past three decades have past, more writers have emerged with Choruses and songs with music based on their love of 1970’s and 80’s Rock and Folk styles of secular music. To be really honest, Contemporary Praise & Worship Music has taken over the majority of churches in much the same way that more traditional Gospel Music became the mainstay in our genre’s heyday.

    The difference this time is, the Youth are being separated from the Adults in worship, so there’s pretty-much no chance of them being exposed to more traditional forms of Christian Music. On many occasions, when we sing in some of the larger churches, the Youth Pastors will plan a separate event for the Youth, rather than to invite them to hear something “different”, like what we do.

    Since most of us would agree that traditional Gospel Music has always had a more “mature” audience, we would also surely agree that, historically, the Church has been the “incubator” for our future fans. That’s just not the case any more. Since the Youth are not being exposed to our music, the chances of them “coming back” to it are really slim, since most of them will never hear it during their formative years.

    That sounds like a potential “death sentence”, but there is some good news! There are more 60-year-olds today than there ever have been, and twenty years from now, if the Lord tarries His return, there will be twice as many as there are today! When these folks are exposed to our music, MANY of them fall in love with it…the first time they hear it! Our challenge is keeping it “out there” where they can eventually be exposed to it. Two weeks ago, on the In Touch Alaska Cruise, a gentleman in his early 60s came to our product table and bought four pieces of product. He told us that he listened to Dr. Stanley on the radio, but didn’t watch the program on TV…so he had never seen or heard us before. His comment was…”I didn’t know this kind of music existed! I’ve never heard of it before! This is wonderful! How can I hear more?” He went on to buy CDs from the Mark Trammell Quartet, who were set up just behind us in the Bookstore area. That encounter taught me that there are STILL thousands and thousands of people who will fall in love with this music, if we can just get it in front of them.

    Don’t be discouraged… be encouraged! Our music has a message, and that message gives life and hope that our world desperately needs to hear. Yes, our genre is in a slump…the entire music industry is in a slump…but our music is not like the rest of the world’s music. Our best days could be ahead of us! Don’t throw in the towel! Gospel Music has weathered storms before, and just as before, there will be casualties, but it will survive, and even thrive! It is STILL the best music this side of Heaven!

    • Thank you for the encouragement!

      Actually, it was a conversation with you that inspired this post. When you were producing Promise’s vocals, I was watching the advice and encouragement you were giving David Mann. That was when I thought, “If Gospel Music has the right people, it will survive.” I made a note to develop that thought into a post.

      I completely agree that if the right groups are put in front of the right people, Gospel Music will have a future. I have been accurately accused of having an old soul, and all it took was one spin through a Cathedrals CD, and I was hooked!

      • Thanks Daniel. I’m honored. BTW… Those Promise guys are quite good. I haven’t heard them with the new tenor, but I’m already hearing good things.

      • With all due respect, Gerald, I feel the “contemporary” Christian music of today is of a different origin than the so-called “contemporary” Christian music of Bill Gaither. The driving force behind it seems to be different. I am finding a hostility to any kind of doctrine in the modern contemporary movement. They constantly say, “We don’t need religion, we need relationship.” That is code for, “Don’t require anything from me, don’t tell me how the Bible says to live,because that is outdated, after all this is 2012, etc…” And if you disagree with them, or point out long held Bible doctrines, they immediately brand you “intolerant”. The only sin they recognize is intolerance. And that is the same song and dance we are hearing from the liberal left, the atheists, the homosexuals,, all the groups trying to eradicate Christianity. That, to me, is a major red flag. I don’t think these people will ever be attracted to SG. They are hostile to everything it represents. And that same mindset is seeping into SG. I find it VERY troubling. If we don’t close the breaches, our music will not remain different.

      • Hello Sensible Adult!

        I’m certainly not due any respect.

        I didn’t mean to compare Bill and Gloria’s early choruses to today’s music, other than to use the terminology that was used to describe them when they were “new”. I am, and always have been, a fan of Bill and Gloria’s songs. If you have ever watched a Dove Awards program, or attended a GMA function, and Bill happens to be there, he will often be referred to as “The Father Of Contemporary Christian Music.” My guess would be that he’s probably not particularly fond of the title, but they use it, nonetheless.

        I’ll agree with you 100%… some of todays’s Contemporary Praise & Worship Music is weak on substance, and not rooted in good theology…but some of it is. Sadly, you could say the same thing about some of the music you hear on SG Radio.

        I am a staunch advocate for good theology and good doctrine in any song a Gospel Group would consider recording. Time is too short, and the stakes are too high to settle for anything less.

      • Yes, I’ve heard good things about their sound with the new tenor, too, and I’m optimistic for the future.

        I actually think you are due some respect; when someone who has successfully kept a group on the road for over twenty years weighs in on an issue related to keeping groups on the road, that person’s opinion is shaped by years of experience and deserves to be heard with that in mind!

  26. Ok since my last post didn’t make it let me ask . Who chooses the right groups? Oh one more, we have sixty year olds now where they at?

  27. I guess no matter what I will always love the 4 part harmony of the Gospel groups, just my preference,but ,I think this kind of music could still survive. Just think about the songs Dianne Wilkersin has written and still writes for the groups. As long as she is around I think we will still have good Southern Gospel music as I define SG.
    P.S. Did I read right that Quartet man has never heard the Kingdom Heirs,where have you been? Some of the best quartet singing you’ll ever hear!

    • Larry, I have heard them and even own at least one of their recordings, I was referring to that exact one.

  28. I’ve played piano in churches since my teens, professionally (which just means they pay me). I’ve noticed over the years the church music has evolved. I’m not up for debating whether or not southern gospel is better than contemporary gospel (vintage or the modern) – it just reaches different people. But I’d like to beat my dead horse in the ground some more – and focus back on groups using live bands vs. soundtracks. What got me interested in southern gospel as a kid was the entire production – bands plus voices. When I go to contemporary christian concerts today, they have the energy that comes with live music. When I sit through southern gospel musics sets with groups that use soundtracks, or even sometimes when they try by mixing a live instrument in, it has no music spark to me. At all. I’m not sure there is anything in that to keep southern gospel alive with new generations. There was an energy when The Kingsmen rolled into town with their award-winning band; or The Hemphills, or The Hinsons, or Gold City, or The Cathedrals (they could do wonders with just a piano and a bass guitar, especially when Gerald Wolfe was on the keys with them). The creativity, and energy, that surrounds live music can’t be matched with overly produced orchestrated soundtracks. Jason Crabb is currently my favorite in the southern gospel world – his instrumentation/band kicks! And notice he just won some Grammy’s. You will not convince me it will ever be okay to justify the absence of live musicians in southern gospel music. It’s all part of it. It was what attracted me to Stamps-Baxter School of Music for two summers. The uniqueness of the sound of southern gospel is what makes it the “greatest music” as so many artists like to state. Don’t disrespect it by thinking it’ll survive with karaoke style concerts.

  29. Good job KC!

  30. I don’t often project myself into the Internet, but this site and subject caught my eye. Southern Gospel is doubtless declining for countless reasons. But so is Christianity as a whole. I blame the lukewarm version of christianity that promotes worldly music and artists with spiritual words exchanged for sex and drugs. it kills the spirit in a person and replaces it with a false “good feeling”. I’ve always found that the Spirit can speak to comfort and convict me through southern gospel, but without fail those who listen to CCM don’t hear anything, and ive never seen any lasting positive effects from what they listen to. You may attract some young people with a flashy CCM southern gospel mix, but not a lasting audience that will keep coming back till they’re gray headed. I’m 21 and discovered southern gospel last year. I’m a conservative Christian, and guess what music I and my like minded friends love, follow, pay for, and will likely continue to love for years. Also interesting is that we prefer the older style of music, cathedrals, inspirations, old Gold city, ect. Some of he groups whose old music I like I would not listen to their new stuff […]. If southern Gospel is to have a meaningful future it’s going to have to win me and others like me. The contemporary crowd can be appealed to […] but I don’t believe that crowd will last long. Shallow music for shallow people has no future. Deep music for dedicated believers does.

    • Jonathan,

      Thanks for your comment! You made so many great points that I knew I needed to approve your comment, but the rules around here require things to be kept positive when speaking about groups. So I pulled two small sections and left the rest up.

      • That’s fine, I appologize for that and won’t repeat. I have no problem with anyone I mentioned, merely personal preference, and observation. 🙂

        I do find it interesting that all the young people I’ve met who have rejected CCM love southern gospel. Typically they are the type who help out in church, go to Christian college, and many become models of christian consistency. I’m on that road myself. Southern Gospel is a music of sincerity, and attracts sincere audiences by a message, not an entertainment. The contemporary way entertains, but provides little to no substantial message. As tempting as it is to mix the entertainment with the message to try to appeal to everyone, I fear that a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy.

        Keep the sincerity, concentrate on quality of message and delivery, let the Lord work. Seems like the best way to keep our music going. 🙂

      • No problem! I figured that, being new to commenting here, you probably hadn’t heard about that policy.

        Coming from a conservative background myself, I share many of your perspectives and agree with many of your points. Young people who gravitate towards Southern Gospel often seem to come from the conservative side of the cultural spectrum. 🙂

    • I have responded to Daniel’s question on my own blog, but for now I feel led to point out that this constant reference here to “CCM” is misleading. It presumes that the entire pop-based side of Christian music is like a united genre of its’ own, when in fact it is as fragmented as the secular pop music from where a lot of it stylistically is derived. “CCM” is a dated term anyway, and it should be put to bed to rest in peace.

      I think we should all try to be more specific as to what type of popular Christian music we refer to when we try to beat the “CCM” horse. It would probably lead to less misunderstanding in discussion.

  31. Very good dicussion!
    Something that gripes me and makes me wonder, is, seeing groups with a pianist, or a live band, using soundtracks WITH the band.
    If you are taking on the expense of paying a pianist, or a full band’s, salary, supporting their livelihood, along with the singers, why even use the tracks?
    Why not, if you’re going to do that, go “all the way”? Maximise the potential of your group, don’t hold the band back by using the tracks.
    This would save a group the expence of buying and maintaining a computer, or other playback device.

    Gold City was a prime example of this for severall years. Channing, Doug, and Adam (the lineup of the band that I saw in concert) were a solid unit that could get the job done, without needing the tracks. But they still used the tracks.
    I heard that a reason Hovie Lister left the Masters V was their use of tracks.
    I’m sure no one meant it this way, but, it would almost seem like a slap in the face to a legendary pianist like him, a “we really don’t need you” type of thing.
    Again, if you’re paying a musicain, or a band, make sure that they’re a group of people that you can, without hesitation, build a program with without soundtracks. And FULLY utilize them.
    With that said, I commend McCray Dove for, in today’s SG economy, stepping out on a limb and getting a band. Don’t know if they are still using tracks on some songs or not , as I haven’t seen them since the band was hired. I would imagine not, since the group’s name was changed to the Dove Brothers Band. Nothing written above was directed agains McCray. I praise him for going the “live music” route.
    The Inspirations are live, so are the Primitive Quartet, The Issacs, The Dixie Echoes, and, as already mentioned, Jason Crabb. We ought to enthusiastically support those who are doing this.

    For those who have tracks and a musician, I challendge you to, borrowing a Lari Goss phrase, ” ramp it up.” a knotch, and rely totally on your musicians. I have a feeling that audiences will thank you for it.

    • Oops, I meant Isaacs; excuse the typo.

  32. Sorry about that Quartet-Man I knew I missed something!

    • No problem. The context was the tribute albums mentioned that the KH and MTQ did.

  33. Hey Quaid what you see is what you are hearing! Imaged that! Lol

    • That’s refreshing!

  34. 1. Recruit great singers. The bottom line is I would have never done anything more than make fun of SG if it wasn’t for David Phelps. His amazing voice caused me to listen to music I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. As I was drawn to the GVB it eventually drew me to the Homecoming series and other artists.

    2. Keep singing high quality songs. As I begin to listen to more and more music I discovered some of the songs I had heard in Church, and liked, such as Boundless Love, God Delivers Again, Oh What A Savior, and I Just Started Living were from the Cathedrals. This drew me to their music and introduced me to another great voice (George Younce). Consequently, it was a tribute album from the much bemoaned EHSS that led me to the Cathedrals. Likewise, I now own music from Greater Vision because I kept hearing good songs on Pandora and noticed, wow, these guys have some really good lyrics (songs like My Name is Lazarus, With All the Many Miracles, Soon We Shall See, He’s Still Waiting by the Well). No offense to Mr. Wolfe, but.it wasn’t the amazing sound that drew me in, but the good words I heard. Note, the sound was good enough not to drive me away, which is very important.

    3. Lose the air of superiority. The way anything besides a piano, 4 men, and possiblely an almost worldly bass is worshipped on some of these blogs is a little disturbing. Note, this is usually in the fans, not necessarily the artists, but if the shoe fits…I was a little disappointed to read comments on this thread that indicated listening to something other than SG indicated a person was less sincere and less conservative. I will venture to say I am as conservative as anyone in my religion, my politics, and my world view…but maybe not my religious music. I have actually found that artists like Kirk Franklin are just as conservative as anyone in SG. Toby Mac may sing about a diverse city but that doesn’t mean he’s not conservative, he is just recognizing the diversity in the body of Christ. This is something that some people who listen to SG, fly the rebel flag, and have a hard time recognizing black people as equal humans have yet to figure out. Some of the most sincere Christians I know love the SG songs but don’t enjoy this style of music. It’s called taste and preference. Putting down their sincerity is never going to help give it a second listen.

    Anyway. Those are the thoughts of a fringe SG music fan who values quality above the name one the cover or the genre from which it hails.

    • There is a difference between culturally conservative, politically conservative, and musically conservative.

      • Which was being referenced above? I took it as implying people who listened to SG were more spiritually conservative.

        Yes, conservatism varies based on the subject. BTW, by not being musically conservative I meant I listen to things besides 4 men and a piano. Couldn’t tell you the last time I bought non-Christian music or listened to non-Christian music on the radio. Just trying to clarify.

      • I was thinking that you were thinking that, while others meant culturally conservative or musically conservative. Some of the artists you mentioned would certainly not be as musically conservative as the Inspirations or the Chuck Wagon Gang, to say the least. 🙂

      • While I have seen clips of Ryan Seaton with Toby Mac I definitely don’t expect to see the Chuck Wagon Gang with him. 🙂

  35. I firmly believe one of the biggest things southern gospel can do for itself it a live band. Southern gospel is the only genre in the world that I am aware where a track is accepted. In every other genre, that’s called karaoke 🙂

    • How about Classical and Broadway performances that aren’t at the highest-budget national levels?

      Also, plenty of genres – country, pop, etc. – pipe in pre-recorded tracks to go along with live instruments.

    • When the funds are there to hire a live band for the road, I’m all over that like white on rice. But as long as churchs and SG promoters pay as they currently do, you can look forward to more of the same. For us, it is live piano along with pre-recorded tracks. In some instances we do only piano and the 4 voices, which I really enjoy. The tracks however, never waver in time, they never grumble, and they always play the chords dead-on correct. Very few live bands can say the same and that is where tracks have a huge advantage. I am amazed when I hear comments that other forms of music are “totally live” when SG is not. Go to a main event by a pop or country star, and I guarantee you there is a Pro Tools rack off stage providng huge amounts of the orchestration, and a good portion of the vocals. I have helped design some of these touring systems, and I could give you names…but I won’t.

  36. I believe what Southern Gospel needs musically to stay alive, and I have no doubt that it will, is true talent, great quality, fresh visions, and annointing from the Lord. The Lord deserves our very best! While it is not all about looking good for people, we should strive to perform our best for the Lord. Stay true to who we are, where we came from, but also incorporate freshness into the music as we look ahead.

    The groups from the “vintage” era were not considered vintage at that time. The Statesmen were the Statesmen because of their quality vocals, instrumentation, fresh arrangements, and amazing performances. The same with the Oak Ridge Boys, Gaither Vocal Band, The Cathedrals, and Gold City! All bringing something fresh to the table!

    • AMEN!

  37. Ben I’m sure you are right but in my opinion at lease a keyboard picker,drums,guitar,bass,steel etc has a form of music they can be a part of! Unless you can sing,act like you can play a keyboard or run sound or drive a bus , there’s nothing else to offer someone for them to want to be a part of SGM.

    This thing about less problems and always on pitch well the vocals don’t do that every night ! Unless you are not singing everything ! It’s called live concert! You are going to have somebody that’s going to gripe no matter if you got a band or not! Look at all these changes in the pass month! You are always going to have that!

    We have got to invest some how some way and this thing about we have people getting older everyday is true but I’m finding that your 60 year olds don’t think or do the same things your 60 year old did 20 years ago! My daddy was in his 20’s and 30’s when he was taking me and my brother to concerts I don’t see much of that and when I do you know who they want to talk to the BAND! I know everybody can’t have a band but we needmore than we got! It can be done !

    • I am in the middle as far as tracks. First though, let me say that vocalists don’t sing on pitch all of the time, complain etc. but I also understand the more people you have the more chance of such things happening. As far as tracks being spot on, not having to break in new people etc. that is true. But in some cases one could say that vocalists should just show up and lip sync since the CD is always on pitch and time (well SOME at least 😉 ).

      I say that some songs need the tracks. Champion of Love is one I often use. Midnight Cry is probably another. Other songs are better with a band. The Cathedrals have some they did better with piano and bass than the tracks. One example is “Because He Lives”. Back in the sixties and seventies the Oaks versions of songs such as “Jesus Is Coming Soon,” “King Jesus,” “I Know,” “What A Time We Will Have Over There” were much better with the band that the studio cuts. There was an energy and excitement there lacking on the better-known cuts. “Heaven” was great and hard to imagine as a studio cut.

      I do understand the convenience and economic reasons of using tracks. Sometimes the fans don’t even care. The Booth Brothers talked about using a band and how it didn’t benefit them. They liked it, but the fans didn’t seem to mind either way and the Booths were just spending money they didn’t need to. Michael was quick to point out that if the band helped in ways of their effectiveness for the Kingdom the money would be no object and he would do without to have one, but it didn’t appear to be that way.

      I do think that bands are more important in reaching non-Christians as they are used to having a band not just for sound and aesthetics, but at times to see the rapport between the singers and musicians. I love when a band and singers find a groove and feed off of each other.

      As far as the future of the music, we shouldn’t give up what makes SG unique, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change or grow some. If you compare recordings from the teens or even the fifties to today, you will find quite a bit of difference. Even the more modern recordings of SG can be considered “old man music” to today’s music. Music that sounds like the twenties would be even more so. Groups like the Statesmen, Blackwoods, Oaks, Imperials, Cathedrals, Gold City, Gaither Vocal Band, Singing Americans, Downings, Speers and others pushed the envelope some and have chanced some during their careers. Comparing even the Statesmen’s music or the Blackwoods stuff such as the Hawaiian stuff and other things they did outside of the box to other artists of the day or older stuff shows they grew some and strove to do something a bit different. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want us to lose so much of ourselves we are no longer recognizable from others and have given up who we are to gain fans, but we shouldn’t insist on refusing all changes or we might end up being even more of a niche genre.

  38. There have certainly been a lot of words spent for such a simple answer. The answer – to sing joyful songs to please the Lord. Psalms_66:1 To the chief Musician, A Song or Psalm. Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:
    Psalms_81:1 To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm of Asaph. Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.
    Psalms_89:15 Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance.
    Psalms_95:1 O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
    Psalms_95:2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.
    Psalms_96:12 Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice
    Psalms_98:4 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
    Psalms_98:6 With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King.

  39. What this music needs is just some way for younger people to relate to it. I wish I knew what that was.

    • I know quite a few young people who love it. I think that young people, in general, are caught up with peer pressure to be into the latest fads. Unless Southern Gospel becomes something other than what is intrinsic to its nature, it will have to be content with attracting young people who aren’t afraid to listen to something other than what the surrounding crowd of their peers are listening to.

  40. I think that A live band makes a concert more “real”. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it does to me, and probably others my age. In my head tracks say “knockoff”, or “wannabes”. I may not think that while I’m there, and I may enjoy the group on CD. But It can make a difference when I think about setting time aside from my busy schedule for a concert. No criticism, the cost issue is real I know. Just giving a 21 year old’s perspective. 🙂

  41. Preach on Mr. Glass!

  42. Here’s an idea….. why don’t the instrumentalists turn it around by putting the vocals on tracks, and just touring with a band? 🙂

    • HA! Great idea!

    • Well, some pianists use tracks with strings and such which also sometimes include SOME vocals, so it isn’t beyond the realm. 🙂

  43. Hey Matt I like that idea !

  44. I’m a freshman in college and am a first generation Christian. There have been suggestions made that some of the new trends like dancing and trendy styles don’t help. I disagree. Ernie Haase and Signature Sound is one of my favorite groups and they were the ones who got me involved with the genre.

    I’ve done my homework and I like the classics like the Imperials and the Goodmans, but if you think there is no fanbase for some of the newer stuff, you couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    We aren’t lacking visionaries either. I am a big fan of what Wayne Haun, the Collingsworths, and others like them are doing. I think Stowtown records could potentially be the new Gaither Music group of my generation.

    • Progressive pulls in some fans, but traditional pulls in others.

  45. what does southern gospel need to survive…….. I was in a forum about 2 years ago and there was a comment made there, that went like this…… SOUTHERN GOSPEL NEEDS TO STAY IN THE SOUTH. THAT IS WHY US SOUTHERNS CALL IT SGM . I think maybe if artist got a road map and traveled to the north and spread SGM there, it would help ALOT. Us northerns do like and follow SGM also, it is NOT just music for the south. Give Us a chance to enjoy it in conceerts and live and see what happens. Is funny We hear it cost to much to go north BUT We can go across the big lakes or even on the big lakes.

    • Thats one that bugs me about some of the discussions people have about a possible NQC relocation. People say Indianapolis is too far north or Branson is too far north.

      Not every SG fan is within the TN/GA/KY/NC/VA area. Honestly, I’d figure maybe only half of the NQC attendees are from that close range. Why can’t we get it a little closer for us?

      In those states, you get 5-10 concerts within a 300 mile radius every weekend. Outside of that area, we maybe get 1 concert within a 300 mile radius every month…if we’re lucky. Share the wealth, guys!

      • For NQC to have its best chances at breaking even financially, where do you think would be ideal?

      • Any clue how they are doing right now?

      • Better than they would be if located in Johannesburg or Taipei … or Seattle. 🙂

  46. From a Gospel music fan growing up in the Toronto area


    My interest in Gospel music started around 1963 when my parents went on an extended trip overseas. I guess they felt I would either starve or burn the house down if I stayed on my own, so they boarded me out at a friend’s house.

    The family with whom I stayed was really into Southern Gospel music. They had quite a few Blackwoods and Statesmen albums and their stereo was never silent. I listened to that stereo for four weeks straight and I couldn’t get enough.

    Even at the tender age of fifteen, I knew this kind of music would be with me for the rest of my life so I took every opportunity I could to go with my parents and their friends to Harold Lossing’s “All Night Sings” at Massey Hall in Toronto.

    It was there I saw and met people like James Blackwood and Doy Ott; heard groups like The Speer Family, The Lefevres and The Cathederal Quartet. I begged, borrowed and stole money to buy albums. Well, maybe I didn’t steal, but I was, nevertheless, completely hooked.

    I remember looking forward to the walk from the carpark to the front doors of Massey Hall. That route took us past the busses the groups had left running and I’d breath in those diesel fumes, check out the names on the side and sometimes even get a glimpse of a famous face through one of the windows.

    Within the groups I had favorite personalities.

    The Cathedral Quartet had Bobby Clark. I can remember being so impressed when, during the ‘big ending’ of a song and the other three singers were right on top of their mics, Bobby Clark was about six feet away, head back, honking out a high note, just as loud as the rest.
    The Statesmen had Jim Wetherington who had this really cool ‘John Wayne’ gait as he walked across the stage (compared to Harold Lossing’s straight-legged, toes-up approach).

    All the groups had something going for them but The Blackwoods (and later, The Stamps) had J.D. Sumner.

    No other bass singer could match him. I recall (when he did those hokey octave slides at the end of a song) no matter how incredibly low the bass note of the final chord happened to be, he would slip passed it slightly and come up to it from below. I always imagined it was him saying, “See. I could have gone ‘way lower, but I’m limited by this unmanly key we’re in”.
    Also, nobody could match his audacity. He’d walk out on stage singing, probably, a whole octave lower than the bass in the previous group, but apparently preoccupied checking his pant cuffs, adjusting his shirt cuffs, brushing imaginary lint off his jacket……….anything to let you know these impossible low notes were simply no effort at all.
    His product pitch was similarly bold: “Them bawz (the previous group) is sellin’ their records for fahv dollahs.” he’d drawl; his voice in his boots. “Ouhrs is sehven. I guess they ort t’know whut their records is wurth”.
    I spent countless hours in front of the old console stereo just listening to low notes; flipping the speed to ‘45’ to see if I could sing along; but there was just no way.

    Eventually, The Stamps lost me. I felt their late-sixties, ‘butterfly-chasing’ songs
    was not their optimal choice of material. Even the great J.D. could not pull-off that stuff with any conviction. Anyway, I had another hero: Roger McDuff.

    Knowing my parents would not see their way clear to finance a bass-voice-enhancing operation, I, how shall we say, felt led to aim at the other end of the scale.
    My buddy Fred Craig and I would take any chance we got to sing along with a McDuff brother’s album and with Roger McDuff in particular.
    After screaming for twenty minutes or so, arteries pulsing in our necks and eyes throbbing in their sockets, we would collapse, wheezing, onto the sofa and marvel how the inimitable Roger could sing, apparently effortlessly, both higher and longer and still walk off the stage under his own steam.
    However, even in our weakened condition, our running joke was always reiterated.
    Bryan: “My voice is gone”.
    Freddy: “You don’t say”.

    Although we would have given almost anything for a voice like Roger McDuff, neither Freddy or I were remotely interested in the necessary operation.

    In the early seventies there were, as far as I was concerned, two singing groups:
    ‘The Imperials’ and ‘The Oak Ridge Boys’.

    The Oaks had an on-stage presence and charisma not held by any other group at the time. Their performance was exciting; their harmonies, straightforward and powerful. They looked like giants on stage and, along with their animated, award-winning band, all had this ‘seventies’ hair-thing going with sideburns clear down to their chins. To someone who couldn’t grow a whisker to save his life, this, indeed, was impressive stuff. These guys were the best. The vocal-instrumental, stage- production combination was unbeatable.

    On the other hand, there was The Imperials; not as visually impressive as the Oaks. Any one of them could have been your neighbour. The first few times I heard them they had no band, just piano. When on stage they simply stood there (like four Perry Comos in a row) and sang. But what a sound!
    Whatever they “lacked” in on-stage, visual appeal was far more than eclipsed by the sheer aural rapture induced by their vocals.
    You know how your ears and neck tingle and flush when you hear vocal parts combining to produce an exceptionally clear, ‘true’ chord? Well every chord; every note was like that when The Imperials sang. As far as I knew, no other group had been this tight; had ever reached those high harmonies so effortlessly; had ever even attempted the intricate ‘acappella’ numbers The Imperials performed regularly. Their vocals were totally thrilling. Each and every note had the satisfying quality of a perfectly resolved chord. Surely, they were the best.

    But could I ever have chosen between an Oak Ridge Boys’ concert and an Imperials’ concert; to go for the gut-level impact of the Oaks over the more ‘cranial’ aspect of the Imperials? Fortunately, I never had to.

    One of the first things I learned about the Gospel Music ‘business’ was the difference in performing groups. Take, for example, the high-profile groups such as the Blackwoods, The Statesmen, The Speers and The Lefevres. They could be seen in all the biggest cities across the continent and they were the ones that performed at Massey Hall in Toronto. I noticed, based on their Toronto appearances, these groups would tour in particular pairs or sets and, apparently, for good reason.

    Take, for instance, the Blackwood/Statesmen combination. Once I got past the fact that bass singers J.D. Sumner and ‘Big Chief’ Jim Wetherington were not the only ones in those groups, I began to listen to the other singers and to the style of music each group presented.

    The Blackwoods, I seem to recall, were ‘Southern Gospel’ with a few ‘hymn-type’ songs thrown in. Their feature personality was, without doubt, J.D. Sumner, but the Bill Shaw, James Blackwood, Cecil Blackwood trio nicely balanced the hideous depth of Sumner’s voice. The trio’s ‘trained’ quality offset Sumner’s ‘listen-to-this-low-note’ approach. That particular combination of personalities was, arguably, the classic ‘Blackwood’ quartet; at least, it was to those people I knew at the time. Others maintain earlier versions hold that title. I guess it depends on your age.

    By contrast, the Statesmen featured their animated piano player Hovie Lister. Although I just missed what most people would consider the ‘classic’ Statesmen (with Jake Hess), I did pick up a few of their previous recordings. The Statesmen group I heard live included Rosie Rozell, Jack Toney, Doy Ott, Jim Wetherington and Hovie Lister.

    Where did these guys come up with these names? Nobody I knew ever heard of a ‘Doy’ or a ‘Hovie’ and for crying out loud, the only ‘Cecil’ I can recall is ‘Cecil the Sea-Sick Sea Serpent’.
    A friend of mine named his dog ‘Hovie-Wan-Kenobi’ (an interesting blend of characters, I thought).

    Forgive me. I digress.

    The Statesmen, I felt, were also Southern Gospel but rather than appeal to the sausage-fingered, hand-clappers, they catered to the more sophisticated, slicked-back, finger-snappers. While I just lived for J.D.’s seat-shaking low notes, I also learned to appreciate Jim Wetherington’s more-harmonic, less obtrusive bass. You see, quite often the Statesman would sing a song with really great five-part harmonies and I remember trying to figure out if the bass had slid up to the baritone part and the rest had tightened up, or if the irrepressible Hovie had simply added the fifth part himself. The blend was such you couldn’t tell. Where the Blackwood’s singing was powerful, the Statesmen’s was refined.

    But this mixture of groups worked well. Travelling and appearing in pairs meant the Blackwood/Statesmen combo sang to twice as many people than if they performed alone; those of the audience who would curl their lip at J.D.’s swaggering low notes might sit smiling, their heads tilted slightly, as the Statesmen sang. On the other hand, the Statesmen’s intricate harmonies would be totally wasted on the foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’ set.

    But there would always be a spillover.

    As the Statesmen did their finely-tuned material, some of the foot-stompers would start to look at each other, their raised eyebrows saying “not bad”. Similarly, some of those ‘artsy’ uptown folks would be momentarily shocked then amused to find not only their own hands but those of their friends clapping along with a classic Blackwood’s number. Consequently, product sales would be impressive; probably fifty percent more than if each group had performed before their own draw alone.

    Likewise, with the Speer Family & and The Lefevres or Happy Goodmans; those not into the hanky-waving Vestal or the infinitely-talented and eternally-grinning Uncle Alphus, could bask in the classy ‘Harold Lane’ arrangements of the Speers.

    At that time I was seventeen or eighteen years old and to be totally honest, I never bought a Lefevres or Goodmans album. My parents did. Their friends did. …………..bought dozens of them. I preferred an all-male group.

    Come to think of it, I still do.