Does Southern Gospel really need live bands?
Live music is on the decline in Southern Gospel; an increasing number of concerts consist solely of three or four singers with soundtracks. These soundtrack-only performances often sacrifice spontaneity and excitement in exchange for perfection.
When this issue is raised, someone will invariably note that soundtracks are necessary because it is not economically feasible for many groups to add three or four more salaries. But is this a false dichotomy? Are these our only two choices?
Southern Gospel’s period of greatest visibility and cultural influence was in the quarter-century from 1950-1975. For the last 8-10 years of that period, it was common for groups to travel with bands. But for two generations of Southern Gospel prior to that point—and for most of this peak visibility period—Southern Gospel live programs consisted of three or four voices and a piano player.
The singing was so good, the piano playing was so good, and the songs were so good that these live programs were hardly inferior.
What would happen if Southern Gospel live programs went back to four voices and a piano player? Would groups still be able to execute the show-stopping anthems that are generally the high points of current live programs? For many of the best groups, the answer would be yes. If you have a featured vocalist of a Mark Trammell, Arthur Rice, or Joseph Habedank caliber, you don’t need a 60-piece orchestra to bring the house down with “Loving the Lamb,” “We Will Stand Our Ground,” or “If You Knew Him.”
Two more questions. (1) Has our culture progressed to the point where three or four top-notch vocalists and a top-notch piano player cannot put on a compelling, dynamic live concert that will draw fans to the genre?
(2) On the flip side, is three or four top-notch vocalists and a soundtrack player more or less compelling and dynamic?