The Essential Songwriter Collection: Ira Stanphill

Ira StanphillThe Essential Songwriter Collection series lists ten songs each from legendary songwriters that every Southern Gospel fan should add to their collections.

  • “A Crown of Thorns”: McDuff Brothers, Here Come the McDuff Brothers with Big John Hall, 1960s. Though one of Stanphill’s lesser-known songs—Stanphill only wrote four or five widely recognized classics—the strength of the rendition played into the song’s inclusion on the list.
  • “Follow Me”: J.D. Sumner, The Heart of a Man, 1969. It’s a toss-up between the technical excellence of Larry Ford’s 1994 arrangement and this simpler but heartfelt 1969 version from Sumner. Ford’s arrangement is stronger, but the pathos in Sumner’s voice tips the scales in his favor. 
  • “Happiness Is”: Melody Four, A New World. Though this song is more-recognized than some of the others on the list, the Melody Four’s rendition still has little competition.
  • “He Washed My Eyes With Tears”: Gaither Homecoming Friends, Passin’ the Faith Along, 2004. This version, featuring Tanya Goodman Sykes and Reggie & Ladye Love Smith, brings modern production quality to the song without losing its hymnlike feel.
  • “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”: Gold City, A Collection of Favorites Vol. 1, 2010. It would be easy to pick the version with the most pathos for every song on this list. In this case, though, while the slower pace George Younce employed brought out the power of the lyric, Gold City’s recent country-influenced version is a fresh and delightful twist.
  • “Mansion Over the Hilltop”: Cathedrals, Alive! Deep in the Heart of Texas, 1997. Too many groups treat renditions of “Mansion Over the Hilltop” as a matter of routine—just another performance of just another hymn. Here, Scott Fowler let loose on the verse, delivering it with a passion that led to a round of applause as he finished his solo and the group transitioned back into the chorus. (Runner-up: The Blackwood Brothers turned a solid rendition on Favorite Gospel Songs and Spirituals, 1952). 
  • “Room At The Cross”: Weatherfords, The Finest in Gospel Singing, 1959. Though the 1960 Statesmen live version came close, no version has surpassed this one, featuring Lily Fern Weatherford on the solo, as the smoothest to date.
  • “Suppertime”: George Younce with Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, NQC Live 2003, 2004 (video). Despite many other fine renditions, there is really no question that, in Southern Gospel, this is Younce’s song. The bigger question is which version to record through his career. He recorded it quite a few times, from a 1957 version with the Blue Ridge Quartet to this final 2003 version. Vocally, it’s not his strongest (that would be his 1971 version on the Cathedrals’ Somebody Loves Me). But that’s not the point. This was Younce’s final NQC appearance, and final appearance outside of his immediate area. In that moment, the lyric and the legend came together for an unforgettable goodbye.
  • “Unworthy”: Greater Vision, The King Came Down, 1993. John Rulapaugh offered a similarly strong vocal delivery of the song on Palmetto State Quartet’s Gospel Quartet Favorites album in 2006. However, the supporting elements around Mark Trammell’s feature vocal—the harmonies, the vocal arrangement, and the soundtrack—give the Greater Vision track the edge.
  • “We’ll Talk It Over”: The LeFevres, Gospel Music USA, 1975. This hymnlike rendition features bass singer Rex Nelon on lead, just a year or two before the LeFevres would become the Rex Nelon Singers.

What do you consider to be the definitive versions of Ira Stanphill’s songs?

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19 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’m torn on “Room at the Cross”. I have not heard the Weatherfords’ version, but the Statesmen version is great, and so is the acappella version by the Cathedrals on Symphony of Praise. The harmony in the Cathedrals’ version is just so sublime.

    There was also a good version of “Mansion” done by the Statesmen with the Anita Kerr Singers on an album by the same name as the song in 1960.

    • Check out the Weatherfords’ version if you get the chance. The Cathedrals’ version bears some resemblances – not exactly surprising, given that both shared the same lead singer. Minus the Cathedrals’ cascading harmonies, they’re quite similar, in fact.

      The Weatherfords’ rendition is especially impressive if you factor in the advances in mid-1980s recording technologies that they *didn’t* have.

  2. Symphony of Praise for “Room at the Cross”! Come on!

    I haven’t heard the Weatherfords. 🙂

    When I think about “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” immediately I hear the big Gossian brass from I’ve Just Started Living.

    • Brian – just wait till you hear the Weatherfords’ rendition. Even as good as the Cathedrals’ rendition is, I suspect you’d be totally with me once you did. 🙂

      (Besides, Glen Payne is on both!)

  3. As for “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” I actually enjoy the mid-tempo arrangement that the Oaks recorded in 1965. It was William Lee Golden’s first feature with the group, and he even re-cut it in 1997 on the Oaks’ “Revival” project. He still sings it from time to time in his home church.

    • My first exposure to “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow” was the Cathedrals’ version on “I’ve Just Started Living”. Later, I heard the Golden version and prefer it myself. Here is the Oaks’ version:

  4. Daniel, there is a Daywind project that was released in 2003 that was a tribute to the music of Ira Stanphill. It included a huge choir that was recorded at NQC the year prior to release, doing his signature song, Mansion Over The Hilltop and had various artists performing other songs of his, some pre-released, of course, and some new cuts. Everyone from the Crabb Family to Cathedrals to Johnny Cash (featured on Suppertime) is on this recording. Fifteen songs in all. It was called “Mansion Over The Hilltop: A Tribute To The Legendary Ira Stanphill.” You may find it interesting to take a listen to, in light of this topic.

  5. What a legacy! There are no “best songs” or “greatest performances.” However, Eva Mae, singing “Mansi0n Over the Hilltop,” rates a special mention!

  6. I have Ira Stanphill records and hearing the man himself sing his own song is the best. How come no one ever posts his recordings f his songs on you tube, etc?

    • People probably don’t have necessary permissions from the copyright owners.

      • I met Brother Stanphill twice. Very nice and humble gentleman.

      • Neat!

  7. Daniel are you on facebook; I am.

    • Yes; however, I only accept friends requests from people I know in person. Should we get to know one another in person someday, I’d be happy to add you then.

      In the interim, though, this site has a Facebook page, where I post about Southern Gospel, and I’d be happy for you to join that (anyone can):

  8. I love Ira Stanphill’s music. I am looking for all of the words for, The Choice is Mine. Wonder if you could post that song as well. I love the words; used to sing in a trio and mixed group, we loved the harmony of this song.
    thanks, Doris

    • I’m thrilled that it’s a song you love. I regret to say that copyright law would not permit me to post the song.

    • Here’s a guy performing a medley of Stanphill songs in church, including that one. I don’t know how much of the song is featured in his performance:

  9. Do you know where I can find the words for, ‘Look What I Found’, by Ira Stanphill?