Are great emcees born or bred?
When we see a great emcee at work—a Jim Hamill, George Younce, Roger Bennett, or Gerald Wolfe—we tend to assume that they must have been born with special talents.
But it is easy to forget the number of years each of the four spent in as a non-emceeing quartet member. Roger Bennett spent almost twenty years with the Cathedrals. Gerald Wolfe spent five years with the Dumplin Valley Boys and a year and a half more with the Cathedrals. Both had the opportunity to study the man who may have been the single most effective emcee of his generation, George Younce, at work every weekend.
But consider Younce, who spent around twenty years watching other emcees at work before stepping up himself. If I’m not mistaken, Danny Koker—not George Younce—was the original Cathedrals emcee, so Younce didn’t even start emceeing until four years into the Cathedrals run.
Hamill, also, spent twenty years on the road before becoming an emcee. Younce and Hamill were both Weatherfords and Blue Ridge Quartet members and heard emcees Earl Weatherford and (as I understand) Elmo Fagg, respectively, hone their craft in front of diverse audiences. Hamill also performed with the Oak Ridge Boys and with the Rebels, among others, prior to his Kingsmen years.
Undoubtedly, great emcees are born with some skills that translate well to effective on-stage communication. But the greatest, it seems, put in years of observing other effective emcees at work before reaching the level of greatness that inspires a new generation.
Are there exceptions? There may be a few. Michael Booth wasn’t the original Booth Brothers emcee. (That would have been, as I understand, his father, Ron Booth Sr.) But he didn’t spend that many years observing before taking the reins. There are undoubtedly others. Yet it seems that many of the greatest spend years observing other great emcees before diving in for themselves.
This raises another interesting question: Which great emcees of the next generation are currently paying their dues, quietly watching a master at work? Pat Barker? (He’s probably cut out to be an emcee.) Doug Anderson? Scotty Inman? Josh Singletary?