Book Review: Southern Sounds from the North (Richard Doran)
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Richard Doran has been singing baritone with a local Ohio group for over three decades. Over those years, he has accumulated a wealth of first-hand knowledge about Southern Gospel in Ohio.
Ohio is sometimes thought to be off the beaten path of the Southern Gospel circuit. Granted, Ohioans get fewer concerts than residents of states in the deep South, but Doran shows in this book that Ohio’s Gospel roots run deep.
The book’s greatest strength is its exhaustive detail. Doran seems to have tracked down a member or two from nearly every Southern Gospel group based in Ohio, or that had member(s) from Ohio. Whether you follow the national Southern Gospel groups or are trying to find information on a small family group that sang in your church decades ago, chances are high that if there is any Ohio tie they are in here.
Besides general outlines of each group’s history, the book includes many humorous anecdotes. In one memorable incident, Jim Blair of Harrittsville, Ohio’s Chapel-Aires totally blew an altar call, asking the audience, “Please stand on your hands, bow your eyes, and close your heads.” The book is also full of fascinating trivia—everything from how many copies the Inspirations’ 2001 Pure Vintage album sold in the first three months it was out (10,ooo copies) to Mike Allen’s full last name and why he chose to use his middle name on stage. (You’ll have to get the book for that one.) Another tidbit: Mitchel Jon Kenitzer had never sung Southern Gospel before joining Three Bridges. He had actually been a rock singer from North Dakota.
The book is set in a travelogue format. Each chapter is in the context of a road trip, and town by town, Doran shares some facts about the town and singers that lived there. Though a unique idea, it probably wasn’t the best choice of formats for the book. The only practical way to access the wealth of data in the book is through the index; an encyclopedic (alphabetical) or chronological listing would have been a little more accessible.
But on the scope of things, that is really a minor quibble. Aside from minor errors like occasional mispellings of singers’ names, the book is quite accurate. This book can safely be called definitive. Southern Gospel history is better off for having this information preserved—and would be even better if writers in other states are inspired to research similar projects.