Mega-groups in Southern Gospel

(Note: My apologies to readers who were expecting the weekly CD review this morning. I’m not feeling well and am not up to putting in the three or four hours necessary. So here are my thoughts on another topic.)

Over the years, Southern Gospel has had several mega-groups. These groups dominated the scene, were widely emulated, and set the standard for years to come. The two most recent mega-groups were the 1990s Cathedrals and Gold City up until 2002 or 2003. But when the Cathedrals retired and everyone except Jonathan Wilburn left Gold City, the genre was left without a clear mega-group.

There have always been popular groups that haven’t quite been termed mega-groups, for whatever reason. Current examples would be the Inspirations and Greater Vision.

Over the last few years, a small but (apparently) steadily increasing number of people have stated that Ernie Haase and Signature Sound has become a Southern Gospel mega-group. Despite the fact that within the past year or so they have moved into the #1 slot on my favorite quartets list, I have for some reason been reluctant to term them a mega-group. But why?

Perhaps it stems from the definition of a Southern Gospel mega-group. What makes a group a mega-group?

There is no set definition, yet, but here are a few marks that seem to distinguish a mega-group from other groups:

Subjective

  • There is a special spark when their four voices blend that those voices could not achieve in any other lineup
  • They have a remarkable stage presence

Objective

  • Same lineup maintained for at least five years, often closer to ten
  • Consistently fan favorite in awards
  • Consistently performs in front of large audiences
  • Each member in the group becomes so individually well-known that they can later start a successful first-notch Southern Gospel group of their own

I don’t know what qualities I am missing, but I think these are a few that set mega-groups apart.

In a sense, the final one is the one that stands out the most in my mind. When I want to prove that the Cathedrals were a mega-group, I point to Signature Sound, Legacy Five, Greater Vision, and the Mark Trammell Trio. When I want to prove that Gold City was a mega-group, I point to Brian Free & Assurance, Ivan Parker’s solo ministry, and the Mike LeFevre Quartet (for the first GC mega-group), and the Mark Trammell Trio from the second.

But anyone who followed my criteria would only be able to term a group a mega-group after the group had disbanded or after its best days were past.

What makes a group a mega-group? I don’t really have any firm conclusions yet, but I would love to hear comments from those who do.


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7 Letters to the Editor

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  1. What makes a mega-group? In a word, consistency. Consistant members and consistent (good, quality) hit songs. Unfortunately, SG has little to no groups that would fit my criteria, usually due to personnel changes. The groups closest to being the mega-groups are:

    Signature Sound
    Legacy Five
    Inspirations (maybe they are already there?)

    Just my opinion….

  2. I can’t believe you left out the TWO BIGGEST SG artists in the last ten years – even bigger than Ernie Haase & Signature Sound: The Crabb Family and Gaither Vocal Band.

    I have said it time and time again and I will continue to say it – there are FOUR mega-artists in our community right now – they are EHSSQ, GVB, Crabb Family, and the Isaacs. No one else sells as many records or packs out the place more than these four. Also, no other group has the outside recognition of these four groups.

  3. Well, Chris, I was mostly thinking within traditional Southern Gospel. The Crabbs have been doing quite a bit of work in the CCM market; all their concerts locally were at CCM church venues. (I know they do concerts at Southern Gospel venues elsewhere.) But there’s only one response I can have to your post: Duh.

    I should have thought of the GVB and Crabs myself.

  4. I’m not sure what work in the CCM market that the Crabb Family has been doing that was any different than the Cathedrals were doing in the 90’s. The Crabb Family plays church venues that normally host CCM events because that is the size building they need. That tells me they are a mega-group.

    You always say they’ve been doing stuff in CCM – yet they aren’t played on CCM radio, they don’t do major SG tours, and their albums are still stocked and considered Southern Gospel in retail and for the Dove and Grammy awards.

  5. That should read “They don’t do major CCM tours” NOT SG tours.

  6. Chris,

    I think I’m starting to understand that your point is that the way things are in my area is not representative.

    In my case, it wasn’t just “venue booked,” it wasn’t “big enough building.” There are churches with big buildings in the general vicinity that bring in Southern Gospel at least occasionally, but the church that brought in the Crabb Family was the single most “seeker-sensitive megachurch” in the area and I believe brought them in for a regular service–like Sunday Morning–possibly in addition to a regular concert. This was within the past year or so.

    Though it’s been a few years since I spent a significant amount of time listening to the local CCM station, when I did, the amount of air time given to Crabb music was, I believe, comparable to the time the local SG station gives to their music, though not quite as much.

    Perhaps this isn’t representative of other markets, but the Crabb Family has been embraced by the CCM community in this market.

  7. You can not pass judgement on whether SSQ is a mega=group based on your last objective.
    The group is young except6 for Ernie so you can not make a judgement based on the “later” factor at this time.
    Give them a few years and they might reach that objective.
    Remember Bill Gaither was only a roadside singer in small churches in the late 50’s and 60’s.
    It tookl years for him to reach a higher level.