First Impressions Matter

Every radio single will be someone’s first exposure to that artist. It doesn’t matter if it’s an artist’s first single or if the artist has had thirty years of hits; it will still be someone’s first impression.

It was 2004 when I first tuned into my local Southern Gospel radio station. This is not the time or place to name names, but three particular singles in rotation then struck me as highly repetitive and lyrically unremarkable. For a while, I just assumed that all three were representative of the normal fare those artists offered. One of the three artists disbanded before they could prove me wrong, but the other two both eventually changed my mind. In fact, today, I think of one of those three artists as typically offering some of the most lyrically powerful material on Southern Gospel radio today. That was their only weak single in the last decade. But it took several years before I had fully shed the impact of that first impression.

But Southern Gospel radio in 2004 as a whole certainly left a strongly positive first impression. Hit songs around the time I started listening were the Talley Trio’s “Jesus Saves,” the Perrys’ “I Wish I Could Have Been There,” the Hoppers’ “Jerusalem,” and the Kingdom Heirs’ “I Know I’m Going There.” To this day, I still consider those four as among the strongest songs those groups ever sent to radio. I became a fan of those four groups almost immediately. Good first impressions matter, too.

Of course, the same thing applies to many other aspects of what we do. Many blog posts here are someone’s first exposure to a Southern Gospel news website. Many comments you all leave are someone’s initial impression of how friendly and welcoming our genre is. And that’s not even to mention the first impressions we leave on people near and farโ€”from drivers in rush hour to customer service agents in Indiaโ€”of how Christians should speak and act.

First impressions matter.

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31 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. Amen Brother. Amen!! Reception is clearly based on perception!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Good post, Daniel! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Okay, you’ve given me enough information to figure out who the artist is whose single you didn’t like but now you think they’re one of the most lyrically powerful, but I’ll respect your desire not to name names. I’m definitely glad you came around though, it’s a worthy artist for sure. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You all might think you know, but there were enough repetitive songs on the charts in 2004 and enough artists that I would describe as having lyrically powerful songs today that I’m reasonably confident that many or most of the guesses would be wrong. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Yea I know who and even what song that was in 2004………..

  5. Daniel,
    To me it is not about guessing who the artist/artists are that you described. What is important is that first sentence, and the last paragraph and ending sentence!! Thanks for good thinking about our favorite kind of music. I love researching the old groups and searching for a song someone is looking for. I love to listen to
    the old ones that used to be my most favorites. However, I seldom listen to the radio. It is always to music I have chosen, and own. I do enjoy seeing groups perform live and try to see/hear as many as I can locally, at NQC, and on TV. But, I do agree that “first-impressions” are so important!!

  6. Excellent post! Something we all need to remember, no matter what capacity we are in.

    My first exposure to Southern Gospel music was in the mid-to-late 1980s. I was 6-10 years old during that time, and absolutely fell in love with the music! Gold City, The Kingsmen, The Hoppers, The Talleys, The Cathedrals, and so on. With that being MY first impressions, I suppose that’s why I’m such a “traditionalist” when it comes to Southern Gospel (as I have stated in other threads, ad infinitum, ad nauseum). To me, that will always be the “Golden Era” of southern Gospel music, because I have so many wonderful memories of the songs.

    I guess I just have a bit of nostalgia, wanting to keep it like it was. I suppose those older than me feel the same way about the styles of the ’70s (which I don’t really care for) and the ’50s and ’60s (which I do enjoy).

  7. I have to comment here. Last summer a friend and I were able to attend Canada’s Gospel Music Celebration in Red Deer,Alberta. She had not been exposed to a whole lot of Southern Gospel,so in essence this was a first impression for her. She came away from that event marvelling at how open and friendly the artists were.Secular groups apparently often disappear back stage after a concert,not so in the Southern Gospel field. She also noticed how friendly all the people were in general,the kindness and courtesy which was shown. Her first impressions have led to a love for this music and a drawing closer to God.

  8. You never get a second chance to make a good impression–and I will add that it’s a lot harder to work your way back up on someone’s opinion ladder than it is just to make the extra effort to put one’s best foot forward to begin with. This goes for every aspect of our industry. I think we sometimes lose sight that God is real and present and watching and listening to everything we do. Not pointing fingers–it’s easy to lose that when we live in a visual, physical world with its financial constraints and the desire to fulfill dreams and be a success. But my thought is that when we fully grasp and live in the reality that God is standing right here watching every concert, every interaction, listening to every recording, reading every FB or twitter post, surely we’d take the appropriate steps to put our best foot forward every time. May we always be mindful that He is here and we should always be doing our best every time for His Glory. By the way Daniel, I think he’d approve the process of your blog site! Professional, positive, and respectful. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • My quote at the beginning should be “you never get a second chance to make a first impression!” ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Very good post! This is the essence of the matter! You hit the nail on the head. The downside to living in this visible, tangible, microwave, instant gratification world is that we do in fact tend to forget that there is an invisible God watching everything, and doesn’t miss anything! We also seem to lose the ability or at least the eagerness to “wait on the Lord”.

      A good first impression is like a good reputation: You only get one! Make sure you handle it with care!

  9. As the old “saw” goes…You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Here’s possibly a juxtaposition worth considering. How does the first impression discussion square with the “non-theological”, novelty songs from the previous discussions? What about the non-believer who randomly tunes in to a SG channel and hears “Don’t Sit in My Pew”?

  10. One of the best first impressions I have ever had of a group is Legacy Five. The very first word of the very first song on their very first album was Jesus. The album was “Strong in the Strength”. The song was “Salvation Is The MIracle To Me.” The first line of the song was, “Jesus the Holy One God’s own begotten Son…” What a great place to start!! I don’t know if this was on purpose, but I will always remember this great ministry because of this.

  11. This is such an interesting topic! First impressions…it brings to mind a friend of mine. His words were something like this:
    Me: What’s your favorite group?
    Friend: The Gaither Vocal Band! I love them!
    Me: Oooh! I’m a Southern Gospel junkie!
    Friend: Oh, I don’t like Southern Gospel. It’s just not my style.

    Needless to say that left me quite confused…

  12. Joshua, in the 80s and 90s, several people told me that they liked and respected the Cathedrals, but didn’t like Southern Gospel.

  13. Back in my teenage years, a friend’s parents took me to my first REAL gospel singing by semi-prof/semi-local talent. It was at a county courthouse courtroom (you couldn’t do that now!). I LOVED the music. I went straight home & told my also teenage cousin, “You have GOT to go hear this music!” He said “OK, I ‘ll go, but I’m not going to let it get under MY skin like that!” He went. He was hooked. Within 2 years he was a much sought-after quartet pianist. He eventually surrendered to the ministry. I often wonder where we would be if not for that exposure to gospel music, because preaching would not have gotten through (at least to me) like that music. Recently at a local 3 nite sing, 1 song sung at the end of the 3rd night by a professional group I had never even heard of got my attention, & it literally changed my life’s direction again. Everything I had heard that weekend was just ho-hum up to that point. Those are 2 HUGE positive 1st impressions I have experienced.

  14. When my wife and I were first dating (second marriage for both), I started introducing her to some of my favorite SGM groups. One day she asked if I wanted to go to a Christian concert with her to man a booth for World Vision. I had a work commitment, but asked her who was singingโ€ฆ. She said, “I don’t know, some guy named David Phelps”. So that was her first exposure – not traditional quartet style but it was an eye opener for her. Now five years later she is a true SGM lover.

  15. Everyone else is telling how they came to love SGM, so I’ll jump on the proverbial bandwagon! I’ve been raised around it my whole life…Being the Southern/conservative/homeschool family that we were, my family was too conservative for contemporary, so SG was the way to go! In fact, my first “real” SG concert was the Cathedrals on their farewell tour (I was 2 years old and have since been informed that I cried the entire time). I didn’t become “fanatic” about it as a genre, however, until I attended an Inspirations concert. I wasn’t very informed about groups and members at that time, and I remember complaining that I didn’t want to go see a bunch of old men singing slow songs. Boy was I in for a surprise! The lineup consisted of Mike Holcomb, Melton Campbell, David Ragan, Jodi Hosterman, Martin Cook, Myron Cook, and Luke Vaught. I was blown away and entirely consumed with it!

    • Say, I’m from a conservative homeschooling family, too! I’ve been surprised at how many SG fans under 30 are homeschool graduates. Take it one step further, and narrow it down to SG fans under 30 who are new to the genre (and didn’t spend their whole life in an SG context), and I dare say the percentage of homeschool graduates is even higher.

      • Probably so…I think the same would be true with those who are new to Bluegrass Gospel. I’m friends with several homeschool families across the country who are just discovering Bluegrass Gospel and they love it!

      • My daughter is 4, and we are currently attempting to homeschool her (Pre-K4). We’ll see how it goes. We got another one on the way in 7 weeks, so Mom/teacher is going to have her hands full, but it’s been done before.

        My daughter LOVES southern gospel! Her favorite song is Rasslin’ Jacob by the GVB. When it comes on her eyes light up and she starts singing! She knows every word, and even does the “for the day” bass part that Bill does in the chorus. It’s amazing how much their little minds absorb at that age!

      • BTW, I’m almost 34, and I was not homeschooled. But back then, public school was actually a civil place that still honored God to some degree. That was only 16-20 years ago. My, how things have changed! Now public schools have pretty much become the incubators for liberal mentalities and moralities!

      • …and just to think, within the span of human memory, schools across this country were teaching the Bible (as truth!) In fact, quite a few readers of this site are probably old enough to remember those days.

  16. Hey I’m new here and I have thoroughly enjoyed these posts.

    I grew up around Southern Gospel all of my life and have enjoyed it to the fullest.
    My wife though has only really been around SGM for the last 4ish years, mainly since we met.
    As stated above First Impressions are indeed important. My wife had heard groups that were local and some regional groups but had had bad experiences with groups whether personally or vocally. So when she heard I was a bass singer for a quartet she almost didn’t go on our planned date but she went anyways. She heard the Carolina Boys Quartet from South Carolina and she was hooked (Thank the Lord!). She now supports me when I am away singing and sometimes she goes with me but if it had not been for the CBQ impression and their friendship, she may have lived on not liking SGM!

    Congrats Daniel on such an awesome blog by the way…LOVE this site!

    • Thanks, and you’re welcome!

  17. Our first impressions of Southern Gospel music vary greatly, from Mom’s fond remembrance of a regional quartet visiting her family’s little country church to Taylor hiding and plugging her ears as Mom played an old tape of the same group later on. Sam’s was positive: he recalled liking the tenor of a quartet because he sang a funny “Mo-o-o-o-ving” part on a song (Ernie Haase, the Cathedrals, “Moving Up to Gloryland”…all on 50 Faithful Years). And, then there was our first concert experience.

    But interestingly enough, we all (no matter how ardently we did or did not appreciate it from our first impressions) love this genre, and are now considering how we ourselves are giving first impressions of Southern Gospel music.

    Short (well, not really) example:

    Recently, as we stepped off the bus to begin unloading for another concert, Mom shared a quote from someone: “…we are all most people will ever see or know about Southern Gospel music. Since one never gets a second change to make a first impression, we should concert our attempts to put forth a good representation of Southern Gospel music.” We took it to heart and also applied it to our faith.

    As we began unloading, two young teens rode up to the church on bicycles…and then hung around with the pastor and our family as we set-up and sound-checked. The two brothers had obviously never heard of the Cathedrals or Bill Gaither (or anything else commonly correlated with SGM), but they were intrigued by the music and our family. The quote still fresh in our minds, we made sure we reached out and engaged with them. The two surprisingly stayed for the concert, sitting in the far back of the church.

    After the concert, Mom was talking to someone when the older of the two came up to her and said, “You made me cry.” He explained that during Mom’s testimony and her singing of the classic “Thank You, Lord, for Your Blessings on Me”, he had so related to her story (because of some dark trials in his life) that he was moved to tears and encouraged.

    Those two may not have become die-hard fans of Southern Gospel music because of our concert, but we pray that their “first impression” would be the message of hope through Jesus Christ that, Lord-willing, was evident in the songs. It is a sobering thought to think each SG singer – whether national, regional, or local – is representing the genre as a whole, and further, Jesus Christ. What a responsibility. Yes, not every one who attends a Southern Gospel concert is going to be a fan of the style, but hopefully, maybe, they will respect and be blessed by the message and representation.

    Well, enough said!


    • I love this family’s comment.

  18. I can’t specifically name my first encounter, but that’s mostly because it’s had some part in my life practically since I was born. My dad sang in a quartet before I was born. I remember multiple times when our small church would take a bus-load to Gaither concerts. In my pre/early teens (late 90s) I remember my sister started buying Gaither videos. While I always had an interest, I didn’t get hooked until my college years. After a few years, I had a healthy collection of my own Gaither DVDs. That’s when I started branching off from just Gaither music to SG as a whole (with the help of Diana B’s youtube collection.) I don’t remember when I started coming around here, though it’s probably been longer than I realize.

  19. My family has been singing since before I was born. When I got started school, the music teacher would call each of us up and have us sing for her in a semi-private session at the piano. I was shocked to find out that some kids couldn’t sing! LOL I even asked one or two, “What do you mean you can’t sing??” I thought everybody could sing. Yes, yes, I DO stand corrected to this day. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I remember always being exposed to southern gospel. I would sneak into my brother’s room and play all his records–I was fascinated by reading the credits and liner notes, particularly of groups with writers who penned most/all of the songs, like Hinsons, Rambos, or Hemphills. We’d go hear groups that came to the annual rural electric cooperative, and I remember being confused when they’d all be from different towns and states. I couldn’t figure that out at all. No one ever told me there was an entire genre of southern gospel artists who sang full-time as a career. I guess my parents thought I knew that. Little by little I made these discoveries on my own, found Singing News and then the Gospel Greats–two organizations that literally caused my love for this music to go to an entirely different level. I absorbed this music like a sponge, went to every concert within several hours’ radius, bought every recording, found gospel radio stations. It’s still the music I love the most and still the only music with an important life-changing testimony message that the world needs to hear. As both a fan and a contributor through songs and Singing News, while I’m sure I fall short many times, I hope I always do my best to give my best with passion for the Glory of God and the lifelong love of this music.

  20. Speaking of first impressions. Im not a big bluegrass fan but saw the young bluegrass group “Southern Raised” on Great American Gospel and I was hooked. Their vocals and playing are phenominal. I havent heard a performance by them that hasnt been top notch.

  21. 2004, from what I recall, from reading SN, and listening to the same station you did, that that was a time of transitsion in the industry.
    Alot of groups started exploring music styles different from what they had done previously.
    Technically, the change started earlier, but it had picked up steam in 04. Stayed that way till 08. Radio then stated to become more traditional, in the sense of, like it was before the shift. There was a noticiable change during those years.