Further thoughts on Vocal Band shakeup

I thought it was rather interesting that, given that this month I had my first interview of a Vocal Band member up on the site, that the member (Wes Hampton) is the only one besides Bill Gaither still in the group at the end of the month.

Four other thoughts. First, some have been suggesting that Marshall Hall was booted out. Unless you know something I don’t (and that’s possible), we don’t know that. He could have left of his own accord. He’s already been with the group about five years, and a number of GVB members have stayed less time than that before launching solo careers.

Second, even though there are five members in the group, there is still a pretty distinct range order. Phelps sings to the E or F above high C, Hampton sings to high C or D-flat, English still sings a power lead but ought to stay a bit lower than he used to, and Lowry and Gaither stick to their usual ranges. What this means vocally is that, essentially, English can stay within a slightly lower range and Hampton can fill a vocal part between English and Phelps.

Third, Bill Gaither wasn’t necessarily lying in the press release where he was announcing a sabbatical. Even though, within a couple of weeks, word got around inside the industry, and I and a couple of others heard Guy was leaving, there is a chance that when the press release came out that was all Bill knew. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Fourth, to those saying it’s the end of the Vocal Band, don’t count them out yet. Between the reunion and bringing this lineup back, I’ll grant it is looking like Bill might be contemplating the idea. But if they come out with some stellar vocal harmonies and songs that blow us all away, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if, health permitting, Bill decides to give the road a couple more years. Besides, what are the chances he would ask former members to walk away from lucrative solo careers—to quit their day jobs, so to speak—for a farewell tour?


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53 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. You makes alot of sense.
    It is that kind of common sense that counts in life.

  2. Thanks – I really appreciate that!

  3. I couldn’t agree more – with everything. Good job, Daniel.

  4. Thanks! 🙂

  5. And I do agree that the rumors about Marshall Hall not leaving of his own accord are not necessarily true. There has been nothing “officially” that says exactly that. However, Emily Sutherland of Gaither.com wrote this on her blog today.:

    “In spite of all the mixed emotions you probably feel, I do want to tell you that I spoke with Marshall today and I’m anxious for you all to hear from him. I’ll work on that, but in the meantime, you need to know that he says performing on-stage has never been his “sweet spot” (though he has done an incredible job of stepping up to the plate for the Vocal Band)! His true love is leading worship… and he is very much looking forward to finding the right situation where he can do that. He is not mad, and he is keeping in touch with Bill as they work together to make this transition smooth and positive. More on that later.”

    Judging from this sentence in particular, “He is not mad, and he is keeping in touch with Bill as they work together to make this transition smooth and positive,” that certainly seems to be the case.

    Wish I could figure that one out. His leaving is almost more sad to me than Guy’s departure. To me, it is very likely that it’s just Guy’s time and season for him to move on. It’s increasinly disappointing about Marsh.

  6. I’m not saying this IS the case – but to give one, small possible answer to your question, “…what are the chances he would ask former members to walk away from lucrative solo careers—to quit their day jobs, so to speak—for a farewell tour?”

    I think the chances are high. If he is hoping for a farewell tour, I don’t think Gaither would worry about sparing any expense on these guys.

    On the other hand, I’m curious about why, if it IS a farewell tour, Guy wouldn’t have just finished one more year. Maybe it’s not the end after all. We’ll see soon enough.

  7. I agree David.

  8. David Phelps did a Q&A for his fans on his forum yesterday and regarding the vocal parts he had this to say:
    “We will be creating a new sound. We’ll be moving around on parts a bit. Sometimes I’ll sing the top part. Sometimes I’ll sing the baritone. I love the idea!”

    Should be interesting!

  9. In my heart of hearts, I really don’t believe that Bill would intentionally lie like that. He probably hoped that there was a chance that Guy would change his mind, or maybe Guy wasn’t 100% sure at that point.
    Now that I’ve had a chance to let my brain absorb all of this, I had a thought (as my family would say, “Uh oh.”): When was the last time there was a Vocal Band that didn’t have one of these guys in it – besides Bill, of course? (Maybe they should change the group’s name to “Four Bridges” – lol!) This is going to be a fun ride!
    And the song going through my head all morning? “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?”

  10. Well, regardless of motive or reasons behind the change, from the people I’ve talked to, 100 percent of them are absolutely thrilled and chomping at the bit to hear this line-up in a full concert, or as full as it can be in a Gaither Homecoming setting where they sing, at most 8-10 songs.

    And from what I can tell, the guys are free to do their solo gigs on days when the GVB is not performing, so it could be the best of both worlds for all of them.

    My initial thought was that ticket sales for Homecoming events may be down and this is certainly one way to attract attention and bring people out to see what’s going on. I know I personally am going to find a Homecoming concert and attend, and I’ve not been to one in close to five years. I think this is another marketing move of brilliance on Bill’s part. I’ve always felt like if you’ve seen one Homecoming, you’ve seen them all, but not so anymore.

  11. David Phelps will continue his solo career. Here’s what he had to say last night on his forum:

    “I’m still going to tour as a soloist. You know I love that too much to even think about giving it up. Even the concept is foreign. We are looking at as many as 60 tour dates this year between the Voice tour and the 10th annual Christmas tour. If anything it’s headed upward.”

  12. “Third, Bill Gaither wasn’t necessarily lying in the press release where he was announcing a sabbatical. Even though, within a couple of weeks, word got around inside the industry, and I and a couple of others heard Guy was leaving, there is a chance that when the press release came out that was all Bill knew. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

    Anything is possible, of course, but let’s not glide over the fact that the press release was very clear in stating that Guy Penrod’s “break” from the road was Bill Gaither’s idea. Regardless of the sequence of decisions, the official word from Gaither on the subject for three months was that one press release. Either the press release was wrong from the moment it was printed, or it was negated within a couple of weeks by someone’s decision. It could have been Penrod’s decision, Gaither’s or a mutual agreement on what was best for both parties.

    The official word remained that three guys were simply “filling in” for an eventually returning Guy Penrod until yesterday. There’s really no room for benefit of doubt on that particular issue.

    That being said, I’m a huge GVB fan and will remain one. I think Guy Penrod was their best lead singer of all time, but I’m also extremely excited to see Lowry, English, and Phelps returning. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Gaither could have handled his PR a lot better than he did in this particular case, but so could many other group leaders who have been in similar situations. By recruiting these former members to return, he’s come out smelling like a rose and I suspect 90% of the fans are going to be satisfied.

  13. I will miss Marshall Hall, and though Guy was a good singer, I was never a big fan of his long hair – I know it isn’t popular to say that, and to actually believe the Bible looks down on that, but its true.
    I just hope they stay with the sound that they have had for so long now. David has gone contemporary, Michael has been for even longer. I hope that doesn’t influence them to go back to their original sound – they have got the right sound now.

  14. Mark, I make a distinct effort to keep things positive on this site. Since you’re a first-time commenter, I let your comment go up. But generally, if people really dislike something, I encourage them to just not comment about it here. Thanks!

  15. Looking at the five-man lineup, I’m sure that there will be some very imaginative and intricate harmonies emerging from the new personnel. It opens up a whole new vista of possibilities.

    Bill has always been smart enough to reinvent himself when he sees things leveling off, so it’s not alarming that he has made this move. As much as we have all enjoyed GVB in the past, Bill has a way of bettering himself and elevating the rest of us along with him. He’s certainly been a credit to the SG industry and has made this genre far more popular.

    Daniel, thanks for keeping dignity alive in this report. You’re a class act.

    • Thank you very much!

      I’m trying to. I’ve deleted one comment and come close to deleting two others. I don’t want this to get heated. 🙂

  16. You’re doing great, Daniel! 🙂 Must be hard being in your shoes in a “crisis” like this!! 😉
    #12…I don’t agree with you, I’m afraid. I’m giving Bill the benefit of the doubt, and I’m pretty sure there’s room for it! 🙂
    #5…I totally agree with you. Marsh will be missed SO much! (and Guy too…of COURSE!)
    #6…I agree with you, too. And, that’s an interesting point you have about Guy’s leaving if it IS a fairwell tour.

    Hmm…lots to think about! 😛 To tell you the truth, I’m slowly warming up to the idea. It helps not to pick apart every aspect of the changes. 😉

    • Thanks! It actually is a bit of a challenge to keep the peace. At least it’s a doable one. 🙂

  17. To all of you who are calling this “The beginning of the End” and are just sure that this means Gaither will be retiring the group soon, just how hard is it to think of this as the end of the beginning…of the GVB without Bill Gaither?

    Gaither will retire from the group someday. About that I have no doubt. The question is, will he retire the Vocal Band when he retires himself? I don’t think he wants to. Knowing Bill, it’s never been about “him”, that he has to be there or there is no group. If anything, he’s played up the number of great singers that have been in the group and downplayed his own considerable role in the Vocal Band.

    I think this is his way of ensuring that there will be four men that the public loves and accepts as “The Gaither Vocal Band” before he retires.

    Think about it. If he had hired a new lead singer who had yet to prove himself and then retired in a year, replacing himself with some other bass singer, think of the number of fans that would say “This isn’t the Gaither Vocal Band. This is Marshall Hall and Wes Hampton trying to keep the name alive with two new guys.”

    As it is, the three returnees are as synonymous with the GVB as is Bill himself. If Gaither is retiring within a year, the fans in general will have no problem with these men continuing to tour as the Gaither Vocal Band even without Bill. Even though he’ll be missed, the four remaining men have clocked an impressive amount of field time and we already know they can continue the legacy Bill started.

    As for “how can Bill top this?”, well, I don’t think he intended for this to top what’s come before but to usher in a new era. At this point he won’t need to top it. Should he resign, and later on down the road someone else quits, Mark (or whoever acts as manager of the group) will hire fresh new, exciting talent, and the band can continue for years, if not decades, to come.

  18. There are three things I just can’t bring myself to believe about this whole situation.

    1. I cannot possibly believe that there was dishonest intention when this whole thing began. Bill Gaither and the Gaither Music Co. in general have always operated with such honesty and integrity, I can’t imagine them throwing that away now. That foundation of honesty and integrity is why it is such a beloved and trusted organization.

    2. I also cannot imagine Bill Gaither disbanning the GVB whenever he decides to retire himself. He has never, in the GVB’s entire run, made himself the focus of the group. He has always put the spotlight on other members. For that reason, I think it is entirely possible for the group to continue without him. He would be sorely missed, of course, but it’s not at all beyong the realm of possibility, in my opinion.

    Also, if you look back over the years of the GVB, there has always been an unofficial “leader” type of person in the group other than Bill Gaither. Whether it was Gary McSpadden, Mark Lowry, Guy Penrod, or what have you, there has always been someone there that helped Bill pick up the slack and could step in if needed in Bill’s absence. If you look closely, it’s almost as though Bill pinpointed a person out of each group to sort of groom for taking over if the need ever arose. That being said, with this current new lineup, Mark Lowry would be the one to fill that place, in my opinion. Again, all things considered, I can’t begin to imagine the GVB disbanning when Bill retires.

    3. If Marshall Hall was let go or something to the effect of that, I can’t imagine it being anything less than amicable and something that was deemed best for both parties concerned. The Gaithers’ have always been very loyal to the people they bring into their fold. Unless something major happened, I can’t imagine it being an overly negative thing. Perhaps it was just a matter of Marsh wasn’t entirely happy and it gave him an opportunity to exit gracefully, as well as opened the door for Bill to do some major group overhaul. Plus, keep in mind that it has been said many times that Bill’s son, Benjy Gaither, is very close friends with Marsh Hall. Therefore, there is not only a business relationship between Marsh and the Gaithers’, but also a personal one.

  19. Here’s a link to an interview with Bill Gaither, conducted by Daniel Britt and the morning crew at Joy-FM in Winston-Salem:
    http://www.danielbritt.com/audio/BillGaither011509.mp3

  20. Thanks for the link, I loved listening to what Bill had to say!

  21. I just listened to a phone interview that Bill Gaither did today. My heart is so sad. I have so many questions which are really not mine to ask….and yet I think them. I also feel let down because Bill said that Guy was on a “temporary sabatical” repeatedly and now I find out that this has been in the works all along. And then to really blow me out, Marshall leaves the group as well.

    I know that God is in control and that I am not…..
    My heart is sad……
    God bless each man and their families.

    WendyJoy
    New York

  22. PS: It also strikes me strange that this “reorganization” happens the week before the GVB Reunion DVD/CD comes out……..just saying……………….

  23. It certainly does come at a very poignant time.

  24. Well, it is what it is.

    I was excited enough about the news that within 45 minutes of hearing it, I had bought tickets for myself and seven more friends to the Greenville, SC event in April.

    In the interview, Gaither says that Mark, Michael, and David were eager to come back and do all they could to make his last years on the road as special as possible.

    I also gathered from the interview that Marsh graciously and willingly stepped aside in order to allow these three very popular alumni to return. Hampton has been kept on board because Gaither has enjoyed having him and Phelps taking turns with the top part these past three months. Remember, Gaither has a very keen ear for combinations of voices.Rather than move Wes out of the picture to allow Phelps to return, he changed the fundamental format of the group instead.

  25. David – I think part of it was that Gaither recognized Wes’s popularity, and part of it was their vocal dynamics together – but a big part of it is that Michael English just doesn’t have the range to sing high B-flats and Cs below Phelps.

    Guess who will be getting the super-high Guy Penrod parts that require a tenor above? Most of the time, I have this feeling it will be Wes.

  26. I completely agree.

  27. My head is still spinning… I have tried to get excited, but
    still I cannot. I will miss Guy to much. […]

  28. I also listened to Bill’s interveiw. I thought he did a WONDERFUL job!!! 😀 It answered a lot of my questions. Not all of them, but a lot of them.

  29. Daniel, may i suggest that you interview Marsh and Guy so as to know their future plans and be able to also continue supporting them too. May the Good Lord richly bless them as they venture into new directions in life, may His will be done.

    • I’d be delighted to interview either, but unfortunately I don’t have any contact information for either. 🙁

  30. I’m sure it wouldn’t be that hard to get the info. Their
    P.O.box info is public info. (Listed in the back of Gaither
    songbooks), plus I am sure Mr. Bill could help out with this.
    We need those interviews.

  31. When a major change like this is taking place, my personal preference is to give everyone a bit of time to get their future priorities sorted out. Then (in cases where I do have or can get contact info!) once they know what they’re going to do, and sometimes once they’ve issued a press release about it or whatever, I’ll follow up with them and try to line up a more in-depth feature interview.

    While I like getting scoops every now and then, ultimately that’s not what the site is all about. The site is about taking the news and providing some in-depth analysis, informed hopefully be a fairly decent knowledge both of the industry as it currently is and of its past.

    That said, if anyone is in contact with either and would like to contact them to see if they’d be interested in doing an interview here, I’d be quite happy to do one.

  32. My prediction is that the Gaither Vocal Band will someday be the —-Vocal Band and Mark Lowry will own it. He is a longtime Billl favorite.

  33. My husband and I are huge GVB fans. We did the Alaska cruise with them in 2007. Guy is one of the humblest Christians you will ever meet. I just heard Bill’s Jan 15 radio interview and think I just figured this whole switcheroo out. My thinking-Bill approached Guy last fall with this idea. Bill was not sure how much longer he could continue and he wanted to go out with a bang and bring back David and Mark and let Wes and Marsh go. Guy, being the kind and humble man he is, could just not go along with that treatment of his friends. Bill had Guy take a break hoping he would come around. Who did Bill have fill in for Guy? Why it was David and Mark-neither of which sang Guy’s part. Jason was just a filler for Guy-who Bill was still hoping would change his mind. Bill stated in the radio interview that the changes had been in the planning for a couple of months, but just came together in the last week or so. David and Mark knew they were rejoining the GVB. When Guy confirmed in Jan that he would not return, Michael-another big draw from the early days was chosen to fill Guy’s roll. Wes was spared when Bill realized how well he sounded with David and to redeem himself somehow with Guy. Guy just does not have the ego or need to go solo. When both Mark and esp David left they were just itching to make it big on their own and they were both already pursuing single projects. Guy doesn’t even have a web site. I am sure all things will work out for God’s glory-but I am heart-broken to see Guy gone. As I told him on the cruise-he is my favorite singer ever. He rescued the A-Capella album when Russ and David could or would not blend their voices.

    • That would be a reasonable theory, but my sources indicate that Guy (and, though I have less word at this point, probably Marsh) chose to leave of their own free will.

      But I agree with you on something: Guy’s departure left a big hole. Big enough that Gaither had to bring back the three most-loved alumni (well, with the possible exclusion of Steve Green) to put together a group at the same level.

  34. I have had some similar questions about Guy. I do believe he left of his own free will, BUT he himself said he loved being a
    part of team, and had never really sang solo! He has never had
    a real website, and still doesn’t… . And Mary Beth is right about this, he doesn’t have the ego to go along w/a solo career! I have had the pleasure of speaking w/him on three
    occasions, and my opinion is that there is NO ego! What a sweet, humble Godly man.
    Which leaves the question, what is really going on?

  35. Daniel, I know you probably know the real reason for Guy’s
    departure. I also realize you cannot share all your info we us (and properly so…) But for we fans that are devastated is there
    any light you can share without giving info that is of a persona
    nature?

  36. All I know is that months ago, he had plans for a solo album, which I heard would be positive country, in the works. (Plans sometimes change.) These plans were in the works in about the same time period he took a break from the Vocal Band, and eventually decided to leave entirely.

    Now I move from what I know into speculation: If he goes solo, he can set his own schedule. He has eight or nine children (I really should keep track!) – maybe he wants to schedule his own concerts so he can be there for important dates.

    As often as not, that is the real reason some goes solo.

    There are all kinds of conspiracy theories sometimes about group members hating one another, or the group manager firing other members, or whatever. Though those can happen sometimes, often enough I think the truth is a lot simpler and more straightforward.

  37. Thank you much for your time and patience!

  38. This website doesn’t exist to serve me – it exists to serve the readers. I’m happy to help! 🙂

  39. I would like to disagree with the implied statement of, “have the ego to go along w/a solo career.” You don’t need an “ego” to be a soloist, you do need confidence that God is going to use you and supply your needs. (A faith that He has called you to do the solo thing) I know of a number of soloist that are some of the humblest in the music industry, David Patillo and Squire Parsons come quickly to mind. I just spent a bit of time with Ivan Parker this past weekend and he was very kind and gracious with everyone he came in contact with. And Janet Paschal and Allison Durham Speer have been very kind and humble in my very limited dealings with them. So, to sum it up, soloist don’t need an “ego”! (And no I’m not a soloist!) 🙂

  40. I just wish we could hear from Marshall. I don’t really know why he left and I hope it was on his own accord. It’s just so fast to the fans. I will miss him dearly. He was such a sweet person to meet and watch perform. God’s light truly shines in him. I hope he too makes some more recordings. As for the farewell tour, maybe it is. It would have been nice to have all the guys on the last tour. Maybe they still can. I hope it’s not the farewell tour, but it just won’t be the same without Marsh.

  41. I have to say I too was a bit shocked to see that Marshall was now no longer a GVB member. I had the opportunity to meet him in Scotland in march 2008 with my friend Debbie, and discovered such a sweet, spiritual person. He will be sorely missed as he brought a huge ray of sunshine on stage and had time for everyone after the show.

    Wes unfortunately now does look a bit like a teenager with the new line up.

  42. Even though I’ll often chime in, I am generally pretty content to let conversations in this blog’s comments section run their course, so long as they are not getting too heated. But I will comment on the ongoing discussion about the recent Gaither Vocal Band lineup changes. Several readers here have posted urging Bill Gaither to make a public statement to tell the fans more about what happened.

    We’ve already heard quite a bit from Bill Gaither and Marshall Hall. First Gaither did a press release and an extensive interview with Daniel Britt. More recently, we’ve had several blog posts from Emily Sutherland and a post or two from Wes Hampton. Several of these share thoughts directly from Hall.

    And here’s the thing: While we might not know every detail about the change, we know all we need to know. Hall is planning to pursue a worship leader position, and Penrod is planning to pursue a solo career, and they appear to remain on good terms with Gaither. As an example, take this recent Wes Hampton blog post:

    “Marsh will be filling in during the Ft. Myers concert this next weekend! Mark and David have some last schedule conflicts, so Marsh has graciously stepped in to help Bill and the GVB out. What a guy he is. So, for all those critics out there who seem to know what’s going on and say that there’s bad blood between Marsh and Bill and whomever else…there you go.”

    That tells us enough to know that Hall didn’t leave on bad terms, and that’s really all we need to know. Even if Gaither did raise the idea, it could have been in the context of accelerating a move that Hall was already contemplating himself.

    I haven’t closed comments on those threads yet, because I generally avoid doing that whenever possible. But seriously, folks, I don’t think we need to know more than we already do.

  43. Just a thought… I’ve followed the Vocal Band since 1978, and have know several of the past and current members. I’m sure many of you have too. Yes, Guy is one of the most sincere gentlemen I’ve ever met and I honestly believe his departure has more to do with his health than anything else. As to Bill keeping the tenor and adding David [5 singers] I don’t see that is a long term plan, once ME and MP are free from previous commitments moving MPs parts down a tad will work perfectly with ME as well as make it a little easier for MP to do what he does so well, night after night.

    The group has never gone with a five member combo at least “officially” in the past, I just don’t see it happening now. In fact, I personally prefer the sound of the stack with ME as lead, even though Guy had incredible range because ME is more of a traditional lead and one of the best quartet backup singers and arrangers in Nashville the past 15 years.

    Sadly, with Guy’s voice the way it has been the past year or so, I would imagine ME and Guy have about the same working range these days too, even though many will argue with me there.

    I wish them the best, and I personally think the new combo of MP, ME, Mark and Bill will really, really sound good with the new arrangements. We will certainly miss Guy, but I look forward to the future of the group.

    One last note. Considering the condition of the Christian Music industry the past 5 years or so, moving over to work with Bill is a good move for MP and ME, it isn’t like they are going to miss bookings over adding Vocal Band dates.

  44. Who is MP?

  45. Typo for David Phelps, I’m assuming.

  46. So, was Guy’s leaving really a ‘health thing?’ I would almost
    sigh a sigh of relief! You know how, when you don’t know, all
    the thoughts that run through your head are ‘worse case’
    senero! ( I think I spelled that wrong, but you know what I
    mean.) I wish he and his family the very best!

  47. Scenero…sorry!

  48. I truly hope that Guy doesn’t have a serious health issue, but that makes more sense than Bill asking him to leave (i.e. sabbatial) or Guy wanting a solo career. I am still a Guy Penrod fan more than a GVB fan and I wish him and his family all good things. I know they are in God’s hands. Bill and the vocal band will go on as long as Bill wants to and I’m sure they will be successful. That’s my last comment on the Guy situation and the “new” group.
    I really appreciate this website and will check often for news of Guy. God Bless you Daniel

  49. Well, I have read through the comments regarding the GVB and the thoughts regarding Marsh Hall and Guy Penrod leaving the band. At first I thought that there was more to the story than we were hearing, but then you realize that groups are similiar to churches. Pastors come, pastors go, but the ministry moves ahead. Guy was with the GVB for 14 years; check your stats, not many pastors remain in a church for that term. Marsh had been with the band for almost 5 years; still a good run.

    I was fortunate enough to see them in Fort Worth in April on the Friday night performance. I missed Guy. But, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the message was still shared. And, for one, I am thrilled that Michael English has been welcomed back to the family. We Christians have a bad habit of killing our wounded, and seeing that young man (yes, ‘young’ even though I”m 54) stand and sing with conviction and power was worth the ticket price, and the drive. That’s what the Faith is about anyway, right? Redemption.

    The GVB has changed. Change in and of itself is neither good nor bad; it is inevitable. I look forward to seeing much more of the “new” Gaither Vocal Band in the years to come.

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