There are classics…

…and then there are classics.

One level of classic is a specific group or vocalist classic. “We Shall See Jesus” is a Glen Payne / Cathedrals classic. “My Name is Lazarus” is a Greater Vision classic. “These are They” is a Gaither Vocal Band / David Phelps classic (though the Happy Goodmans recorded a stellar version back in the ’70s that hardly anyone remembers).

But there are classics, and then there are classics. The other level classic is a song that just about everyone has recorded at some point or another. Just for fun, when these songs are mentioned, which artist comes to mind first?

  • Amazing Grace
  • How Great Thou Art
  • Give the World a Smile Each Day
  • In the Garden
  • Just a Little Talk With Jesus
  • Looking for a City
  • First Day in Heaven
  • Sweet By and By
  • If We Never Meet Again
  • I’ll Fly Away

I’ll put my responses in the comments, so as to not unduly influence yours.


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18 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. Amazing Grace – Archie Watkins. Not because it’s the best, but somehow or another because it’s the most unforgettable.

    How Great Thou Art – Today’s Blackwood Brothers with Randy Byrd.

    Give the World a Smile Each Day – Blackwood Brothers with J.D. Sumner.

    In the Garden – No one in particular comes to mind.

    Just a Little Talk With Jesus – Masters V.

    Looking for a City – Happy Goodmans, duel with Johnny Cook and Vestal Goodman.

    First Day in Heaven – Imperials.

    Sweet By and By – Cathedrals.

    If We Never Meet Again – Dixie Echoes.

    I’ll Fly Away – Roger Bennett Pianorama, largely because of a mispronounciation that he included as part of his comedy routine.

    • “I’ll Fly Away” is one of my two all time favorites. The other is “Victory in Jesus.” I think George Jones has far and away the best version of IFA that I have ever heard.

  2. Amazing Grace–Karen Peck Gooch

    How Great Thou Art–Mark Trammell (he tore the roof off the place in Springfield, MO last weekend–my new favorite rendition)

    Give The World A Smile–JD Sumner, Ray Dean Reese

    In The Garden–Jim Hamill (This was a hard one, but I remember him leading audiences in this one and I think Kingsmen recorded it on a live project, Georgia Live, I think.)

    Just A Little Talk With Jesus–James Blackwood and Blackwoods

    Looking For A City–Goodmans, Brian Free

    First Day In Heaven–Jake Hess

    Sweet By and By–Lewis Family

    If We Never Meet Again–Gaither Homecoming

    I’ll Fly Away–Karen Peck and New River with their Live Band

  3. Amazing Grace – GV
    How Great Thou Art – Stuart Hamblen
    Give the World a Smile – Stamps Quartet (the really, really old one off the “Close Harmony” compilation)
    In the Garden – “Gentleman Jim” Reeves
    Just a Little Talk – Stamps Qt – I believe – with JD, off of a Homecoming
    Looking for a City – Happy Goodmans!!
    First Day in Heaven – Statesmen!
    Sweet By and By – Hmm, nobody really. I have a Henry Slaughter arrangement in a book that I’ve played, and Mark Twain talked about it a lot (he didn’t like it).
    If We Never Meet Again – Didn’t James Blackwood sing it? Also, I’m thinking even more of Wendy Bagwell.
    I’ll Fly Away – Greater Vision

    These aren’t necessarily the artists I would tell you I associate most strongly with the songs – I was rather surprised myself at the groups that popped into my head for some.

  4. Amazing Grace – the Jordanaires
    How Great Thou Art – George Beverly Shea (love his version)

    Give the World a Smile Each Day – J.D. Sumner

    In the Garden – the Easter’s (not the most notable of course, but I love their version of this song on their ‘Sunshine’ recording)

    Just a Little Talk With Jesus – Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver (off of their School of Bluegrass recording)

    Looking for a City – the Goodman’s

    First Day in Heaven – Jake Hess/Statesmen

    Sweet By and By – the Ruppes (the have a medley of this song with Higher Ground and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder on their ‘Born to Serve’ recording that I love)

    If We Never Meet Again – Gatlin Brothers

    I’ll Fly Away – Blackwood Brothers

    These obviously aren’t some of the artists I would most strongly associate with these songs, but they’re my favorite versions and what comes to mind first.

  5. Amazing Grace – Elvis Presley, something just “Elvis” about his version;)

    How Great Thou Art – Elvis Presley, The thundering live versions with the Stamps Qt backing him up.

    Give the World a Smile Each Day – J.D Sumner & The Stamps

    In the Garden – Legacy Five, Tony Jarman sang this on a live video they did once, Live In San Diego i think??

    Just a Little Talk With Jesus – The Oak Ridge Boys

    Looking for a City – The Happy Goodmans

    First Day in Heaven – N’Harmony

    Sweet By and By – The Cathedrals

    If We Never Meet Again – Elvis Presley and The Jordanaires

    I’ll Fly Away – Gaither Homecoming Friends with David Phelps taking the 2nd Verse…WOW!! Also the Statlers did a great live version.

  6. Daniel, while I agree that phelps rips the tar out of These Are They, I do not associate that soley with him. You are new to SG (although you have amassed a huge knowledge in a short time!) so you have not followed the GVB from the start.

    These Are They was a HUGE song for the GVB/trio when Michael English was there the first time. It was a show stopper at their concerts. Surely you have watched the clips on Youtube. He is acutally singing it in the same key or within half a step as David. He sings the solo a little differently but check some of the various clips and he ends up pretty close to the same place. I am sure it is a little out of his range now and David just flat owns it.

    Just an example of how a decade makes a difference! I would quickly recall both versions when I think of “ownership.”

    BTW……the more I watch the recent (posted almost daily it seems) clips of Michael on Youtube….it seems like he is getting his chops back on a daily basis. The future of the GVB looks awesome.

  7. Oh, I’ve heard that GVB version, too. It’s just not the song most people think of when they think of Michael English. (If I’d mentioned him, it’s no question which song I’d have put there!)

    And yes, Michael seems to be getting better and better. 🙂

  8. Well, If you are talking about the singer instead of the son I see your point. But like I said, when I think of the song I remember sitting in GVB concerts in 1989-1992 and watching him rip it!

    BTW, lest I sound like an old dude “remembering when” I am only 32 but I have lived SG since I was 8! When I was about 11 I saw the Cathedrals in Texas on vacation and was forever hooked. It became my profession 16 years ago and I am still a fanatic for it. I am one of the weird ones that it is STILL all I listen to. A lot of sg singers never LISTEN to sg, they just sing it. I still love it as much as ever.

    Thanks for the discussion!

  9. Amazing Grace: It is hard to limit this to one artist, so I’m not going to try, there have been numerous renditions that stick in my mind.
    How Great Thou Art: I was introduced to this song through George Beverly Shea, but more recently the David Phelps solo rendition (although I suppose one could argue these aren’t truly southern gospel arrangements)
    Give the World a Smile Each Day: JD Sumner
    In the Garden: no one artist in particular
    Just a Little Talk With Jesus: Brian Free and Assurance
    Looking for a City: Brian Free
    First Day in Heaven: Gaither Vocal Band or Gospel Lads
    Sweet By and By: No single artist
    If We Never Meet Again: various artists
    I’ll Fly Away: Gaither Homecoming Artists

  10. ■Amazing Grace-Sue Dunaway…somebody I’m sure you’ve never heard of. As far as pros, Inspirations.

    ■How Great Thou Art-Elvis & the Stamps

    ■Give the World a Smile Each Day-I always think of Gaither’s Homecoming Choir in the early days with Younce, Sumner, speer, etc.

    ■In the Garden-BJ Thomas

    ■Just a Little Talk With Jesus-Original Master’s V

    ■Looking for a City-Brian Free and volunteers from the audience

    ■First Day in Heaven-Imperials

    ■Sweet By and By-Statler Brothers(this was on the commercial for their Gospel collection, available in LP and cassette)

    ■If We Never Meet Again-I’m thinking Homecoming Friends again

    ■I’ll Fly Away-Tim Lovelace. he can sing it forwards and backwards

  11. Amazing Grace – Sons of Song
    How Great Thou Art – Stamps Quartet, 1972 version
    Give the World a Smile Each Day – this was the radio theme of many quartets, but the Melody Boys Quartet is the one that comes to mind
    In the Garden – I used to sing this in a high school quartet, so that’s the one I think of.
    Just a Little Talk With Jesus – Masters V
    Looking for a City – Sue Dodge
    First Day in Heaven – This is the first song I ever heard the Imperials sing live. I was 10 at the time.
    Sweet By and By – Blackwood Brothers as one of the choruses of “The Old Country Church”
    If We Never Meet Again – Prophets with Big Lew Garrison
    I’ll Fly Away – Timmons says this is the Chuck Wagon Gang’s signature song, but I think of the Masters V with Sherrill Nielsen.

  12. Amazing Grace-
    Brian Free & Assurance, Timeless Hymms and Classics, Volume 1
    How Great Thou Art-
    Kingsmen, Live In Orlando (one of Jim Hamill’s best leads on recording)
    Give The World A Smile-
    JD & the Stamps, don’t know which recording.
    In The Garden-
    Kingsmen, Georgia Live (?? with Randy Miller leading??)
    Just A Little Talk With Jesus-
    Gold City & The Kingsmen, KingsGold (volume 2??)
    Looking For A City-
    The Keetons
    First Day In Heaven- (“Oh it’s a great, great morning, your first day in heaven as you stroll through the golden avenue.”)
    Statesmen
    In The Sweet By And By- ??
    I Will Meet You In The Morning-
    Cathedrals, “the Cathedral Quartet Sings Albert E. Brumley Classics”
    I”ll Fly Away-
    Triumphant Quartet, “Treasures”

  13. How Great Thou Art – there was a guy that used to sing bass for Chosen Few (their biggest song was “Little Things). Scott Fraker is his name. He had about a 4 1/2 octave range… literally. He would sing the first verse really low… then turn around and sing the last verse very high. It was very powerful. I think there is actually a video of him on youtube singing It Is Well. Check it out. Obviously, he’s not well known, however, hearing him do that is what I think of… awesome!

  14. Scott Fraker is one of the best bass singers to ever sing. That man’s range is amazing. I wouldn’t be suprised if he could sing as low as, if not lower, than Mike Holecombe.

  15. Another thing, he has a tone and thickness to his voice somewhat reminiscient of Tim Riley, and in many ways like Christian Davis. So he’s not just about depth.
    Is he singing with anyone?

  16. Give the World a Smile Each Day ~ The Melody Boys Quartet

    In the Garden~ The Weatherfords, of course! They had the Gold Standard recording for this Title song.

    Looking for a City ~ The Herb Henry Family

    First Day in Heaven ~ The Good Twins or The Watchmen

  17. In The Garden – The Mullins (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csrYlE74dGQ)
    How Great Thou Art – George Beverly Shea
    I’ll Fly Away – Tim Lovelace (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP-8U8y4MCM)