Book Review: Mighty Lot of Singin’ (Gerald Williams)

Gerald Williams, bass singer for the Melody Boys Quartet and other Southern Gospel groups for the last sixty years, had no particular desire to write an autobiography. But his daughter, Judy Cox, persuaded him that it would be a shame not to preserve the heritage for his children and grandchildren. Judy Cox is listed as the book’s co-writer; she collected his stories on tape and assembled them into a book.

Since oral recollections are frequently more episodic (i.e., retelling a specific story) than chronological, a co-author working from oral recollections can easily lose continuity. But Cox did an admirably good job of telling his life in chronological fashion and weaving stories in at the appropriate points.

Obviously, the main reason most readers would purchase this autobiography is that they are a fan of the Melody Boys’ music and want to know more about Williams’ life story. But this book is also the most frank and detailed description of the challenges of life on the Southern Gospel circuit during the 1940s and 1950s that I have read. Williams frankly states what his weekly salary was in different groups—and why, on several occasions, financial issues led him to leave groups. He even frankly discusses the one time he was fired from a group. (It had to do with doctrinal differences with the group’s leader.)

The one area where the book could be improved would be by adding several appendices that would be difficult to compile without Williams’  input. It would be helpful to historians years down the road to have a complete Melody Boys discography, listing of group personnel, and a complete listing of the recordings Williams has been on with the Melody Boys and other group. Perhaps this could be added in a second edition.

This fascinating first-hand account of our genre’s early days is must reading for any Melody Boys Quartet fan and worth reading for any fan of the genre.


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4 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Hidee Daniel,
    Thank you for reviewing Gerald Williams’ book. Of course, most everyone knows I am a strong TMBQ supporter. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Gospel Quartet Music. It truly provides a glimpse into the history, joys, sorrows and struggles that characterize a life devoted to this unique art form. It is a delightful read!
    Thanks,
    Gayla

  2. Daniel, I’m in general agreement with you about this book.

    To me, the most interesting parts of the story Gerald tells are the ones where he simply lays the facts out about what it was like to be a member of a gospel quartet during the 1940s and 1950s. It may have been a “golden age” musically for the genre, but for the rank and file singer, in some cases it was anything BUT golden.

    There is so much romantic talk of “ministry” and how “glorious” life on the road must be for a gospel singer, when in reality, there can be a good deal of stress and tension involved in making gospel music a life’s career. And as Gerald tells so eloquently and with the dignity he has been well known for during the past 60 years, the financial and material rewards weren’t all that lucrative.

    And Gerald was not really a “star” in the genre in those early days. In that respect, his story is more instructive for most of us, because quite frankly, most people will never be a Jake Hess or a JD Sumner or a Hovie Lister…or anyone like that who stands out above the crowd. Gerald’s story really shows what it would be like for most people who choose to make gospel music a career.

    But more to the point, Gerald’s story is important for gospel music fans to know because it was people like him who built the gospel music industry as it exists today. Without the dedication of people like him, there would be no “southern gospel” genre that we enjoy and love so today. For anyone interested in what being a traveling gospel singer was like during one of the genre’s most exciting and defining eras, or for that matter, even today, Gerald’s story is a must read.

    And when people read it, they may better understand why Gerald did a “mighty lot of singin'” through the years, and why he continues to do so today. For being a gospel singer for a lifetime has little to do with recognition, “stardom”, or anything else that can come with having a relatively high profile…and in that respect, Gerald is no different from Jake, JD, James, Glen, or George…or any of the other leading figures of the genre.

  3. I’ve been meaning to get this book for a long time. Every time i see it, i almost get it. but i will soon i hope.

  4. Great book about a true gospel music pioneer and gentleman. Thanks for the review of the book, Daniel.

    As far as their discography goes . . . the early Melody Boys Quartet didn’t release many commercial recordings. Most were 78 rpms on the Gospel label.