Rebranding Southern Gospel?

A number of fans and industry types have observed that the term “Southern Gospel” isn’t a particularly accurate brand. It’s a geographical distinctive, but it’s far from accurate. After all, the greatest group of the last quarter-century hailed from Stow, Ohio, and the most popular group today hails from Alexandria, Indiana.

A few years ago, there was an attempt to brand the genre as American Gospel Music, but that didn’t catch on, because it didn’t really say anything about the music that wasn’t true of certain other Christian genres.

How about Conservative Christian Music?

“Conservative” is more descriptive of the nature of the music and the nature of the genre than either “American Gospel” or “Southern Gospel.” Of course, conservative is often understood in the political sense, and a number of individuals in the industry are not politically conservative (though most are). And groups that pursue progressive arrangements probably wouldn’t care to be labeled “progressive conservative Gospel Music.”

If “Conservative Christian Music” is adopted, the genre’s acronym would be CCM, which is the current acronym for a neighboring genre, Contemporary Christian Music. That’s a minus in my opinion, but an industry friend pointed out that that’s a plus for some, since many feel that the contemporary world “kind of hijacked” Christian music and watered it down.

So I proposed another alternative, Conservative Gospel Music. My friend observed that Southern has been associated with Gospel for so long that “Conservative Gospel Music sort of says ‘southern’ parenthetically.” He thought this might be a minus, but I could see where having some connection to the current name might be a plus.

Of course, if neither of those quite works, we could always reclaim a brand Bill Gaither is credited with starting, a brand CCM largely abandoned about ten years ago. Plus, it brings to mind a certain style, which Southern Gospel artists like the Collingsworth Family, Greater Vision, and the Perrys are far closer to than anything else in Christian music. Inspirational.

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73 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. It used to be called “gospel music,” pure and simple. As it branched out, it needed to have sub-categories, and since what we now know as “southern gospel” was most popular in the Bible belt initially, that’s what we got. It has nothing to do with where the groups are today; it has to do with where it all started.

    BUT….in the interest of conversation, I nominate “country gospel music,” since it has evolved into, basically, country music with gospel lyrics.

  2. As Kyle said in his comment, it used to be called “gospel music”, pure and simple. Just like the Bible used to be called “The Bible”, pure and simple !! But as sub-catagories began to be used “southern gospel” kind of filled that slot when other musics started infiltering GOOD OLE GOSPEL. Leave it as southern gospel music – it has worked for years and there is nothing wrong with it, even tho many groups are from the north.

  3. Anytime I import a Southern Gospel CD into iTunes, I have to manually list it as SG. Most of the time, it’s “Gospel & Religious,” and Legacy Five was automatically categorized in my iTunes once as “Inspirational.”

    Of course, on the other side of the coin, the latest BF&A project was auto-listed as “Alternative & Punk.” :O

    • I think I know why that is. I tried once to submit track names to that CDDB? database under SG, and if I remember it wouldn’t accept them. It simply doesn’t recognize that many categories. I don’t remember/know about the Inspirational thing.

      iTunes itself is horrible. Sometime when in the store, hit Ctl+B to browse, and see the ridiculous categorizations. Maybe they’ve improved over the last couple of years, but they used to have some SG artists under country – and that was one of the better ones.

      • Yes. Apple is a genius in some areas, but let’s face it: They simply don’t know Southern Gospel. 🙂

  4. Eh, I’m not sold on a need for a rebranding. You mentioned two groups that were not from the South. I consider those more of an exception to the rule. Is it not true that the fan base for the genre is overwhelmingly from the South? Admittedly, I don’t have any hard evidence of that in front of me, but I have little doubt it is true. Southern gospel is no less from the South than country music is from the country. But that is the main place of origin, and for the most part, the music, the people, and culture of the genre are distinctively Southern.

    Kyle, I have seen it called country gospel by people outside the South before, and I don’t suppose it’s an inaccurate term. I’ve also heard it called white gospel (as opposed to black gospel, which today owns the plain term “gospel”). And well, take a look around, and that’s not inaccurate either, lol.

  5. Nice discussion Daniel, I think that if it was to be changed it should be categorized as Inspirational. That is a pretty broad term that would cast a broad umbrella, for all of the groups out there today.

  6. “Southern Gospel” is accurate. The style originated in the south.

  7. People often confuse southern gospel with bluegrass-gospel or country-gospel (not surprising at times I guess), so southern gospel is a little bit confusing. But Conservative Christian Music is an awful name for it. Sounds like a political label and even though I am conservative…Conservative Christian music label still says nothing.

  8. Hey I like the inspirational label myself. It seems to encompass what todays southern gospel genre has become.

  9. No need to change the label.

    For me, “Country Gospel” evokes images of off key singers with out of tune guitars on a Sunday afternoon radio program. Besides, I’m not at all sold on the country with gospel lyrics concept. How many country acts sound like Legacy 5, Greater Vision, The Talley Trio, or the Perrys? The Oaks and Gatlins are basically Southern Gospel groups singing secular lyrics, but take them out of the equation and I don’t see the comparison.

    I like White Gospel about 100 times less than Country Gospel.

    Most uptempo SG wouldn’t fit into the “Inspirational” category.

    “Conservative Gospel”? Sorry, it reminds me too much of politics. I don’t like it at all. Before anybody starts spouting bumper sticker slogans at me, I’m very conservative politically…I just don’t like electioneering at concerts.

    I still haven’t seen a good reason to change the name.

  10. On second thought, if everybody else wants to change the name, go for it. Won’t be affect my life, liberty or pursuit of happiness. In a hundred years, who will know the difference?

  11. Music that Speaks about the Truth of our Lord Jesus Christ, should always be shared. Southern Gospel, Country Christian, Pop Country, etc.

  12. Wow….okay, I take back country gospel….

  13. Great topic of discussion, Daniel. I still like SG, but will keep listening whatever the name is!

  14. In my experiences, those unfamiliar with the genre automatically think “country gospel” when they hear the term “southern.” In their thinking, Southern Gospel must always have a “hokey” southern drawl. I think a better name probably could be chosen, but it would be very hard to re-define the genre with two or three words. I’m not very impressed with the titles suggested so far. Also, how would you actually go about re-naming the genre? I’m sure any new name would take a long time to catch on.

  15. Southern Gospel works just fine for me. So the name doesn’t cover every single group…big deal.

    Country music has little to do with people who have any idea what it means to grow up and live in a rural setting.

    And while we’re on the subject, I’ve yet to see any grass that’s actually blue. Even if I did, I have no idea what blue grass would have to do with playing acoustic instruments.

  16. I think most of you are missing it, if you’re older I’m sure you don’t care let’s keep it SG. But if you’re younger like me thinking outside the box to help the industry thrive. Southern gospel is a horrible label (not as bad a white gospel I might add). Most of your bigger groups won’t even use the term Southern Gospel anymore, due to a closed minded labeling. I’m not sure of the answer or how you would even begin to change it. How does Progressive Gospel Music sound? And DBM here is a little history on Bluegrass. At least they have a valid reason for the name, the founder. (American country music of the Appalachian Mountain states, characterized by high harmony singing and virtuoso banjo or mandolin playing. Singer and mandolin player Bill Monroe was the founder of the genre with his band the Blue Grass Boys (formed in 1938), which from 1945 to 1948 included guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs.)

    • If “Progressive Gospel Music,” we’d have to have at least two brands, because the more traditional groups in the genre would decidedly not be accurately characterized by Progressive! 🙂

      While we do have some progressive groups, isn’t it fair to say that Southern Gospel is less progressive (more traditional) than CCM, and thus “progressive” is actually a less accurate fit for SG than it would be for CCM?

    • Stac,
      There’s a disconnect in logic if you defend the term “bluegrass” for historical reasons, but dismiss the historical reasons for calling Southern Gospel “southern.”

      Also, it matters little what groups prefer to call themselves. Fans are naturally going to think of groups as this style or that based on how they compare to other groups. It would be disingenuous for a group that sounds similar to other Southern Gospel groups to deny they’re part of that group, because that only confuses fans. If the group really is part of a progressive movement, someone will eventually invent a name that sticks…for example, “newgrass” was invented to distinguish the progressive style of bluegrass from traditional bluegrass.

      Simply calling a style Progressive doesn’t work, because today’s progressive is tomorrow’s traditional.

      The bottom line is that it’s very difficult to “rebrand” an existing style. A group of industry leaders have already tried to do that very thing with American Gospel Music…trademarking the brand, and supposedly weeding out the riffraff who give SG a bad name due to their incompetence. In the process, they went outside of SG to pick up some quality acts from Inspirational, and of course, that has diluted their brand. If Triumphant Quartet and Babbie Mason are both part of the genre, it’s impossible for fans to hear a common thread in the style. It’s been so meaningless so far that I have yet to see a CD on a shelf with the American Gospel Music brand on the cover.

      • DBM, I don’t disagree at all. I had actually forgotten about that AGM thing. Hope the guys behind it didn’t drop to much money. American Gospel Music would be a fairly decent name, considering white, conservative, and even progressive are the other options. So………Southern Gospel it is, I guess.

  17. The problem is not with the label or term ‘Southern Gospel’. It is with the broad spectrum of top tier artists having to compete with the not so much crowd. If folks only knew Southern Gospel by the top tier acts within the industry and if it were harder to get into the industry, Southern Gospel wouldn’t have such an identity crisis.

  18. I say.. leave it alone! We all know what Southern gospel is.

  19. So…are you gonna change this website name to lol

  20. Somehow Jonathan Sawrie, Conservative Gospel Musician, just doesn’t compute!!!! LOL!

  21. I agree that to use the term “conservative” would, in today’s political climate, invoke a political meaning. One might assume that if SG is conservative, then CCM therefore must be liberal…eventhough their Biblical views are conservative.

    • Often conservative.

      CCM’s artists are generally conservative, just like SG’s artists – SG probably even more so – but both genres have exceptions.

  22. I don’t believe we need to re-brand the genre – at least by giving it a new name.

    It does, however, need a facelift.

  23. and a body makeover 🙂

  24. Seriously, changing the name is counterproductive. It would be paramount to a new group hitting the scene with the public having no idea who they are.

    SG just needs more marketing and PR.

    • I agree … That’s what I was thinking, only worded more concisely than I could manage it.

  25. As part of the overall consideration of the issue, let me say that the genre caught its stride to a great extent with the Blackwood Brothers in Iowa. While many, if not most, of the pioneering singers, players and writers came from the South, it is not an exclusive area of origin.

    The label Southern Gospel does tend to suggest that the music is regional in its appeal, outreach and practice. But names are hard to change; human nature usually opts against change in something held dear.

    • Could you elaborate? Did the Blackwood Brothers tour a lot in Iowa, or have particular successes there?

  26. In years of the 1940s, and perhaps the early 1950s, the Blackwood Brothers were based out of Shenandoah, Iowa before their move to Memphis. Their personnel consisted of the ones pictured on their 78rpm recordings label, i.e., Roy, Doyle, James and R.W. Blackwood and their pianist, Hilton Griswold. I’m not sure who sang bass at the time, but there were mostly Blackwoods in the group. Perhaps some better historians than I could fill you in on the particulars.

    Duane Nicholson, with whom I sing in The Couriers, grew up in Iowa and attended Blackwood Brothers concerts on many occasions. The Shenandoah years set the tone of their music for the rest of their days. And yes, they grew immensely in popularity across the country because of their being on the 100,000 watt radio station there. Even back then they were singing to sell-out crowds. This was, of course, before their noted performances on nationwide TV in 1953(?) that made them a household word across the land.

    The Cathedrals tend to be held as the epitome of a pure male quartet in the hearts of today’s SG aficionados, and rightly so. But the Blackwoods were measurably more successful in their time and they kicked down a lot of doors for the rest of us wannabes that would follow, including the Cats.

    • I had read that, but I’d forgotten. Thanks for the refresher on that chapter in SG history!

      I know I’m a rarity, but between the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen, I prefer the Blackwood Brothers, at least on recording. I understand the Statesmen’s live performances were something that had to be experienced, but as captured on record, the Blackwood’s records are projects I revisit again and again.

      (But not as often as I revisit the Cathedrals’ projects, I must admit!)

      • Do you remember – or maybe you didn’t hear it, but James Blackwood addressed that in an interview that Paul Heil played during the memorial to him.

        He said that one of the Statesmen (probably Hovie) asked him once why crowds went wild over their performances, but flocked to the Blackwood’s table to buy product.

        James’s answer, or suggestion, was that he tried to pick songs that would speak to people’s hearts. He said that he wanted their projects to be something people would put on after a hard day at work (or words to that effect).

        I taped that tribute off the radio and have listened to it more than once. It gave me a lot of respect for James Blackwood.

      • I hadn’t heard that program, but I have heard similar sentiments expressed by current members of the Blackwood Brothers when I’ve had a discussion along these lines.

    • The Blackwood Brothers began their stint in Iowa in the summer of 1940 – Station KMA. The personnel was Roy, James, Doyle, RW & Hilton Griswold. During WWII, the group was based in CA and Don Smith was the bass. At the end of the war, the group returned to KMA ; Roy was tenor, James – lead, Hilton – piano/baritone, and Don Smith – bass. When RW was discharged, he returned to the baritone slot & Hilton was pianist only. In 1947, Don Smith decided to return to CA and Bill Lyles became the bass. Demand for the group was so great that two Blackwood Brothers Quartets were established. Quartet #1 was RW, James, Bill Lyles, Cat Freeman & Hilton Griswold. Quartet #2 was Roy, Doyle, Johnny Dixon, Warren Holmes and Billy Gerwin. Quartet #2 was disbanded prior to the move to Memphis in 1950. At that time, the Blackwood Brothers were Alden Toney – tenor, James – lead, RW – baritone, Bill Lyles – bass and Jackie Marshall – pianist.

      • Thank you so much! Your insights are always very appreciated.

  27. Thanks Dean. You bailed me out.

  28. How bout lets call it , ” The Best Music Most Folks Have Never Heard Of “

    • A little long, but I love it. 😀

  29. I am not a fan of the “Southern Gospel” label, and have never used it to describe what we do. I remember when and why it came along, and it wasn’t very well thought out, in my view. I think it has done more to harm our genre than to help it. I just call it “Gospel” or “Christian” music, and that seems to have worked okay for quite a while.

    • It was done during the split so to speak in the Awards, right? Without getting into specifics, as I heard, basically they wanted to differentiate themselves from less traditional music.

      • The “Southern Gospel” label was birthed through the GMA (Gospel Music Association), as a means to differentiate between what was then called Gospel and Black Gospel in the Dove Award process. “Black Gospel” became “Gospel”, and “Gospel” became “Southern Gospel”. With the help of the major record labels, the name change “stuck”.

      • I think black gospel is sometimes called “traditional gospel” today.

      • Yes, because black is politically incorrect.

      • Thanks, Gerald.

      • As far as black gospel not being PC, I think that is stupid. It isn’t used as a negative and although some who sing that style might be white, it originated with black people and even back with slaves.

      • Yes. Good point. I loathe PC language with a vengeance. Rush Limbaugh forever! (Sorry, had to stick that in there. 😉 )

    • The more I read about it, the less I’m inclined to promote it, even if I’m pretty much stuck with the domain name I picked at the beginning. (I’ve also been a little less than thrilled with being stuck with the “blog” portion, since I’d rather just promote it as a “news website”! But it’s hard to change what people are used to typing in!)

      • Is it too expensive to do like some groups and buy a new domain, still directing traffic from the “old” one to the “new” one? A lot of big companies will do that when it’s time to change.

      • Didn’t mean “groups” – websites, or whatever fits there.

      • Expense isn’t the issue – the loss of traffic through broken direct links is more of an issue.

      • To individual pages? The old domain wouldn’t be fully functional, then?

        (I wouldn’t change the Southern Gospel part myself, but anyway I get what you’re saying.)

      • Yes, a direct link to a page – which would impact both this website’s standing in Google (which is pretty solid, by the way) and people who had bookmarked a direct page.

    • Gerald, I never thought of you as “old” until you said that. Just kidding!

      I’ve been enjoying catching up on your comments. (Don’t know if you’ll read this or not.)

      • I enjoy Gerald’s posts too.

  30. The label is fine. Leave it alone.

    • You may feel differently once you’re less of a NewSoGoFan. 🙂 There are valid reasons why many if not most industry leaders – here I’m talking about both groups and behind-the-scenes people – would prefer and welcome a re-branding.

      • No, I don’t think I will. I think DBM made some good comments earlier.

      • :shrugs shoulders:

        You might be surprised. When I was a new Southern Gospel fan, I would have been surprised to be told that I would end up where I am today on the issue, six years later.

      • Yeah, if it is rebranded, NSGF will have to change his name. Then again, how long will he be a NSGF? Is it in comparison to others of us? Even so, if we gain enough new fans, he (I presume “he”) will work up in the ranks. 😉

      • I’ve been a fan for almost a year exactly. You can tell me whether that’s “new” or not. 😛

      • Yeah, I guess it’s still new. About 20 years and you can drop that. 😛 If Daniel hadn’t applied himself so thoroughly, we might call him “new” too.

        Seriously, you’ve learned an impressive amount during that time.

      • Well thank you! I learn quickly. 🙂

        I think even Daniel would be considered “new” by most standards. At least compared to the Dean Adkins crowd. 😛

      • Well, I’ve been at it, and studying the genre seriously, for 6 1/2 years – so I might be called “newer” in the comparative sense, but I doubt I’d be called “new” much anymore.

  31. Hello, again! How about Gospel music…??? Or leaving it as it is? Why has it stayed Southern Gospel so long? Like I’ve heard Bill Gaither say, he sings the old songs because they’re good, not because they’re “Old”.

  32. I personally do not mind the term Southern Gospel, seeing as that pays tribute to the music’s roots. It is not intended to be a geographic description. However, having grown up listening to this music (and I’m still young), I’ve always called it simply Gospel music. I think that is the best name possible to describe the message of the music. I understand that may cause some folks to think of Black Gospel, but let’s be honest…that style is really not to far from some songs done by some SG groups. Many of them sing songs taken from the black churches. BFA’s “Long As I Got King Jesus” is a prime example. Even the Statesmen got a lot of their style from the black community…another group that does those songs/style is Signature Sound, and I’m sure there are others. But regardless of whether or not the music is the Black Gospel style, Gospel is that best description of the music’s purpose and message. If you insist on going with something different or at least less confusing, take the Inspirational and put it with Gospel. Inspirational Gospel. Sounds good to me.

    • “Inspirational Gospel” could be confused with the music of singers like Sandi Patty, Steve Green, and Larnelle Harris in the 1980s; that’s approximately what their music was called at the time. Of course, what they were doing from a soundtrack/arrangement standpoint is essentially identical to what our genre does today.

      • True that. I think whether or not it is rebranded, there will still be people who insist on calling it Southern Gospel.

      • Agreed.


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