Analysis of Group Turnover: 1998 vs. 2009

In a thread on the Singing News forums discussing the perennial topic, revisited every decade for generations, of whether Southern Gospel is in decline, one poster posits that Southern Gospel is in decline because the major groups’ lineups are not as consistent. [EDIT, 11/7/10: Regrettably, the link is broken, so it has been removed.] Though that’s somewhat of a chicken-or-egg situation, is group turnover faster than it used to be?

So I analyzed the question poster andygood posited: How many of this year’s artists have had a lineup change in the last two years, compared to in the 1990s?

Of the 55 artists on the mainstage at this year’s NQC:

  • No change in past two years (27): Blackwood Brothers, Booth Brothers, Chuck Wagon Gang, Collingsworth Family, Down East, Original Couriers, Crist Family(?), Dove Brothers, Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, HisSong(?), Hoppers (change at piano, not in members on CD cover), Isaacs, Ivan Parker, Janet Paschal, Karen Peck & New River, Kingdom Heirs, Legacy Five, Lesters(?), Mark Bishop, Paid In Full, Pfeifers(?), Primitives(?), Priority(?), Reggie Saddler Family(?), Talley Trio, Triumphant Quartet, Whisnants
  • No change in past year (9): Dixie Echoes, Greater Vision, Greenes, Jeff & Sheri Easter, Naomi & The Segos, Ricky Atkinson & Compassion, Soul’d Out, Specks, Tribute Quartet
  • One change in past year (7): Brian Free & Assurance, Diplomats(?), Kingsmen, Mark Trammell Trio, McKameys, Mike & Kelly Bowling(?), Perrys
  • Multiple changes in past year (5): Dixie Melody Boys (probably), Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Gaither Vocal Band, Gold City, Inspirations
  • Unsure (4): Browders, Hunters, Roarks, Skyline Boys

I asked a friend who knows practically everything about Southern Gospel for a mid-1990s lineup. He had a 1998 list handy, so of the 67 artists that appeared that year, here are the 1998 stats:

  • No change in past two years (18): Bishops, Booth Bros, Cathedrals, Crabb Family(?), Eva Mae LeFevre, Greater Vision, Howard & Vestal Goodman, Isaacs(?), Jeff & Sheri Easter(?), JD Sumner & Stamps, Kingdom Heirs, Martins, McKameys, Perrys, Pfeifers, Primitives, Reggie Sadler Family(?), Whisnants
  • No change in past year (1): Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver,
  • One change in past year (10): Anchormen(at least), Brian Free & Assurance(?), Dixie Echoes (if we count Stewart Varnado’s joining NQC weekend), Dixie Melody Boys (at least 1), Freemans, Gaither Vocal Band, Greenes (unless TaRanda joined after NQC), Hoppers (unless Childress/Denice Hopper switch was post-NQC), Inspirations (unless the Hutchins/Campbell switch was post-NQC), Melody Boys (unless Kramer/Raines switch was post-NQC)
  • Multiple changes in past year (8): Florida Boys (if Gene McDonald had joined by convention—if not, 1), Gold City (pianists),  Karen Peck & New River (depending on when band left), Kingsmen, Nelons, Palmetto State Qt (unless the lineup restructure was pre-NQC ’97), Poet Voices, Specks
  • Unsure (31): James Blackwood Qt, Calvarymen, Crossmen, Cumberland Boys, Gospel Harmony Boys, Hayes Family, Hunts, Heavenbound, Heartland Boys, Homeland Quartet, Jericho, Kevin Spencer Family, Lesters, McGruders, McKeithens, Melody Boys, Men of Music, Naomi & Segos, Perfect Heart, Perry Sisters, Ruppes, Singing Ambassadors, Singing Cookes, Songfellows, Speer Family, Squire Parsons Trio, Steeles, Tony Gore & Majesty, Torchmen, Weatherfords, Wilburns

I’d appreciate clarification on the groups that I’m uncertain about, but even from this limited data, it is safe to say that the rumors of Southern Gospel’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

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29 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver have had two personnel changes in the last year (fiddle and guitar). Their 1998 lineup had been in place over a year, but less than two years (one change in that time frame).

    Doyle has always had a good bit of turnover. His band is considered by many to be a “farm team” of bluegrass. Several members over the years left his band to form their own band, with great success. Lou Reid, Terry Baucom, & Carolina, IIIrd Tyme Out, Mountain Heart, Dailey & Vincent, and Barry Scott & Second Wind are some successful bands whose leaders were “students” in Doyle’s “School of Bluegrass”.

  2. with the exception of adding a pianist, we, the Kingsmen, have had the same vocal line up for the last 3 NQC’s….wish we had the band back though
    see you at NQC

    • Yes, see you there!

      I was counting band changes. I was inclined to go with vocal changes only, which would have been easier to calculate, for sure!

  3. Your numbers may be tainted ever so slightly since soloist are on convention this year…it is quite difficult for a soloist to change personnel! lol

    • DJPhil, that’s true, but the question is how many soloists have you seen and wished they would have a personnel change? 🙂

      • As one who plays the artists in question I will keep my comments to myself!!! lol I will go on record that the two mentioned in above article, Ivan and Mark, are two fine gentlemen for whom I would not need to dodge the question! 🙂

    • Yes, but there was at least one soloist (Eva Mae) in the 1998 list.

      • Janet Paschal is also one of the soloists.

      • Actually Eva Mae was joined by Amy Roth & Kelly Nelon (at that time) Thompson. This was how the NQC handled the “no soloists” rule at that time.

      • Interesting. I think I’ll leave her in the “no turnover” category” nonetheless, since that wasn’t a permanent trio, but something NQC put together for the moment.

  4. Lily has been trying to fire me since 98 but she does not want me to move back in the house. So I still have a job

  5. Group turnover can be beneficial or harmful to the group, depending on the circumstance and the quality of the replacement. But it really doesn’t scare me or make me think something is wrong, unless it’s just constant change, like every other month, like the bus has a revolving door–and those groups probably know who they are.

    I think something to consider here is the nature of the genre. If this were any other genre, an artist may have 5-10 good years of being near the top, and then the next big thing has come along and de-throned them, so to speak. The mega-stars may last longer, sure. But I can’t think of too many acts that have been singing in country/rock/pop music for 30-40 years that are as popular or more popular today and singing with the same or nearly the same consistency than they were in what would be considered their prime.

    But in southern gospel, groups like the Inspirations are still as hot as or hotter than they were 20 years ago. Same for Hoppers, Perrys, Greater Vision, McKameys, Kingdom Heirs, and many others with at least 20 years tenure. So, I think it’s just a given that the longer a group survives the more opportunity/chance there is for change. So, I think that’s more of the context in which I look at change these days. Every situation has it’s own factors, sure, but unless it’s just one change after another in a group or it’s a major restructuring, I don’t think it necessarly has to mean that much.

  6. Triumphant Quartet has not experienced any personnel changes since their formation.

    • Yes. I didn’t list them wrong, did I?

  7. Sometimes change is beneficial to both the group and the artist or artists leaving the group. Would Greater Vision have been as successful without Rodney Griffin’s songs? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. On the other hand, the Mark Trammell Trio would not be around today if Mark had stayed with Greater Vision and the MTT are fantastic! Mark leaving GV and Rodney joining seems to have benefitted both the group and Mark in the long run.

  8. I have read the Singing News post and agree to a point, however, (and it is only my opinion), the artists are not as dynamic in personalities today as 15 years ago. I believe the groups are younger and don’t have the years behind them as Jim Hamill, the Cathedrals, Gold City, etc. Therefore the +50 set (of which I am one) cannot identify with the younger group members as well. We have lost most of the members of the 50’s and 60’s (just watch an old Gaither video). So my point is this: Yes SG is on a bit of a decline and will till some of the present younger groups, ie Triumphant, L5, Perrys, Doves, etc age a bit more and have stood the test of time.

    • Not to start an argument but haven’t the Perrys been around since the 1970s? Most of the guys in Triumphant have been in SG since the 1980s or early 1990s. Scott Fowler of L5 has been singing SG for more than 20 years and Glenn Dustin and Scott Howard have now been with L5 for 10 years. I’m just wondering how much seasoning these folks need?

      If you look at the groups that are listed as the biggest around today, the only two that I can think of that have been around less than ten years as a group would be Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, though Ernie himself has been singing SG for 19 years, and Triumphant Quartet, though Clayton Inman, David Sutton, and Jeff Stice have all been around for many years.

      • Actually, previous to joining the Cathedrals in 1990, Ernie sang with Squire Parsons around ’88, and breiflley (6 months maybe) with the Dixie Melody Boys.
        So he’s been around for over 19 years.

    • Jeff – yes, Libbi Stuffle has been singing since 1970 (missing the 60s by one year, I guess!)

  9. Soul’d Out has kept the same lineup since last NQC. Before last NQC, they had added Michael Howard on piano and Dusty Barrett came on as tenor after Brent Hopper left.

  10. I thought John Bowman left the Isaacs in 2007. Didn’t they also add 2 or 3 members to their band after John left?

  11. Oh, and another thing, last I knew the Skyline Boys have a diferent lead singer. Kinda looks to me (in the picture on page 60 of the September 2009 Singing News) like Tony Jarman.
    Who’s with them ?

  12. The Singing Ambassadors have had the same group since late 2004 when Eric St.Clair replaced Brian Beatty.
    The Singing Ambassadors:
    Carlton Brady – Bass
    Sid Presley – Baritone
    Eric St.Clair – Lead
    Shannon Burns – Tenor
    Woody Beatty – Piano

  13. Why can’t SoGo be more like 4Him was in CCM?? Those 4 boys sang together for many years with a group called “Truth” THEN became 4Him in 1990, and sang together until 2006… NOBODY, and I mean that… NOBODY could harmonize like 4Him could harmonize…. I guess after 20 years together that’s what happens.

    • Hey, it happens. The Hoppers took on their current lineup the same year 4HIM started, and unlike 4HIM, they’re still going. 🙂

      The top groups often keep a vocal lineup in place 8-10 years.