I’ve had enough of “Sister [insert tenor name]”

Nearly all of the posts I make are either positive or neutral reporting of facts. Here’s one that is intended to be constructive criticism.

Quite simply, I’ve had enough of tenor jokes that refer to the tenor as effeminate, i.e. “Sister Steve.”

Sure, a tenor sings high, and some trained tenors can hit notes that some altos can’t. But with a few exceptions of men with very soft voices, anyone used to Southern Gospel can tell in an instant whether it is a male voice or a female voice hitting the high notes. (Granted, a few female vocalists have worked on their overtones to bring an almost-masculine vocal quality to their part, but I have yet to hear a “Brother Lily” or “Brother Libbi” joke. So I’m just addressing the “sister” problem.)

The jokes that refer to “a man who sounds like a woman” or “sister [insert tenor’s name]” were funny thirty years ago, when Jim Hamill was ribbing the Kingsmen tenors with the line and audiences were hearing it for the first time.

But today, just about every Southern Gospel concert-goer who has been to three or more concerts has heard that line. And since SG fans tend to be loyal both to the group and the genre, that’s most SG fans. They (or shall I say “we”) laugh to be polite, but I do notice that the laughter is less enthusiastic than when an emcee makes a joke unique to the group.

With all the other reasons I have given, I can’t avoid the main reason. I considered beating around the bush, but decided to just address it head-on. In today’s society, homosexual behavior has become more prevalent and openly admitted. Some but not all homosexual men think of themselves as women and adopt effeminate mannerisms, including but not limited to speaking / singing in a high voice. [**Sentences edited upon request–see comments below.**] But this problem is too real–too much a major cultural problem right now–for me to enjoy a joke about it.

I know of quite a few group members who read this blog at least occasionally, and this is an appeal to you: Please find other things to joke about. In today’s culture, it isn’t funny anymore.

And to the readers of this blog: If you agree with me, say so in the comments!

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40 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. I agree with you. This joke is so stale I’m sick of it even without the homosexuality issue. They can also eliminate the one about having a “limited supply” of product, and if they run out they will have to go the bus and get another “llimited supply.”

  2. I am with you 100% on this one, Daniel. It’s not funny to me anymore. And you’re right about the homosexual connotation. Talking about the tenor in this way needs to stop! Maybe this blog will help that along.

  3. Although I can’t recall having heard this particular “joke” I totally agree with you. It isn’t funny and needs to stop.

    Great post Daniel!!

  4. I agree with you as well. A friend of mine sings tenor with a regional group from TN and he always got ribbed with these jokes. He hated them and found them demeaning most of the time, but he put up with them for a long time.

    He’s with a new group now, so I don’t know if he still has to endure these comments. I do know that comments like this add nothing to the concert or the groups reputation. In fact, they probably detract more than they could ever add.

  5. I attend a lot of concerts and I do not find this or any of the other demeaning jokes about group members funny. I wish they would just introduce them and not waste music time trying to be funny. Thanks for the post.

  6. Wow! Way to go DJ! I promise you there will be no jokes from The Prophets platform about Bill Baize’s high tenor singing. He is a strong, confident, self-assured man of God with a powerful and high voice. We will have some fun on stage. That’s for sure…but we will kid each other about things other than our God given attributes…I think your comments are very relevant for “the times”.

    Paul Jackson / THE PROPHETS Qt

  7. I agree. Times have changed, and what was once funny is now a more sensitive issue, I’m sure.

  8. Okay. I certainly am out of my element addressing this since I am at best ballast in the bass section of our choir and have little real talent in music other than I love to sing praises to Jesus and see the response people in the crowd have to experiencing Christ.

    But, I have a 17 year old son who is proud on the notes he can hit. He is also a linebacker, weight lifter and wrestler (hardly feminine activities). Comments like the ones described would hurt him deeply. Imagine if comments like that drove him away from wanting to sing in the choir.

    People need to quit hurting others just to be funny and grandstand in front of others.

  9. Times do change. I was recently listening to a concert recorded in 1959. Had some of the things been said in a current concert setting that were said from the stage in 1959, I’m sure a riot would have ensued.

    . . . and since we’re getting rid of tired comments today, can we put to bed “Let’s give Jesus a hand”? I’m so tired of hearing that comment used to draw applause. Jesus doesn’t need a “hand”.

  10. Wow! You Go DJ !!! Glad to see you “out there” a little.
    Thanks for the link to my site.

    PJ / The Prophets

  11. Daniel…I promise there will be no comments from The Prophets platform about “Sister Bill”. Bill Baize is a man’s man with a high and powerful voice that honors the Lord. We will have fun on our stage but not at the expense of group members God given attributes.
    You go Bro!

    Paul Jackson / The Prophets

  12. Note to the readers: My spam filter kept eating Paul Jackson’s comments, which is why he posted three times! It’s not his fault, it’s mine.

    Thank you for posting all these comments. I hope other group emcees will notice this thread and not only what I’ve said, but also what you’ve said.

  13. Tenor jokes don’t bother me. They’re kind of a different breed anyway.

  14. I think that your point is well received, but feel that you went over the line with your comment that there is one tenor who is openly gay. With all due respect, Daniel, that is over the line for you!

  15. Susan, I think you need to read what Daniel said a little slower, what Daniel said is that ONLY one SG tenor is openly gay, and everyone knows whom that is, as it has been in newspapers and magazines all over the world. I think he is trying to say from that, “lets not stereotype tenor singers from ONE tenors proclivities”

  16. Phil, that is precisely the light in which I meant it.

    But I will edit it a bit anyhow.

  17. Phil and Susan, I edited it.

    For those who want to know what the controversy was over, the removed sentences read: “Now most Southern Gospel tenors are (to my knowledge) not homosexuals. In fact, only one tenor, a soloist, is openly gay.”

    I post this so that readers don’t suspect me of posting something horrible! A statement such as “over the line” could cause people to make some amazing assumptions unless they have the facts to work with.

  18. First of all, if he is discussing whom I think he is discussing, then his sentence was entirely incorrect. As this individual is not openly gay. He has openly admitted to dealing with a same sex attraction, which is entirely different than being openly gay.

    That being said, the sentence was not needed to prove his point. The only thing the sentence did was promote controversy and attempt to promote negative publicity for the individual involved. Daniel is and has been in the past above these types of comments. They are not Christian in nature and serve no purpose to further this discussion.

    Daniel, it does no good to remove the original sentence and then include it in your comment section.

  19. But Susan, I don’t want people assuming I said something worse! ๐Ÿ™

    I withdrew the statement, which should be enough proof to everyone that I agree with you, at least to an extent. I should probably have said “same sex attraction,” and apologize for not choosing my words more carefully.

  20. People will assume what they want, but your statements are worse than what they will assume

  21. You underestimate some Southern Gospel fans…just as, I suppose, I overestimate others! ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. And if they do assume something worse, then you will have learned a valuable lesson, to think, before you post! Remember that words have life, they either bless, or curse. Don’t allow them to be used to curse.

  23. I certainly try to be careful, but thanks for the reminder. It is always possible to be even more careful.

  24. I agree with Daniel. Retracting, yet giving reference to his original statement, and showing that he didn’t mean it in the wrong way, was correct.

    BTW Daniel, I also agree with the entire article. It’s time to adjust the humor, and be mindful to how things can be perceived due to the changes society.

  25. Thanks, Matt! And thanks especially for getting this discussion back on track.

  26. I go to alot of concerts and can finish some of the jokes and comments myself, but, why worry about it. I hardly think calling someone “sister” somebody is the same as calling someone homosexual. If something is not funny to you, don’t laugh. Set there and try to be blessed.

  27. Daniel i agree it’s time to put this comment and many more to rest. They were used by specific groups that could pull off this humor at the time…It’s time for MCs to come up with something original and not attempt to be George Younce or Jim Hamill..be yourself and find something within your own life or the groups to share…I find this much more memorable and classy.

  28. Amen Rob! They need to be original…or is there any originality out there in SG anymore when it comes to MC techniques?…I do think it is harder than it looks and requires some giftedness…Roger had it…timing and his own sense of levity and pathos. It will be a while before we see his kind again…but I am not familiar with enough groups to really make a qualified statement like that. I “retract that”…really I do…don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings…I’m sure every MC spends lots of time preparing and researching his group and audience as well as scripture that might relate to his group’s songs as well as personal stories and anecdotes that might be appropriate for his audience and material and very pertinent current events…whoa I need to stop myself. Get this conversation back on message. I vote for Daniel!

  29. OK, so we can all agree that the majority of jokes used from SG platforms are old and wornout. So are most of the ones pastors and others use during normal services. The vast majority of groups that I know, all the jokes are planned in advance and cleared by all parties involved. Granted they do get old but most of the time the one whom the joke is directed toward may act on stage offended but really knows its just part of the show. Some fans believe this others don’t which are the ones that fall for the joke and subsequent straight man routine. I agree with you post daniel in that yes, the jokes are old, lets get some originality in the programs, but at the same time lets not get pulled in by the worlds over reactiveness to political correctness so much so that we’re not able to have a fun filled evening because we’re too sensitive. Lets all lighten up, take jokes for face value and enjoy ourselves!!

  30. Really, the best real humor is self-deprecating, rather than targeting somebody. Nobody enjoys being the target, but the person who can laugh at himself/herself obviously is a secure individual, rather than insecure, and doesn’t need to pull somebody else down to get a laugh.

  31. As long as people keep laughing, they’ll keep telling the same 30 year old jokes.

    It was funny when the Kingsmen did it during the Ernie Phillips days. Hammill would burn Ernie all night long. Then, during the group intros, Hammill would order Phillips to introduce him. Ernie would walk up to the mic and say: “Ladies and gentlemen……BOSS HOGG!!!”

    Well, I thought it was funny….

    I also liked SSQ’s variation. Ernie is introducing Lynda Randle…

    Ernie: I love to hear this lady sing even though she sings lower than I do!

    Roy: That’s no big deal! My little boy sings lower than you do, Ernie!

    Yeah, the jokes are old and I wouldn’t use them if I had a group, but I think you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. The tenor jokes are no worse than Mark Lowry making fun of Gaither cupping his hear when he is going for low notes or the Kingsmen poking fun at Ray Reese when he does the same thing.

    Of course, there are some tenor jokes with no sexual connotation whatsoever…

    “After that last high note, every garage door in the county went up!”

    “Pray for our tenor. He was practicing his high notes at home the other night. He stepped outside for a breath of fresh air and got attacked by every dog in the neighborhood.”

    “He sings so high sometimes that I get dizzy!”

    “I always get worried when we’re singing in a church with chandelirs and feature our tenor.”

    “Now I’d like to introduce our tenor screamer (dirty look from tenor) Uh…I mean singer…”

    For some reason, this reminds me of something that happened at NQC a few years ago. I saw a few friends at a table in the food court and approached them.

    “What are you guys up to?” I asked.

    “Discussing southern gospel. Who has the highest bass and lowest tenor,” was the reply.

    “Don’t you mean lowest bass and highest tenor?” I said, thinking my friend had misspoke.

    “Oh, we’re not talking about singing!” my friend said as an evil smile spread across his face.

  32. Susan, if a heterosexual is still heterosexual even if (s)he is celibate, why would a person “struggling with a same sex attraction” not be homosexual? That is the whole point. The attraction is not the sin; yielding to sexual attraction with ANYONE a person is not married to is sin.

  33. I am all for stopping the tenor jokes. I am one and some times we will go into churches and the preacher will get up and just start cracken jokes about me and I have to at least look like I think it is funny but I don’t.

  34. Even the great George Younce told so many jokes over and over again that I got tired of them. I loved the man dearly (but not in a homosexual way :))
    but after hearing them for years would have rather not heard them.

    The problem is, there are those who never heard the jokes and would love them as well as some who want their friends to hear something they had heard and thought was funny. It can be hard to find a compromise.

    Roger Bennett was great at jokes. Mark Lowry can be (although at times he tried too hard maybe) and Roy Webb does well.

    I have a relative whose mother has her seeing “gay” in the most harmless things. It can be from them wearing a purple or pink shirt to when Roger Bennett, Scott Fowler or someone kissed one of the guys on the forehead.

    Now, I believe practicing homosexuality is wrong and against God’s will and making fun of someone implying that is not good and can be damaging. It would be one thing for two close friends to joke with each other about that (if neither is offended), but to do so on stage with several people watching and who may think the worst is another.

    I am not concerned over offending the homosexuals as much as I am in someone getting the wrong idea or hurting someone’s feelings.

  35. Out of all those that one liners about tenors that Grigs posted, I have only heard one that was similar. The line was about every cat in the neighborhood outside the door…

    I don’t mind the “sister tenor” cracks. I’m sure that most who get to hear SGM on a regular basis are tired of it. Those of us who aren’t so blessed seldom hear it.

    Here’s an interesting bit I heard from a friend of mine. He knew a fella involved with Kenny Rogers’ tour that got him backstage passes to a Kenny Rogers concert. As kenny emcee’d, the fella recited with Kenny, every line that Kenny would say for the night…. He said he would even chuckle when Kenny chuckled. So, it’s not just SGM.

  36. I don’t mean to make people mad…but this probably will. I remember hearing a now-deceased pianist tell a story about his son being in an Easter play and what his son said at the door of the empty tomb. It was both cute and emotional. The dad/piano player could barely get the story out for the tears choking his throat. Problem is I’ve read that story in OLD sermon books printed before even the dad was born. It did not happen to his son the way he told it. Then I didn’t know what to believe that the pianist told. That includes what he said about the Lord and his relationship with Him. So, when he died, I was surprised to read, in a newspaper from his home town, that the story about him falling and burning his hands as a child really was true.

    PLEASE do not try to pass off a story as true if it is just an illustration because you will forfeit your credibility if you are found out. When I found out the goat on the bus and the Michael Jackson on the bus stories weren’t true, I quit believing any of the stories a certain bass singer told. I loved to hear him sing and I loved to hear the pianist play but I tuned them out when they talked.

    Sorry if I offended anyone by my reference to the deceased but facts is facts, the truth is the truth and they did not always tell it.

  37. Daniel…Mike Franklin (longtime tenor for The Melody Boys) posted a great comment at my “tenor” article at: (EDIT 8/6/11: Broken link removed).

    It’s the third comment and easy to find.
    He has some great insights as a pro SG tenor.

  38. I was going to say something, but everyone else has already voiced it all.
    Anyway, great article!

  39. You know, the problem with tenor jokes is that they are just tired and worn out. I’m a tenor traveling for a full-time SG group and every once in a while our emcee will throw in a one-liner here or there. I have never been offended or thought for a second that it had some sort of homosexual connotation. We have a lot of fun on the stage and everyone is fair game at certain times.

    I have heard several emcees use those same lines that we have all heard, but the idea that it might be a reference to a gay lifestyle has never crossed my mind. Get rid of the jokes because they aren’t funny, not because of hypersensitivity.

  40. I think this has been totally blown out of proportion. No one is reffering to them as gay, when they say that they sing high. Also..These guys travel together all the time, they are like brothers. Brothers pick on each other, but know that they love each other….Also as for this “gay soloists”…He has repented and asked forgivenesss, and though me may be tempted, God is working in Him. If God can forgive him, why can’t you? Stop calling him gay…He is forgiven just like you are….


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