On Diction and the Big Chief

Was Big Chief the Best?

John Scheideman at The Inquiring Mind has an interesting take on the question. [EDIT, 11/6/10: Regrettably, the link seems to be broken, so it has been removed.] John’s seniority in the Southern Gospel online community gives him the right to ask questions that relative newcomers like myself do not dare to ask. For example, I have noticed that Big Chief could be hard to understand, but I had just figured it was my own ears. But John’s confirmation of what I have also noticed prompted another thought, in relation to bass singers who emulate the Big Chief.

At a recent concert, I heard a bass singer (who shall remain nameless) emulate Wetherington while performing a certain fast-paced song Wetherington wrote while with the Statesmen. The bass singer remembered all his words and had the Big Chief-style gestures and vocal timbre down perfectly. The only problem was the diction: I do not believe I understood a single word of the song.

This brings to mind something that George Younce related learning in his first voice lesson. W.W. Combs, his instructor, told him:

“George, it doesn’t matter how low you can go or how loud you can sing; if the audience doesn’t understand the song’s message, you have wasted your time and your money. In gospel music it is the words that matter. Your diction must be perfect!” (From Ace Collins’ The Cathedrals, page 39).

George Younce took the lesson to heart. Bass singers of today would do well to learn from his example.

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3 Letters to the Editor

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  1. I have heard Chief in concert (contrary to some who haven’t) and I have his recordings back to his days with the Melody Masters and I have no problem understanding the lyrics – even on songs that were new to me.
    Judging Cheif’s enunciation based on someone singing his style is akin to comparing a batter emulating Albert Pujols’ stance – he may have the stance but not the results.
    I respect Inquirer’s opinion but this is where we disagree (and many who are well-versed in SGM history and with knowledge of musical nuances hold the same opinion as I).

  2. Well, maybe it is just my ears.

  3. I too have heard “Big Chief” many times in person, and I never had difficulty understanding the “Chief”, and I will add something I heard George Younce say concerning “Chief”,when he said-“Chief was the best”