On Perfect Blends

Hearing the Colonial City Quartet’s smooth blend last Saturday got me to thinking. Every now and then, a quartet will assemble four voices that harmonize perfectly as one. Quartets with what I describe as “perfect blends” have singers who individually have strong voices, but can blend those voices to produce a distinctive group sound much greater than the sum of the components.

Of course, it isn’t just a certain combination of singers. Even once a group has the right combination of singers, it often takes several years before they sing as one.

Not every quartet ever achieves this perfect blend. (Not every quartet tries; the Kingsmen and Gold City, for example, make a point of spreading the harmony parts octaves apart for the big endings. And mistake me not; I love that form of Southern Gospel as much as any other fan.) But when it happens, it is something worth remembering and preserving.

If I had to make a list of ten of the ten best blends I’ve ever heard, the following groups would almost definitely make that list:

1. 1959 Weatherfords (Lily Weatherford / Glen Payne / Earl Weatherford / Armond Morales). I am not the only one to rank this group as quite possibly the smoothest of all time. I have one album recorded by this group (The Finest in Gospel Singing), and I have to agree with others who place this group at the head of their list.

2. 1964 Cathedral Quartet (Bobby Clark / Glen Payne / Danny Koker / George Younce). This is the first of three Cathedrals lineups to make my top ten. I have several records by this lineup, and I must agree with others that this is probably the smoothest blend they ever had.

3. 2000 Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet (Robbie Hiner / Wyatt Wilson / Jeff Stanley / Christian Davis). I imagine I will raise a few eyebrows by putting this quartet so high on my list, but in my opinion the original Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet deserves it. Unfortunately, they only recorded two CDs (The Lamb is King and The Return), both of which I have. This lineup of the group was a short but bright spot in the history of smooth quartets.

4. 1975 Cathedral Quartet (Roy Tremble / Glen Payne / George Amon Webster / George Younce). This lineup’s best project from a vocal standpoint was 1975’s Plain Ole Gospel.

5. 1995 Cathedral Quartet (Ernie Haase / Glen Payne / Scott Fowler / George Younce). These four singers could sing so that each voice was heard individually, but on songs like “Wedding Music” their smooth harmony was unbeatable.

6. 1940s Stamps-Baxter Quartet. Various songs I’ve heard on several different compilations show a group with a very smooth sound.

7. 1956 Statesmen (Denver Crumpler / Jake Hess / Doy Ott / Big Chief Wetherington). This lineup had a very smooth blend. Smoothness is not necessarily the first quality that comes to mind when thinking of the Statesmen, but their blend was smooth nonetheless.

8. 2006 Signature Sound Quartet (Ernie Haase / Ryan Seaton / Doug Anderson / Tim Duncan). I might take some criticism for this, but I’ll do it anyhow. This is the only current group lineup I’ve placed on my top ten. I do not think that Ernie will ever assemble another lineup of voices that can beat this one. (Of course, should the need arise, I hope that I will be proven wrong!)

9. 2004 Dixie Melody Boys (Dan Keeton / Dustin Sweatman / Andrew King / Ed O’Neal). Ed O’Neal has assembled quite a few excellent lineups, and this was one of the smoothest.

10. 1968 Imperials. This group had a very smooth blend and deserves to be in the top ten.

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10 Letters to the Editor

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  1. A few that come to my mind
    Statesmen with Cat Freeman (RCA 1605)
    Swanee River Boys
    Melody Boys of late 90’s
    Plainsmen w/ Rusty Goodman on bass
    Melodyaires of CA


  2. The oldest continuous quartet of all time hasn’t been mentioned and they are, and have always had the closest harmony and displayed great talent. They appeared again this year at NQC in an afternoon session. The King’s Heralds. I hope they will be considered for a prime evening spot.

  3. I feel that the Thrasher Brothers had the finest blend of any southern gospel group, especially on the high endings. They are the only group I’ve ever heard where you couldn’t tell who was singing what part.

    • Speaking of groups where you cannot tell who is singing what part – they are indeed incredibly rare. But check out Voices Won (a new Southern Gospel trio from Georgia) and the ladies’ trio in the Collingsworth Family (Kim/Courtney/Brooklyn). Those are two groups that I have an incredibly hard time telling who’s singing what.

  4. I think it’s interesting that you fingered out the Haase/Fowler incarnation of the Cathedrals as one of the *smoothest* quartet blends. I have to say that that was honestly my favorite version of the Cathedrals, but smooth…? I don’t know, but it seems to me like George’s voice was sticking out a lot of the time, especially when he sang in his lower range. Ernie, Scott, and Glen could melt together like butter when needed, but it seems like George had the hardest time doing that because his voice was the most distinctive.

    That’s why I would contend that EHSS has a much tighter, smoother blend. In my opinion, Timmy Duncan is a better bass than George Younce (sacrilege, I know). That’s not to say that he’s a better *singer* than George—I think George had a fuller tone in his upper register than Timmy, but I think Timmy is much better at maintaining smoothness and blend while hanging out in “the basement,” if you know what I mean. (That’s not to say that George *couldn’t* blend of course…see “I Want To See Jesus” for some excellent bass work, easy to overlook while basking in the glory of Haase’s sterling tenor lead.) But I’m just speaking broadly here.

    • On the other hand: Case in point: Wedding Music. Sure, George drops an octave or half-octave at one point, but for the rest of that song he’s so in the groove their sound is one whole, not four individual parts.

      • Yes—I just checked out that particular song and would have to agree with you there.

      • Cool!

  5. What is your opinion of the Blackwood Brothers with Pat Hoffmaster, Jimmy, Cecil, and Ken Turner. On certain songs their smooth blend was incredible. I really feel that the groups with the best smooth blends are those that have a real baritone singing the part. My favorite baritone was Glen Payne, which is the part he sang most in his later years, followed closely by Cecil Blackwood, and Doy Ott. I’m not old enough to have heard Earl Weatherford but would suppose that he’ probably in that class also.

    • They had great voices individually, particularly Ken then, and Ken and Jimmy now – but I must say that with how high Pat was, I didn’t think of them as a perfect blend quartet so much as one that could spread out for those big endings.