Will Southern Gospel survive after Bill Gaither retires?

Hopefully Bill Gaither will be with us for many more years. But unless Jesus returns first, the day will eventually come when Gaither either retires from road life or passes away. Will Southern Gospel survive after he retires?

Right now, the success of the Homecoming series introduces people to Southern Gospel, and many (though not all) of these people eventually become fans of individual groups especially those that appear or appeared on the Homecoming series (which, incidentally, will be a much longer list of groups after the private tapings a few months ago with 300+ artists.)

For a decade or two, momentum from the glory days alone will keep the industry going. Hopefully other mega-groups will rise to a level that attracts new fans into Southern Gospel, but that is never a guarantee.

I think it is safe to say that even if the day comes the last full-time professional Southern Gospel quartet retires (if that ever happens), local and regional groups will keep going on the strength of the music they heard growing up.

But I also think that unless there is a national industry (using the term loosely) of professional songwriters to write top-notch songs, professional studio musicians to record soundtracks for use by both the national and the local cover groups, and professional groups and radio stations to put the songs before the public, the river that feeds the small local springs of Southern Gospel will eventually dry up.

Is there anything on the horizon that could infuse fresh energy into the genre?

I was thinking the other day that an infusion of fresh energy into Southern Gospel in a post-Gaither era could come from classic songs entering the public domain. If what David Bruce Murray says here and here is correct, songs written between 1923 and 1978 will expire after 95 years, regardless of when the author died. [EDIT, 11/7/10: Regrettably, the link is broken, so it has been removed.] As that body of work comes into the public domain, steadily on a yearly basis, this could provide an added inducement for singers of all genres to record a Southern Gospel song. This could help both keep the Southern Gospel genre and the individual Southern Gospel classic songs from being consigned to the dust bin of history.

It will, of course, be essential for professional songwriters to keep writing new songs, and for professional studio musicians and vocalists to keep recording them. But perhaps an expanding, useful public domain will help keep Southern Gospel going.

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8 Letters to the Editor

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  1. I don’t want to lessen Mr. Gaither’s influence on the current gospel music scene by my post. However, I would suggest you get a glass of water. Stick your finger in the glass. Then remove it. Is there a hole in the water. Of course not. When he’s gone, there will be someone to fill in the gaps.

    When Gaither is gone, folks will no doubt miss him and his mammoth contributions. They have also missed V.O. Stamps, Frank Stamps, Big Chief Wetherington, G.T. Speer, and the list goes on and on.

    Mr. Gaither has made a tremendous contribution to gospel music. Can it survive without him? Sure it can. He’s a great writer and a great ambassador. He has been able to get ideas from other “idea folks” and run with them with his financial resources. Can you say “Charlie Waller”? Where do you think the original idea for the homecoming projects originated?

    We will certainly miss Mr. Gaither when he leaves the gospel music scene. Irreplaceable? I just don’t see it.

  2. John’s correct, of course. The problem is that before Gaither had his “accident” and made that first video, southern gospel was floundering somewhat. Only a few groups were nationally known and the older groups and artists were almost starving to death. Along came the idea of a video of southern gospel music mixed in with some other genres and you had the recipe for many people finding out about our music, buying our music, and loving our music.

    Will someone else come along? Yes. Will they have the resources to do things tastefully and musically like Gaither? That’s the big question. One of the great things about the Gaither videos was the superior video and audio they provided. Prior to Gaither, most seemed like they were shot with someone’s old RCA VHS camcorder. The sound was horrible and the picture bad. Gaither brough professionalism to the videos and then to the stage. I just hope and pray that who ever gets the torch passed to them runs with it in the way Gaither has. Don’t do it if it isn’t going to be quality. That’s the only thing I worry about.

  3. Maybe we should worry about the situation when someday in the future as Bill has stated when answering the retirement question, “When I hit the stonewall” or when Gloria would just simply say something like, “God uses interruptions to show us His will.”

  4. I attend the Asheville, NC 11-03-07 concert. There were 25 attending and we throughly enjoyed it. I have followed the Gaither’s for many years. I thought That Bill appeared to be ill. He just didn’t seem his self. Has he had an accident or health problems.?

  5. I attended the Asheville, NC 11-03-07 concert. There were 25 attending and we throughly enjoyed it. I have followed the Gaither’s for many years. I thought That Bill appeared to be ill. He just didn’t seem his self. Has he had an accident or health problems.?

  6. I have been a big fan of Bill Gaither in all the forms he’s had out there. Will there be someone to take his place? Sure. I see and hear many gospel groups out here on the west coast that do a tremendous job. Wish there were more. One such group is “SOLID GROUND”. A trio of guys who have the Lord in their hearts and the souls of the lost on their minds.
    Whoever steps into Brother Bill’s shoes, I hope has their priorities right. Jesus, Others, You.

  7. We cannot discount Benjy, and the two Gaither girls. I have a feeling that they will keep the ball rolling as long as possible. There will be countless Dvd’s reliving this and that. I think it just remains to be seen what will happen. It’s a question we have all asked ourselves one time or another.

    I have to agree with Ron. Will someone else have the resources to keep this going with the quality of Gaither? I guess I’m very spoiled, but I for one, do not enjoy CD’s/DVD of lesser quality from group who maybe don’t have all the resources Gaither does. I have a feeling I’m not the only spoiled one out there… .

  8. Professionally made, high quality CD and DVDs are absolutely essential for fans of Gospel music in today’s world. Nobody likes a half-baked video, even if the singers are top quality in real life. They must come over with quality in order to be attractive to all of us. That’s when we will buy and follow with interest. James Verner