I’m excited to announce the launch of It highlights songs where the main idea of a passage of Scripture is also the main idea of a song.

Since so many of these songs are long-forgotten, I plan to include all available links to lyrics, sheet music, and YouTube videos.

Several years ago, I realized that the songs I was most passionate about were deeply rooted in Scripture—and that this was also the defining characteristic of the songs of my three all-time favorite songwriters (John Newton, Dianne Wilkinson, and Michael Card).

The process of finding and organizing these songs started right here on this website, in November 2011, with our Songs from the Books of the Bible series. I’m excited to start sharing this research!

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The Post After the Last

SGJ - Final Kindle CoverTen years ago, while I was listening to the live radio broadcast of the 2006 National Quartet Convention, I thought: If I started writing about Southern Gospel, would anyone care?

I decided the only way to find out was to try. So I launched this site the following Monday.

Two principles were central: First, take a constructive approach. Second, put up a post every weekday. (Over a seven-year period, I think I only missed one, on a day when a major storm took out power for more than twenty-four hours!)

Early on, a day with fifty readers was a big day. But over time, those two principles started to resonate and interest built. At its peak, the site had over 3,000 unique visitors per day. In 2013, its final full year of operation, it had over a million cumulative daily visitors. I decided to retire the site in 2014. There were several factors, but perhaps the most important was that I realized I had said my piece. I had written over a million words about the music I love (3,175 posts, 1,048,944 words).

I have decided to pick fifty of my best posts to highlight in anthology form. Today, I am pleased to announce the release of Southern Gospel Journal: An Anthology. It is available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon:

A news website is inherently ephemeral. Its posts rarely have lasting value. These are the few exceptions.

The search to pick the fifty best was surprisingly riveting. The posts I selected are the ones that made me laugh and made me cry.

Perhaps they will do the same for you.

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The Power of the Cross

Let’s finish this project by placing the spotlight on what matters most.

To survive and thrive in the future, Southern Gospel needs young talent. We need to encourage talented young singers who love this music, because if there’s going to be a Southern Gospel worth hearing fifty years from now, they will be the ones singing it. But vocal talent alone never saved a single soul. The power of the Cross alone saves souls.

To survive and thrive in the future, Southern Gospel needs live music. Live pianists or full bands formed a key portion of the appeal that created this genre’s glory days. But live music alone never saved a soul. The power of the Cross alone saves souls.

To survive and thrive in the future, Southern Gospel needs well-crafted songs. Our leading groups shouldn’t have to settle for cliché-filled songs. But well-crafted songs alone never saved a soul. The power of the Cross alone saves souls.

Of course, I use “the power of the cross” as a shorthand for the Gospel message. The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God. Ever since, each member of the human race is born a sinner, in a state of rebellion against God.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, KJV).

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23, KJV).

Sin is the bad news. Here’s the good news: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (I Peter 3:18, KJV).

While we were yet His enemies, Jesus came to this earth to live a sinless life and pay for our sins by dying in our place.

How are we to respond? Faith and repentance.

Saving faith in Jesus isn’t just an intellectual acknowledgment that He came; it’s something that changes our lives. It’s not just intellectually acknowledging that the ice over a lake is thick enough to hold our weight; it’s stepping out on that ice.

Repentance includes remorse (feeling sorry for our sins), but it isn’t just remorse. It also means turning away from those sins. It’s not that we become instantly sinless at our conversion. But as sanctification continues, we steadily become more and more like Jesus and less and less like our former sinful self.

We are called to profess our faith (Matthew 10:32-33 and many other verses). Once we have experienced the truth and the power of the Gospel to change our lives, we do those around us an injustice by keeping it to ourselves!

The power of the cross must always remain central.

* * *

And with that, farewell.

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DVD Tapings: “Majestic” (Kim Collingsworth) and “We Will Serve The Lord” (Collingsworth Family)

Last night, the Collingsworth Family recorded two live DVDs, Majestic and We Will Serve The Lord. The taping was at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium in Spartanburg, SC, a 3,244-seat venue that was at or very near capacity. As Phil Collingsworth Sr. noted in the introductions, it was the first live video they had recorded below the Mason-Dixon line.

First up was a Kim Collingsworth piano solo video, aptly entitled Majestic. The first song began with a grand orchestral flourish as Kim walked out on stage. In fact, the orchestration was so slow and dramatic that it would have taken even discerning listeners a few measures to realize it was “Goodbye, World, Goodbye.” After a verse or so, Kim kicked it into a faster gear and finished the song off in its customary convention style.

Two guest pianists, Tim Parton and Stan Whitmire, were present for the evening, and both joined in the opening medley. After Kim finished “Goodbye, World, Goodbye,” she slid off the piano bench as Tim Parton walked on stage to play “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Stan Whitmire played “When We All Get To Heaven.” Tim returned to the bench for “I’ll Fly Away.” Stan finished with “We Will Rise,” as Kim came over to the piano bench to play a third-hand high part.

For the rest of this part of the program, Kim would play one or two piano solos or medleys between segments that featured special guests. The first special guest was the Collingsworth Family, plus Brooklyn Collingsworth Blair’s husband William and Courtney Collingsworth Metz’s husband Michael; they came out on stage to sing the Maranatha/Promise Keepers oldie “Family Prayer Song,” written by Morris Chapman; Kim introduced it by noting that it was sung at her wedding.

The second special guest was her sixteen-year-old nephew Jesse Keep. After Kim shared the story of how he was diagnosed with eye cancer as an infant, and after seventy operations, lost one eye at age two and the other at age four, Timothy played “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and played and sang “Think About His Love.” It was a deeply moving moment and received an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Kim played several more songs (one of which featured Courtney and Brooklyn on violins) before the next special guest, five of Kim’s nieces billed as the Keaton Cousins. These little girls were all between the ages of (approximately) five and nine, and sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to another hearty ovation.

Tim Parton and Stan Whitmire returned to the stage for the grand finale, a half-dozen or so songs that featured the three piano masters at three Yamaha Grand pianos—Kim at her personal Yamaha Grand and Tim and Stan at two more that had been rented for the occasion. After a Christmas medley (“Ring Christmas Bells” with “What Child is This”), they finished with several patriotic songs (“God Bless America,” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”) Kim dedicated them to her brother, who spent many years in the Armed Forces, and whom longtime fans will remember from the Christmas in Kosovo video.

After a half-hour intermission, they shifted gears to record a full-family DVD, We Will Serve The Lord. Most of the set list was pulled from their 2013 CD release The Lord is Good; they staged ten of the twelve songs. (The two they didn’t stage were “My Debt Was Paid” and “I Could Never Outlove The Lord.”)

The pacing of the set list was particularly interesting; based on audience response, it seems as though they saved all their strongest material of this second taping for its second half. The first half featured several fast, mid-tempo, and slow but subdued songs from The Lord is Good, along with two Kim Collingsworth piano solos, “He Set Me Free” and “His Hand in Mine.” There was a live band with Stan Whitmire on keyboard (and sliding over to the piano whenever Kim stood to sing), and noted studio musicians Jeremy Medkiff on bass guitar and John Hammond on drums.

At about the midway point, they featured Phil Jr. on the project’s lone big ballad, “How Great His Love For Me (with ‘Love Found a Pardon.’)” The next song, the old Frederick Lehman hymn “The Love of God,” was the vocal highlight of the night. It was a simple piano-and-voice arrangement; Brooklyn sang the first verse, with Kim playing piano and adding harmonies on a few lines. Phil Jr. sang the second, with Brooklyn and Kim singing power harmonies. It was both spectacular and exquisite, the sort of moment that transcends genre.

They introduced a new arrangement of “Be Thou My Vision,” featuring (in what I believe is a first for the family) all four of the family’s instrumentalists at once—Kim on piano, Phil Sr. on trumpet, and Courtney and Brooklyn on violins.

Kim introduced “Show a Little Bit of Love and Kindness” by playing a few measures in the “windshield-wiper” style in which she first learned the song as a child. Then Stan Whitmire slid over to the piano bench, as she stood to sing the song with her family. This song received the most enthusiastic audience response in the second half.

The final two songs were a new song, “God is Moving,” and the longtime Collingsworth classic “The Healer is Here.” The program concluded with a few more encores of “Show a Little Bit of Love and Kindness.”

The Collingsworth Family does a masterful job of mixing heartfelt performances with the utmost professionalism in their stage presentation. For as long as Southern Gospel has groups of this caliber, its future is in good hands.

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Friday News Roundup #225

Worth Knowing

  • Wilma Shaw, wife of former Blackwood Brothers tenor Bill Shaw, has passed away (link requires Facebook login).
  • Ellen Gerig’s Bass Singers Quartet video has passed 1,000,000 views on YouTube. That’s a milestone that very few Southern Gospel videos—and even fewer non-early-Gaither-Homecoming videos—have ever passed.
  • Chris Conover, an Assistant Professor of Theology at Campbellsville University-Louisville, is conducting a survey on the demographics of Southern Gospel, here.
  • Worth Reading: Tim Challies on why good doctrine leads to good songs.

One more thing, for those who have asked: I plan to post announcements of any new books or other writing projects at

Worth Watching

To come full circle: Here is the group and the song that made me a Southern Gospel fan:

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The Encouragers

Southern Gospel is filled with people who have made an incredible impact through their music. But there are quite a few people involved in this genre whose on-stage product is only a small portion of their legacy. I like to call them “The Encouragers.”

Neil Enloe is an excellent example of this. The impact of his singing and his songwriting is vast; as long as there is a Southern Gospel, there will be singers singing “Statue of Liberty.” But I suspect that the secondary impact he has had is even more vast. I could not count the stories I have heard from singers—and perhaps a journalist or two—whom he has found a way to encourage.

There are others: Michael Booth, Kenna Turner West, Dianne Wilkinson, Pat Barker, and the list goes on. Concerts, recordings, and songs contribute to a legacy, but ultimately, the people you touch are your legacy. And the legacy these writers and singers are leaving is massive.

Who are some of the people in Southern Gospel who have encouraged you?

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Song Snapshots #38: We’re Not Gonna Bow

Kenna Turner West started writing songs as a child. “But they were horrible,” she recalls. “‘Sam Lives In a Garbage Can’ is the first song I ever remember writing, and then there was the big hit, ‘He’s Contagious, and He Might Rub Off On You.’”

When she was in her twenties, she wrote songs as part of her devotional time. “I wouldn’t really call them songs,” she recalls, “though they rhymed and had a melody. They were really just thoughts and feelings from my heart to the Lord, so they had value, but they weren’t commercial songs by any means.”

During those years of her life, she was pursuing a different aspect of the music business, singing on the road full-time. Her father is Ken Turner who sang bass for the Palmetto State Quartet, the Dixie Echoes, and the Blackwood Brothers. In her teens, West also sang with her father and sister as a trio during the summers on tour with the Blackwoods.

West came to Christ in 1983 at eighteen. “About a month later,” she remembers, “I flew out to California to spend some time with my dad who was on tour.” Turner was still a member of the Blackwood Brothers. Cecil Blackwood told her to bring a track and she could do that song each night of the West Coast tour. But things quickly grew; and the one song became three songs with the group at the end of the concert, and then the second half of the program. By the end of the trip, she had been added as a full-time member of the Blackwood Brothers and was with the group for two years before launching a solo ministry that has reached across the country and around the world.

She married Kerry West, son of country music legend Dottie West, in 1992; their son was born two years later. While he was a baby, napping, she began to spend more time writing. “They weren’t songs that you’d want to hear, but it was a starting place for me,” she remembers.

In the mid-90s, she continued to grow as a songwriter. “When I began to make it more personal, add a Scriptural parallel, and offer application for the listener, it began to come together.”

One night at a Bible Study, a friend at her church encouraged her to start singing her own songs. “I had a career in music but I was singing other people’s songs!” West remembers. “But I knew that was the Lord; I began to realize that if what I had written spoke to my heart, then maybe they would speak to someone else’s.”

Her husband is an audio engineer for country singer Ronnie Milsap. They went into a friend’s studio with her church band and recorded ten songs; these became her first CD of original material.

She gave a copy of the CD to a friend from her church who worked at Spring Hill. One day, that friend was playing the CD in her office when Phil Johnson, the Spring Hill A& R Director, walked in, heard the songs, and contacted her.

“I had given her the CD because she was one of my best friends,” West recalls, “but truly, I didn’t know if the songs were even good enough for me to go and sing, much less pitch to other artists. There would be a value in me singing them because they came from my heart, but the thought of another artist wanting to say those same things wasn’t on my radar at all.”

Johnson asked West if she would write for Spring Hill. She agreed. That first CD had a song Karen Peck & New River recorded, “A Taste of Grace.”

The day Johnson contacted West, her husband had just finished adding a home studio. They used that studio to record her first Spring Hill demos. One of these songs was “We’re Not Gonna Bow,” a song Jeff & Sheri Easter would record.

“It was my first single,” West said, “and it went to #1, and it was nominated for a Dove Award. I didn’t even know I could do write! No one was more surprised than me.”

“Like a lot of people, I wrestle with insecurities,” West shares. “There’s no way to say this well, but I couldn’t understand why, out of all the songs that were written, why somebody would cut mine. Early on, I wouldn’t pitch songs because I thought, ‘What if they tell me no?’ But on the other hand, ‘What if they say yes?’ I learned that when you pitch songs, you get a lot of no’s, but sometimes it just takes your time to find the person that song is for.”

“As songwriters, our job is to equip ministries and artists. We are just trying to be true to the Lord and what He’s saying to our hearts, and then prayerfully find the artist who is looking for that particular message in song.”

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CD Review: Make a Difference (Southern Raised)

Editor’s Note: This review was promised prior to the CD reviews column being discontinued, but it took the CD a while to get here.

make-a-difference-1397571807The four siblings comprising Southern Raised are classically trained musicians who have also performed together as a classical string quartet. But, growing up in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, they also grew up around bluegrass, and they have come to the world’s attention as a bluegrass band. Their live presentations infuse their classical precision with their bluegrass energy.

Especially once you get past the genre’s headliner groups, you’ll find quite a few bluegrass gospel recordings filled with well-worn classics. Southern Raised’s song selection is on the creative side. There are only two classics that you’ve heard recorded dozens of times (“What a Day That Will Be,” “I’ll Have a New Life.”) There are also three songs written by group members (“Things I’ve Never Seen,” “Ravens Still Fly,” and “River of Rest.”) All three are among the album’s stronger tracks.

Two songs you’ve heard before in a Southern Gospel setting are “Angels Swing a Little Lower” (Mark Bishop) and “Good News From The Graveyard” (Anchormen, Kingdom Heirs). Both are transformed into high-energy Bluegrass jams with fiery instrumental solos and and powerful vocal solos.

Another highlight is “Grandpa’s Fiddle,” written by James Payne and Adrian David Payne, and previously recorded by James Payne. If James Payne’s name sounds little familiar, it’s for good reason; he wrote “The Cloud He’s Coming Back On” and “The Greatest Love Story” for the Happy Goodmans, “The Walls of Jericho” for J.D. Sumner and The Stamps, and “Headlines” for the Florida Boys. This new song is a celebration of a family heritage steeped in both music and faith.

Southern Raised has the chops to make it as a bluegrass band, and they have dozens of bluegrass awards and nominations to back it up. But they also have the vocal talent and the songs to become a dual-genre success in Southern Gospel. And Southern Gospel fans have started to take notice; they’ve had a best-of-showcase appearance on the the National Quartet Convention mainstage, and they’ve received top ten nominations for New Mixed Group in the 2013 and 2014 Singing News Fan Awards. Vocally, instrumentally, and from a songwriting and production standpoint, Make A Difference is a solid all-around project that will make fans of those who hear it.

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Song Snapshots #37: When It Hurts So Bad I Call the Great Physician (Original Couriers)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

On their final recording, the original Couriers (Dave Kyllonen, Duane Nicholson, and Neil Enloe) recorded a new song written by Neil Enloe, “When it Hurts So Bad.”

To understand the song, Enloe recalls, you have to understand where he comes from: “I was raised in classic Pentecostalism; very, very, conservative, none of that holy roller stuff. I never saw anyone roll. I never saw anyone very holy, actually.”

“Along with other churches in the area,” he continues, “our church would sponsor a tent meeting every summer. We were bringing these healing evangelists, and they would pray for people. They’d have a ramp going up one side, the evangelist at the top, and then the ramp going down the other side.

“When someone got healed, everyone’s glorifying God, and it was really great. But I always felt bad for the ones that went down the other side, not getting anything. It always bothered me.”

One day, he realized that “there is a better healing than just having the pain go away. Paul calls it the fellowship of His suffering. And I think that pain, in and of itself, gives you a little more insight into what Jesus went through in our behalf.”

This inspired the line “When it hurts so bad I call the Great Physician.” The song’s narrator never ends up getting healed; “the actual punch line,” Enloe shares, is, “I can always count on Him to gently lift me upward, and I rise above my pain and misery.”

“I believe in healing,” he clarifies. “But the song doesn’t promise healing. I’m not going to say, ”Tis Done.'”

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Friday News Roundup #224

Worth Knowing

Worth Watching

Matt Fouch, known for both his On The Couch With Fouch series and for singing bass for Legacy Five, recently launched a podcast and video blog. In last week’s episode, here, he mentioned that he will include a news section each week. This provides one more option for fans wondering where to keep up with the latest news once this site retires.

Also worth watching: This the first video I’ve seen of the Down East Boys with new bass singer Joe Brinkley:

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