Bobby Clark passes away

Bobby Clark, original tenor for the Cathedral Quartet, passed away this afternoon at 12:10 P.M. He had suffered a stroke in February. A celebration of life service will be held on Saturday, May 31 at 11:00 AM at the Temple Baptist Church in Flower Mound, Texas.

Clark was the last surviving member of the original Cathedrals lineup; lead singer Glen Payne passed away in 1999, bass singer George Younce in 2005, and baritone/pianist Danny Koker in 2008. This is the 50th anniversary of the quartet’s 1964 start; he was the only alumnus to make live to see that fifty-year mark.

Here is a video of Clark at the Cathedrals Reunion videotaping:

That doesn’t quite do justice to the Cathedrals’ delightfully tight blend when Clark was with the group and in his vocal prime. Though this is audio only, it comes closer:

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Song Snapshots #36: Give Me Jesus (Couriers)

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

One day, the Couriers were in downtown Philadelphia. They were visiting a long-time supporter of the group who had invited them over for a meal. “She has gone on to be with the Lord now, but she would come to our concerts for years,” Couriers lead singer Neal Enloe recalls. “She had us come to her house, saying, ‘We want to fix a meal for you.’”

He recalls that her house was on a narrow street and had a tiny porch. “The food wasn’t ready,” he recalls, “so I went out to the front porch just to sit down and think a little bit.”

“All of a sudden,” he says, “the idea for ‘Give Me Jesus’ came to me,” and he wrote it in no time flat.

The song’s message of submission still resonates deeply with him. “I like songs that put me on the altar, because that’s where the most meaningful part of my life has been lived. That’s one of them.”

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Song Snapshots #35: Red Letter Day

Sometimes even the strongest songs take a few years to find a home.

After Kenna Turner West wrote “Red Letter Day,” it took three years of pitching before it was recorded. “I believed in the song,” she recalls, “so I was willing to get a lot of no’s until I found a yes.”

One day, Roger Talley called her to put it on hold for The Talleys, along with a song called “That’s Why I Believe.” The very next day, two other major artists called and asked to place the same two songs on hold! But, of course, the hold had already been granted to The Talleys, who ended up recording both songs. “It took years for ‘Red Letter Day’ to find the right artist and the right project,” she said, “which is why I always tell songwriters who are pitching their own material to never give up on a song. If you believe in it, keep sending it. Eventually, it’ll find its way to the place that it’s supposed to be. There are songs I’ve pitched for years and keep at it because I believe in what they say.”

Red Letter Day is a happy, upbeat song. “But if you knew where the song came from,” she shares, “you might see it differently.” One summer morning, she was on her way home from dropping off her then-nine year old son at Vacation Bible School. He had already undergone four eye surgeries, and the fifth was scheduled for the following day. Her heart was broken for him. “I just remember driving up the hill by our home with the sun’s glare on my windshield, saying to myself, ‘Come whatever, it can only get better,’ which became part of the chorus.”

“It’s crazy, but it’s on my hardest days that I write my favorite ‘happy’ songs because I am speaking hope to my own heart,” she adds. “Regardless of what is going on in my life, God’s still good, He’s still on the throne, and He’s still holding all things together by the power of His Word. That’s what ‘Red Letter Day’ reminds me.”

When she hears the song today, she still remembers that day. “When I hear ‘Red Letter Day,’ I remember how badly I needed the Lord to help get me through that day, so for me, it’s not just a ‘sunny’ song but a declaration of faith. I literally put both feet on the floor that morning, determined to walk that day out with joy, even though my heart was breaking. That’s where that song came from.”

Watch on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuVy0QZKDY8

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Friday News Roundup #223

Worth Knowing

  • The Old Paths announced that their current radio single, “Long Live the King,” written by Dianne Wilkinson and Chris Binion, is going to be a #1 hit on the Singing News charts.
  • The Collingsworth Family announced last Sunday (Mother’s Day) that Brooklyn Collingsworth Blair and her husband, Will, are expecting their first child in November.
  • Leslie Taylor Perkins of The Taylors gave birth to her first child—a son, Isaiah—on May 14. Leslie, her husband Aaron, and Isaiah will return to the road after several weeks of maternity leave.
  • Singing News announced the top five nominees for the 2014 Fan Awards.

Worth Watching

An early look at the Perrys with new lead singer Andrew Goldman:

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Song Snapshots #34: If She Could

“Some songs are written as stories for other people to tell, but some songs I write because the story is mine,” Kenna Turner West shares. “If She Could” falls into that second category.

Her grandmother battled Alzheimer’s for about ten years. It reached the point where it was too dangerous to leave her alone, so West’s mother moved her to Tennessee to live with her.

“Granny was very healthy; she just couldn’t remember,” West said. “It was so hard watching her fail and watching my mom struggle with losing her mom.”

“One day,” she adds, “my mom walked into my grandmother’s room to wake her up and Granny was sitting on the side of the bed. Granny’s name was Estelle, but Mom called her Stellar.”

“My mother said, ‘Good morning, Stellar.’ Granny said, ‘Good morning! I just feel like I know you.’ My mom said, ‘Well, yeah, I’m your baby.’”

“My grandmother began to just sob. She said, ‘What kind of mother doesn’t know her own child?’”

“My mom climbed into the bed with her, tucked my granny’s head into her shoulder, and rocked her until she quit crying, just like my grandmother had done for my mom so many times as a child. When Granny quit crying, she leaned back and looked at my mom with great clarity and said, ‘One day I’ll know you.’”

When Kenna Turner West wrote the song “If She Could,” she wasn’t even sure if she would share it with anyone. She was just writing about her grandmother: “She struggles to hold to things that are fading away / Stares out the window with hours with nothing to say.” The chorus says: “She can’t even remember if the old days were all that good / she’d tell you all about it if she could.”

Her grandmother’s phrase, “One day I’ll know you,” resonated particularly deeply. West thought about the passage in I Corinthians 13, where we shall “know as we are known.”

“That’s why I wrote the song,” she said. “To remind families like ours who are slowly losing their loved ones to Alzheimer’s the promises of God that are theirs in Christ.” At the end of the song, the lyric, ‘When I get to Heaven / I won’t be the same / And when I see you / I’ll know your name,’ was based on a real conversation that my grandmother had with my mom.”

“If She Could” was the story of Kenna’s grandmother, but it was the story of Sheri Easter’s grandmother, as well. Joyce Martin, Karen Peck Gooch, and Sheri Easter recorded a project together, Best of Friends. They included “If She Could” on that project; Jeff & Sheri Easter also later recorded it on a live DVD.

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The Power of Simplicity

The Southern Gospel songwriters of the 1970s produced a decade of enduring classics that has never been matched. The decade’s greatest writers, including Bill & Gloria Gaither, Rusty Goodman, Dottie Rambo, Ronny Hinson, and Squire Parsons, all hit a creative peak at about the same time (~1967-77), and what a time it was.

Each of these writers kept writing into the 1980s and beyond. But we would all say that their strongest output was in the 1970s. Why is this? Why would so many of the greatest writers of their generation hit their peak at the same time?

It’s quite an odd phenomenon. I’ve been pondering it for several months. And I think I have found the answer: Simplicity.

To a man (or woman), each of these writers’ great songs from the 1970s had a distinct simplicity: Simple message, simple lyric, simple melody.

But about the time the calendar rolled over to the next decade, each of these writers shifted to a more intricate and involved style of songwriting. One of Dottie Rambo’s finest songs from the 1980s is “When His Kingdom Comes“; compare that to, say, “The Holy Hills.” For Bill & Gloria Gaither, compare “I’ve Just Seen Jesus” to “Because He Lives.” For Rusty Goodman, compare “Only For His Eyes” or “Standing In The Presence Of The King” to “Had It Not Been.” The difference is simplicity.

Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with intricate songs. Sometimes songs need to explore complex topics. In fact, those are often my personal favorites. When it comes to Squire Parsons, I’ll take “Crown of Bright Glory” over “Sweet Beulah Land” any day. But at the same time, I know which of the two pretty much any Christian in the South can sing by heart, and I think I know why.

There’s always a time and a place for songs that explore complex topics. Our genre has plenty of those right now—plenty excellent ones.

But it’s time to bring the simple songs back.

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Song Snapshots #33: Ask Me Why

Jason Cox and Kenna Turner West co-wrote “Ask Me Why.” Cox brought an idea to their co-writing session called “It’s Love,” with the idea of structuring a chorus around questions someone was asking—“ask me why,” “ask me where.”

They decided to structure the song as a story around someone coming to Christ. “Our original version was about a guy,” West recalls; “He slipped through the door / sat on the last pew.” West released a solo project with that version of the lyric.

One day, she was at Daywind, where an engineer was mixing her version of “Ask Me Why.” Steve Mauldin contacted her; he was producing Legacy Five’s A Wonderful Life project, and said they were looking for a fast song and a song with a 6/8 signature. “Ask Me Why” has a 6/8 signature, so she immediately wondered if it might be the right fit.

“So I sent it over to Terry Franklin to do a male vocal, so they could hear it as a guy doing it,” she recalls.

She had never heard a story Scott Fowler had started sharing in concerts, about how Patty Bahour, a Muslim lady, had accidentally purchased tickets to a Legacy Five concert, and had eventually come to know the Lord. But when Scott heard the song, he immediately thought of Patty’s story. So he emailed Kenna, asking if it would be okay if he turned the “he” into a “she.”

“It was very thoughtful of him to ask,” West said; “I was completely fine with that. As songwriters, we’re just trying to equip singers with songs that they can share. I had no idea that changing a pronoun would make the song fit such a significant story in their ministry.”

West pitched the song one week, and Legacy Five recorded it the following week. But there was even more: Steve Mauldin’s email came on a Wednesday. The next day, West, Lee Black, and Jason Cox were sitting in a writer’s room at BMI. West commented, “Hey, Legacy Five needs a fast song. Let’s write a fast song!” They wrote “I’m Still Amazed” on Thursday, recorded and submitted a demo on Friday, and Legacy Five recorded it the next Monday!

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Jeff Stice leaves Triumphant Quartet

Triumphant Quartet announced this afternoon that Jeff Stice has left the group. The press release states: “After taking a personal leave of absence to reflect on God’s best for his life and the life of his family, Jeff Stice has made a decision to end his tenure with the Triumphant Quartet.  He will be focusing his energies on joining his sisters in helping to care for their parents. While he may pursue other interests in the future, he feels his family and their needs must be the priority in this season of life.”

Bass singer and emcee Eric Bennett commented, “I speak for all the guys in the group when I say that we wish Jeff well in his future endeavors.  He and his family will definitely remain in our prayers.”
The press release added that “the decision to hire a piano player for the group remains uncertain at this time.”
Triumphant started twelve years ago and had a remarkable twelve-year run with the same lineup prior to this change.
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Friday News Roundup #222

Worth Knowing

  • Former Brian Free & Assurance drummer Ricky Free, son of group skipper Brian Free, has accepted a position as drummer for Dove Award®-winning CCM artist Matthew West.
  • Songwriter Daryl Williams has announced the return of the Daryl Williams Trio. He will be joined by lead singer Shannon Knight and tenor Brent Mitchell. (This configuration has already been performing together for several months, so it’s not exactly new news, but an official announcement is at least worth a News Roundup mention.)
  • Songwriter Ricky Atkinson & Compassion announced that he will be going on tour with two different Ricky Atkinson & Compassion lineups this year. The official current lineup is Atkinson, Greg Cook, and Loren Harris. He will also do some dates with a second lineup, consisting of pianist Nathan Rogers and returning members Samuel & LaBreeska Atkinson.
  • The Allen Family will be the focus of a new reality TV series on TLC.
  • Worth Reading: Danny Jones’ column, If You Really Want To Do Something (Pray).

Worth Watching

This “Confused Quartet” features every member out of their usual position: Triumphant Quartet baritone Scott Inman on tenor, Legacy Five pianist Trey Ivey on lead, Greater Vision tenor Chris Allman on baritone, Legacy Five baritone Scott Howard on bass, Hoppers alto Connie Hopper on piano, Legacy Five lead singer Scott Fowler on bass, and Greater Vision lead/pianist Gerald Wolfe on drums.

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Song Snapshots #32: He’s More than Just a Swear Word (Couriers, Blackwood Brothers, Collingsworth Family)

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

Neil Enloe’s father was a barber. He describes him as a “fun-loving, happy guy, who never had a sad day in his life.” But, Enloe recalls, “He loved his Lord, and he was dead serious about God. He was a great role model.”

“In his barber shop,” Enloe continues, “he could not stand to have the name of Jesus berated or blasphemed. In his shop, one wall had a sign, ‘No swearing, please.’ Another wall had a sign that said, ‘No profane language, please.’ My dad was a very crude person when it comes to design; he tore the flap off a cardboard box, and with a child’s crayon, he wrote a sign and thumb-tacked it to a third wall. And it said, and this one he made up, ‘A feller’s tougher who is not a cusser.’”

Enloe recalls the impact of his father’s stand: “So here I am, and going into my dad’s barber shop. In front of his customers, when they would blaspheme the name of the Lord, he would stop, mid-stroke, whether it was shaving, or cutting hair, or whatever, and he’d say, ‘Look, this is my Lord and my Savior, we don’t talk like that here.’ So at the expense of losing business, my dad stood up for his Lord, and that deeply impressed me as a little guy. So in the years that followed, I just decided to make a statement, too, and that’s where that song really came from, my childhood.”

The song was one of the most popular songs the Couriers ever introduced. It made the rounds in the 1970s; the Blackwood Brothers, Cathedrals, Dixie Echoes, Dixie Melody Boys, Downings, Florida Boys, Kingsmen, and Sego Brothers were among the groups who recorded it. After receiving little attention for decades, the song was recently brought back by the Collingsworth Family on their 2007 We Believe CD.

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