The Essential Songwriter Collection: Beverly Lowry

The Essential Songwriter Collection series lists ten songs each from legendary songwriters that every Southern Gospel fan should add to their collections. The response to Beverly Lowry’s passing last week highlighted how many fans view her primarily as Mark Lowry’s mother, and not as much a songwriter in her own right as she deserves to be remembered.

  • I Thirst: The Cathedrals, High and Lifted Up, 1993. Written by herself; few would question that this is the classic for which she is most remembered.
  • Monuments: Legacy Five, Monuments, 2004. Co-written with Jeff Steele. The Wilburns also did a fine renditino, but Legacy Five’s is monumental.
  • When They Found Nothing: Legacy Five, Just Stand, 2009. The best of her many co-writes with Marty Funderburk.
  • Come On and Join Us: The Perrys, Changed Forever, 2001. Written solo; this one proves her skill at the all-too-rare art of writing convention songs.
  • Across the River: Triumphant Quartet, Triumphant Quartet, 2005. Co-written with Marty Funderburk.
  • The Song of the Lord: All Star Quartets (Michael May, Gerald Wolfe, Jeff Stanley, Michael Means), All Star Quartets, 2000. Co-written with Marty Funderburk. The strongest song on a novelty project that’s largely forgotten these days, this one’s a forgotten gem just waiting to be a hit for someone who brings it back.
  • My Answer is Yes: Brian Free & Assurance, Greater Still, 2003. Co-written with Rebecca Peck. It’s about time for this one to make a reappearance, too.
  • The Ground is Level: Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, The Ground is Level, 2003. Written solo.
  • Floatin’ on a Cloud: Blackwood Brothers, 75 Years: The Song Will Go On, 2010. Co-written with Marty Funderburk; this one shows how adept she was at the old-timey quartet style.
  • He Changed it All: The Inspirations, The Journey Ahead, 2003. Co-written with Rebecca Peck.

What are your favorite Beverly Lowry-penned songs?

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The Essential Songwriter Collection: Phil Cross

The Essential Songwriter Collection series lists ten songs each from legendary songwriters that every Southern Gospel fan should add to their collections.

  1. Champion of Love (Cathedrals, Symphony of Praise, 1987). If there was ever an obvious pick, anywhere in this series, this would be the song and the rendition.
  2. Hope Has Hands (Grace Has a Face) (Greater Vision, Everything Christmas, 2010). Other artists, notably The Hoppers and Triumphant Quartet, have released versions of this song. This rendition might not be the obvious pick, but its quiet and subdued intensity makes it stand out.
  3. I Am Redeemed (Poet Voices, NQC Live 2002, 2003). This song was a #1 hit, Song of the Year, and the definitive signature song for Cross’s own group, Poet Voices. That alone earns the song a place on the list. Of several strong renditions, the strongest is from Poet Voices’ farewell performance as a quartet, at the 2002 National Quartet Convention. The passion and emotion of the moment brought this rendition to the top.
  4. Medals, Crowns and Trophies (Nelons, Get Ready, 1988).
  5. Miracle in Me (Phil Cross and The Greenes, NQC Live Volume 8, 2008). There’s no question that one of The Greenes’ renditions deserves to be on a top ten list of all-time definitive renditions of Phil Cross songs. The only question is: 1987, with Kim Greene (Hopper), or 2008, with TaRanda Greene? The soundtrack and overall production quality tips the scales in favor of the more recent rendition. If that wasn’t enough, the testimony heading into the NQC 2008 live rendition seals the deal. There was a general consensus, among the artists at least, that this was the moment of NQC 2008.
  6. One Holy Lamb (Tribute Quartet, Hit Replay, 2010). Every list of this nature simply has to have at least one controversial pick, right? Though Milan Kilpa, Tony Jarman, and Dale Brock all turned in strong renditions on assorted Poet Voices projects, tenor Riley Clark’s voice is a better fit for the song.
  7. Wedding Music (Cathedral Quartet, The Best of Times, 1991). Another obvious pick! The song is often associated with Kirk Talley in many minds, but Talley and Cross were co-writers on it.
  8. Welcome to Heaven (Singing Americans, Black and White, 1985).
  9. When I Get Carried Away (Gold City, Double Take Live in Charleston, South Carolina, 1986).
  10. Yes, I Am (Hoppers, Power, 2000).

What do you consider to be the definitive versions of Phil Cross’ songs?

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The Essential Songwriter Collection: Rodney Griffin

The Essential Songwriter Collection series lists ten songs each from legendary songwriters that every Southern Gospel fan should add to their collections.

  1. God Saw a Cross (Kingsmen, Missing People, 2009). These lists stick to recorded versions—otherwise, Ernie Phillips’ show-stopping renditions during the half-year he filled in with the Kingsmen, earlier this year, would be named here.
  2. He’d Still Been God (Greater Vision, When I See the Cross, 1997). The Freemans’ rendition is so popular that this is perhaps the most controversial choice on the list. But the enduring live popularity of Greater Vision’s rendition in their sets plays a role in its selection here.
  3. His Scars (Perrys, This is The Day, 2003). This is perhaps the least expected song to make the top ten list—but it is one of the most deserving. This is a hidden gem that could be positively huge for the right group.
  4. I Know I’m Going There (Kingdom Heirs, NQC Live Vol. 4, 2004). Rodney Griffin has written more than a few strong uptempo quartet songs; this is the strongest. The Kingdom Heirs’ studio rendition is strong, but the true potentional of the song was only realized live.
  5. If You Knew Him (Perrys, Almost Morning, 2009). Granted, because a member of the Perrys co-wrote the song, most people think of Joseph Habedank when they think of the song. This was, however, a Griffin co-write.
  6. Just Ask (Greater Vision, Quartets, 2003). This is probably the strongest feature Greater Vision ever had for their long-time tenor Jason Waldroup.
  7. My Name is Lazarus (Greater Vision, Far Beyond This Place, 1999). Of course.
  8. A Pile of Crowns (Greater Vision, Live at First Baptist Atlanta, 2002). The song is neither a toe-tapper nor a soaring anthem, but it’s still one of the strongest lyrics Griffin has ever penned.
  9. Soon We Will See (Greater Vision, Live at First Baptist Atlanta, 2002). This song is the anchor, the highlight of what many still point to as Greater Vision’s greatest recorded accomplishment.
  10. The Voice I Could Not Resist (Greater Vision, My Favorite Place, 2005). This song and “His Scars” are probably the two least likely picks on this list. Yet we must not forget that Griffin is also a vocalist, and this is quite likely the finest vocal performance of his career—conveying one of his most exquisitely crafted lyrics.
The ten that almost made the list: Anchor of Hope, The Depths of the Father’s Love, Don’t Let the Sandals Fool You, Faces, God Will Pass By, He Had to Rise, He Is to Me, He Locked the Gates, He’s Still Waiting By the Well, We Seek Your Face.

What do you consider to be the definitive versions of Rodney Griffin’s songs?

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The Essential Songwriter Collection: Kyla Rowland

The Essential Songwriter Collection series lists ten songs each from legendary songwriters that every Southern Gospel fan should add to their collections.

  • God Handled It All: Gold City, Walk the Talk, 2003. This song was Jay Parrack’s final big solo during his years on the Gold City bus, a fitting capstone to an era of indisputable greatness for the group. 
  • He Will Roll You Over the Tide: Inspirations, Something to Sing About, 1979. Honorable mention goes to the Florida Boys’ 1978 version featuring Buddy Liles and to the Cathedrals’ 1979 version featuring Glen Payne and George Younce, but the Inspirations’ Archie Watkins feature is the strongest by a hair.
  • Holy Shore: The Perrys, Look No Further, 2007. 
  • I Made it By Grace: The McKameys, Joy in the Journey, 2011. Even though the CD version is the one listed here (for consistency), it’s doesn’t quite capture what the group does with the song live. This song is a highlight of current McKameys sets.
  • I Rest My Case at the Cross: The Perrys, Changed Forever, 2001. This rendition of this song didn’t only become one of the Perrys’ signature songs—it also played a major role in redefining their sound as they shifted from soprano/alto/tenor/bass to alto/lead/baritone/bass, the configuration which took them to the top of the genre.
  • Loving The Lamb: Mark Trammell Trio, Always Have a Song, 2008. Perhaps a mediocre rendition of this song would not have made a top-ten definitives list, but the passion with which Trammell delivers this lyric has made it a live concert staple for the group ever since.
  • One Scarred Hand: Gold City, Windows of Home, 1990. If there was ever an obvious choice that requires no deep reflection, it is this one!
  • Something’s Happening: Mercy’s Mark, Something’s Happening, 2006. Though the Hoppers would also do a strong version four years later, the pathos Josh Feemster brought to his solo here both makes that version the definitive and earns the song a place on this list. 
  • There Rose a Lamb: Gold City, Pillars of Faith, 1992.
  • Until I Start Looking Ahead: The Perrys, This is The Day, 2003. Though perhaps the most overlooked song/rendition on this top ten list, it fully deserves to stand with its counterparts in this list. The Perrys capture and convey the sweeping drama of their lyric and melody with their trademark aplomb.

What do you consider to be the definitive versions of Kyla Rowland’s songs?

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The Essential Songwriter Collection: Ira Stanphill

Ira StanphillThe Essential Songwriter Collection series lists ten songs each from legendary songwriters that every Southern Gospel fan should add to their collections.

  • “A Crown of Thorns”: McDuff Brothers, Here Come the McDuff Brothers with Big John Hall, 1960s. Though one of Stanphill’s lesser-known songs—Stanphill only wrote four or five widely recognized classics—the strength of the rendition played into the song’s inclusion on the list.
  • “Follow Me”: J.D. Sumner, The Heart of a Man, 1969. It’s a toss-up between the technical excellence of Larry Ford’s 1994 arrangement and this simpler but heartfelt 1969 version from Sumner. Ford’s arrangement is stronger, but the pathos in Sumner’s voice tips the scales in his favor. 
  • “Happiness Is”: Melody Four, A New World. Though this song is more-recognized than some of the others on the list, the Melody Four’s rendition still has little competition.
  • “He Washed My Eyes With Tears”: Gaither Homecoming Friends, Passin’ the Faith Along, 2004. This version, featuring Tanya Goodman Sykes and Reggie & Ladye Love Smith, brings modern production quality to the song without losing its hymnlike feel.
  • “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”: Gold City, A Collection of Favorites Vol. 1, 2010. It would be easy to pick the version with the most pathos for every song on this list. In this case, though, while the slower pace George Younce employed brought out the power of the lyric, Gold City’s recent country-influenced version is a fresh and delightful twist.
  • “Mansion Over the Hilltop”: Cathedrals, Alive! Deep in the Heart of Texas, 1997. Too many groups treat renditions of “Mansion Over the Hilltop” as a matter of routine—just another performance of just another hymn. Here, Scott Fowler let loose on the verse, delivering it with a passion that led to a round of applause as he finished his solo and the group transitioned back into the chorus. (Runner-up: The Blackwood Brothers turned a solid rendition on Favorite Gospel Songs and Spirituals, 1952). 
  • “Room At The Cross”: Weatherfords, The Finest in Gospel Singing, 1959. Though the 1960 Statesmen live version came close, no version has surpassed this one, featuring Lily Fern Weatherford on the solo, as the smoothest to date.
  • “Suppertime”: George Younce with Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, NQC Live 2003, 2004 (video). Despite many other fine renditions, there is really no question that, in Southern Gospel, this is Younce’s song. The bigger question is which version to record through his career. He recorded it quite a few times, from a 1957 version with the Blue Ridge Quartet to this final 2003 version. Vocally, it’s not his strongest (that would be his 1971 version on the Cathedrals’ Somebody Loves Me). But that’s not the point. This was Younce’s final NQC appearance, and final appearance outside of his immediate area. In that moment, the lyric and the legend came together for an unforgettable goodbye.
  • “Unworthy”: Greater Vision, The King Came Down, 1993. John Rulapaugh offered a similarly strong vocal delivery of the song on Palmetto State Quartet’s Gospel Quartet Favorites album in 2006. However, the supporting elements around Mark Trammell’s feature vocal—the harmonies, the vocal arrangement, and the soundtrack—give the Greater Vision track the edge.
  • “We’ll Talk It Over”: The LeFevres, Gospel Music USA, 1975. This hymnlike rendition features bass singer Rex Nelon on lead, just a year or two before the LeFevres would become the Rex Nelon Singers.

What do you consider to be the definitive versions of Ira Stanphill’s songs?

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The Essential Songwriter Collection: J.D. Sumner

The Essential Songwriter Collection series lists ten songs each from legendary songwriters that every Southern Gospel fan should add to their collections.

  • “Aloha Time”: Blackwood Brothers, Beautiful Isle of Somewhere, 1960. Bill Shaw James Blackwood makes one of the most challenging Southern Gospel tenor parts ever written seem effortless. 
  • “Because of Him”: Weatherfords, Golden Gospel Favorites. There are heartfelt, fast, and powerful versions of the song, but the Weatherfords’ tight harmonies make their rendition the strongest.  (Runner-up: The McKameys, Still Have a Song, 1997.)
  • “Crossing Chilly Jordan”: Dove Brothers, Sing the Quartet Way, 1999. It’s hard to improve on a classic, but between John Rulapaugh’s tenor part and Burman Porter’s bass part, that’s exactly what the Dove Brothers pulled off.
  • “God Made a Way”: Kingsmen, Better in Person, 1985. The Big-and-Live Kingsmen brought a welcome energy to the song—and nailed the rendition.
  • “Inside the Gate”: Chuck Wagon Gang, There’s Gonna Be Shouting and Singing, 1974. Most of Sumner’s songs were male quartet songs; this is one of only two mixed-group renditions on this list, and the only soprano/alto/tenor/bass arrangement.
  • “Lonesome Road”: J.D. Sumner and the Stamps, Live in Nashville, 1971. Is there any contest over the conclusion that only Sumner’s versions are in the running here? The question is primarily which Sumner version to select. Live in Nashville is the strongest.
  • “The Old Country Church”: Blackwood Brothers, On Tour, 1961. The audience had already come unglued before the Statesmen came out on stage to join the Blackwood Brothers for the encore. At that point, not even a near-trainwreck caused by Big Chief when he launched into the chorus as everyone else was closing the song could ruin the take. (Blackwood Brothers tenor Bill Shaw, in particular, led a remarkable recovery, pivoting from singing melody on a tag to harmony on another encore in a split-second’s time.) (Runner-up: Gaither Homecoming Friends, Down By the Tabernacle, 2008—a rendition I described four and a half years ago as “the oddest Homecoming moment.”)
  • “There Is A Light”: Gene McDonald, In Times Like These, 2006. McDonald brought a resonance and confidence to the low notes that makes his rendition stand head and shoulders above others.
  • “Victory Road”: Greater Vision with J.D. Sumner, Quartets, 2003. Naming Sumner as the bass singer to feature on the song is a straightforward decision. What is harder is naming the best set of singers who recorded it with him. Though Greater Vision added their parts after his death, their vocals match his at least as well as any other ensemble Sumner recorded it with—and their track was the best.
  • “What a Morning”: Blackwood Brothers, In Concert, 1960. The challenge of making a list of this nature of Sumner’s songs is that he wrote songs that fit his voice perfectly. Many groups have recorded his songs, but few have topped his renditions. 

What do you consider to be the definitive versions of J.D. Sumner’s songs?

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