Survey: The Theological Landscape of Southern Gospel

For several years, I have been curious about the theological and denominational makeup of Southern Gospel. I’ve even discussed specific aspects in previous posts. But I have never done anything quite like this. Here is a nine-question poll intended to shed light on the doctrinal and denominational makeup of our genre: [EDIT: This survey is now closed. Thank you for participating! The results are here.]

Responses are anonymous; no personally identifiable information (e.g. IP address / email address) is collected with the survey.

We will keep this poll open for about 48 hours, publishing the results Wednesday morning.

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Garms Family Road Stories: Make that quintuple…

The Quadruple Bass with the Double Bass

The "Quadruple Bass" with the "Double Bass".

At many concerts that we do as a family, I receive many compliments about my “wonderful bass voice”. (I’m not at all the next J.D. Sumner or Tim Riley, so don’t worry!)  These caring people often have suggestions for songs I should sing, and they make sure they tell the rest of the family that I never sing enough during our performances! I receive almost as many compliments as Caleb does about his personality, yet no one ever threatens to kidnap me and take me home (unlike Caleb)!

Anyway…one of my favorite compliments I received was after a performance at a church near our home. I was walking down a hallway in the church, and a little elderly man stopped me. He was about half my height, and exuberant to tell me what he was thinking. He looked up at me, and asked, “Have you ever heard of a double bass?” I paused for a moment before hesitantly answering, “Well, yes I have!” I was wondering what he was getting at, because as an instrument player, I immediately took what he said in the sense of an instrument. In fact, this man had just spent a half hour watching Mom play a double bass in our performance. He then, with triumph in his voice, exclaimed, “I tell you, YOU are a QUADRUPLE BASS!” At the same time he bent to half HIS height and made a large sweeping motion with his hand, shaking his head in emphasis of “quadruple bass”. To say in the least, I was speechless for a moment.  But that didn’t phase him a bit! He kept on going with his description of my voice. He ended with, “If you can go that low when you’re still young, just think about when you get older!”  

After I thanked him for his kind compliments, we parted company; he with a lighter heart, and I with a big smile on my face, wondering how I was ever going to live up to his descriptions of my voice!

Ben Garms

Submitted by Ben – ’cause he’s “Ben” there!



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Do you still purchase complete albums?

Do you still purchase complete albums? Have you made the transition to purchasing single songs? Let’s look at the question from two different angles with two simple polls:

[polldaddy poll=5962833]

Breaking it down a different way:

[polldaddy poll=5962837]

For those who generally or always purchase less than a full album: Is there anything an artist could produce (other than a live concert) that you would value at more than $10 in a given year? From concept albums to off-the-wall ideas, let’s hear it!

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Are we forgetting vocal counterpoint?

The greatest convention-style songwriters in the 1920s-1950s were masters of three-part and four-part vocal counterpoint. Vep Ellis, in particular, was so remarkably adept at vocal counterpoint that it wouldn’t be absurd to term him the Bach of convention-style songwriters. Yes, these writers wrote many songs with only one or two melody lines, but they were not limited to two.

For readers new to the genre, here is a video of an Ellis classic, performed by the Gaither Vocal Band and Ernie Haase and Signature Sound:

Today’s Southern Gospel songwriters write an increasingly high percentage of their songs with one melodic line. It’s the rare song that even has two. When there are two, it’s often more a vocal echo than a true counterpoint. Of course, there’s not a thing wrong with one or two melody lines. But is three-part and four-part vocal counterpoint becoming a lost art in Southern Gospel?

Can you think of any excellent recently written examples of three-part and four-part vocal counterpoint in our genre?

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Garms Family Road Stories: Danger Above!

Our family band’s touring equipment consists of many different parts and pieces; in some cases we have major Southern Gospel groups beat in terms of the amount of stuff!

All of us have our own favorite components; for some members of my family, it’s the musical instruments; for others, it’s the promotional material; and for myself, it’s the audio equipment!

Personally, I love speakers. Subwoofers are the most fun. When you start pumping low frequencies through a powerful, quality woofer, well…in my opinion, it’s a heart-pounding experience that can’t be beat!

We first bought our sound equipment from an e-Bay store. When our subwoofer came via UPS®, the delivery-man was giving us and the 90-pound box a couple of good stares. Ever since then, that wonderful piece of equipment has found a special place in my heart. So when things start happening to it, I – and my family – start to get concerned.

There is a saying which goes, “No one cares for your ministry like you do”. Well, I’d like to modify that a little…”No one cares for your audio equipment like you do”! You see, I’ve seen our subwoofer placed on the ground upside-down, used as a step ladder (I’ll admit, I’ve done so also), and have it’s life threatened! OK, maybe that’s too much of an extreme, but it was slightly dangerous all the same.

But before I get to the story, I need to explain one more thing…people love to try to help us clean-up after concerts. Some do it because they want us out of there so they can go home, some because they know what they are doing, and others just because they have big hearts. It was after this incident that it became family policy to not allow anyone to handle the big, expensive audio equipment, unless by special permission and known background.

We were at a venue which had gone extremely well. After eating a delicious meal, the audience was warm and responsive. The chef of the night was one of those people with a big heart. He was one of the most likable guys you could meet. So when clean-up and tear-down time came, he offered as much assistance as he was able.

Time came for hauling our stuff out to our trailer. Suddenly, he got a novel idea. Repeat, a novel idea. He went back to the kitchen, and brought back a couple of old, metal serving carts. “We can place stuff on here, and then roll the carts to the exit door!”, he reasoned. Mom was skeptical from the start. For some things it worked…kind-of. From my vantage point in the trailer, I could see Sam, Jayme, and Caleb wheeling gurney-looking things with one or two small articles to the door, unloading them, and then returning. It was after a few trips that near-disaster struck. Mom still gets the shivers when she thinks about it.

Our friend the chef spotted the speakers. So, taking one, he loaded it onto the top shelf of the rickety cart, standing upright, and had one of the Lil’ Adventures push it towards the door. When I saw the LA reach the door, the cart was wobbling back and forth, and Dad was jumping to grab the speaker from the cart before it fell and squashed the LA! If I remember correctly, I could hear Mom’s slightly tense voice floating out the door.

I don’t exactly know the sequence of what happened next, since I wasn’t quite an eyewitness. But I do know what happened. A cart had come back empty, and our chef friend decided to load what was closest at hand…the subwoofer. I don’t know the exact weight of the woofer, but it is somewhere near 90 pounds. Our friend was of the short, rotund stature, and Mom remembers seeing him heave the subwoofer onto a trembling cart and trying to convince one of the LAs to push it to the trailer. That was it for Mom. She yelled for Dad, and had Dad (and the chef) take the subwoofer off the cart, and stop using the carts. Mom had visions not only of busted subwoofers, but also pancaked LAs.

THANKFULLY, no one was hurt that night. But we came away a lot wiser. So, maybe I will revise the old adage one more time…”No one cares for your CHILDREN like you do!”

Ben Garms

Submitted by Ben – ’cause he’s “Ben” there!




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Then and Now: The Love of God

Several “Then…and Now” images of this nature have been circulating on Facebook; they have inspired me to make my own:

Then and Now - The Love of God

Now, even though I’ll make a dramatic point once in a while, my temperament is such that I always have to include any necessary qualifications and mitigating factors. The author of the second song, Martin Smith of the band delirious?, has said: “That song just wrote itself in about five minutes. The same chords the whole way through the song. I mean that’s embarrassing really! It was just a little ditty. Did it at church. It was good but I don’t think it really blew anybody away. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh Martin’s written the most amazing song!’ I still don’t really think it is. But yes, that song, that moment changed our lives really. It’s been one of the most sung songs in America and around the world. It’s crazy really, this little ditty that we don’t really do anymore.” So in all fairness to him, he’s capable of more serious work, but of all the songs he’s written, this is evidently the one that the most worship leaders prefer.

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Garms Family Road Stories: “Is this a two story building?”

I hope to never top this experience. It was undoubtedly some of the scariest few seconds I had ever lived.

Our family was going to perform an afternoon concert in East Battle Lake, Minnesota. The venue was located in a restored chapel on an island in the middle of East Battle Lake. It was a warmer day, and do to the antiquity of the building, we made sure we opened up the windows in the chapel, as air conditioning was not an option.

After we finished setting up our equipment, we began to mingle among the audience who had gathered. I spotted a young man in the front pew, and we began to pleasantly converse with each other. In the middle of our conversation, we were interrupted by a middle-aged mother, and her daughter who was about two-years-old. Instead of choosing to walk around us to get to their seat in the front pew, the mother chose to shepherd her daughter in between us conversing men. My mind was saying, “That was unique”, but then I looked around myself and saw that I was hogging up quite a bit of the walkway. The chapel we were in was fairly small, the distance between the steps up to the platform and the first pew being no more then two feet. It was so small that the pews, which might have held eight people max, ran all the way to the wall, each pew having a corresponding window.

As we talked, I looked down to the end of the pew, just in time to see the little daughter walk up to the corresponding window, push out the screen, and promptly fall out. Needless to say, my heart stopped. Our conversation ended too. I found myself running down the aisle, wondering if we were in a one or two story building.

The Chapel

The Chapel

I ran out the front door (to the surprise of a few people) and dreading to do it, turned and looked at where the window was. To my surprise, I saw the mother step out the window, and pick her daughter up. The girl had fallen a maximum of a foot in height. My poor little mind almost couldn’t handle it. The adrenaline rush of fear almost toppled me over in shock. I shakily walked over to the window after the mother and daughter stepped back inside through the window, and as calmly as possible replaced the screen. I then shakily walked back inside the chapel, and did my best to regain my composure. All I know was that I was glad it turned out NOT to be a two-story building!

Ben Garms Submitted by Ben – ’cause he’s “Ben” there!


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Amazing Grace: A Jesus Music song?

Sometimes we forget how quickly a song can become a classic. For example, the English version we all know and love of “How Great Thou Art” was translated and published within the lifetime of many readers. As another example, though John Newton wrote the lyric to “Amazing Grace” over two centuries ago, it wasn’t paired with the melody we know until more recently. (He also didn’t write the “When we’ve been there ten thousand years” verse; that was a later addition.)

While the song was out there in the form we know it for years, it didn’t hold the place it holds as one of the most popular hymns until the 1960s. In fact, its rise was sudden enough that the Blackwood Brothers, when composing liner notes for their 1971 compilation Put Your Hand in the Hand, listed it with songs popularized by Jesus Music: 

But not all the songs included here are pure gospel music as such. For this album contains three songs which may be considered themes of the young people who are now turning to religion more than ever before. This religious naissance [sic], widely popularized in what has come to be called the “Jesus Revolution,” has spawned a mixture of the traditionally secular with contemporary folk or pop rock. This has produced such upbeat tunes as the title tune of this collection, Put Your Hand in the Hand, which was so successful as recorded by the young rock group, Ocean. Another song, Amazing Grace, became popular in folk circles and catapulted to the top of the music charts when performed by Judy Collins. Then there is Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel’s poignant affirmation of dedication and love. These pop-oriented songs with gospel overtones take on a new dimension when sung rousingly or quietly by the Blackwood Brothers.

Interesting perspective!

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Ballads, Anthems, and the search for the right term for those highly orchestrated Somethings

In Southern Gospel, what do we call a rousing, dramatic orchestrated song?

We often call it a ballad. But we don’t use the term “ballad” for just that; we’ll use it for any slow song. So we have any number of qualifiers for the term:

  • “soft ballads” (“There’s Something About That Name”)
  • “big ballads” (a ballad with a massively orchestrated, climactic ending, e.g. “For God So Loved”)
  • “big fat ballads” (this is what you use if you’re a true Southerner)
  • “power ballads” (either an alternate term for a “big fat ballad” or a slow song with lots of electric guitars and synthesizers, as in “Lord of Life”)
  • …and any number of others

However, this understanding of the term “ballad” is unique to our industry. While average shelf dictionaries give a vague definition, Virginia Tech’s Multimedia Music Dictionary offers a fairly standard definition of how other musical genres understand the word:

A simple song of natural construction, usually in the narrative or descriptive form. A ballad usually has several verses of similar construction and may or may not have a refrain.

Translated into our genre’s jargon, other genres use “ballad” in the same way we would use “story song” (e.g., “Somebody Died for Me,” “Someone Had to Die,” etc.)

Granted, there is some extent to which every industry needs its own jargon (specialized terminology). But we don’t need the term ballad here, and using it in this fashion is unnecessarily confusing to newcomers. And as a genre with a significant evangelistic focus, one thing we don’t want to do is confuse newcomers!

So if we’re not going to use “ballad” for orchestrated songs that build to a big finish, what do we use?

“Anthem” may be our strongest candidate. Virginia Tech’s Multimedia Music Dictionary defines it this way:

A choral setting of an English religious text similar to a motet, usually used in church with or without organ accompaniment.

This technical definition misses an alternate definition popular since the 1960s or 1970s. For that, let’s turn to definition 3 from Merriam-Webster:

  • 1a: a psalm or hymn sung antiphonally or responsively
  • 1b: a sacred vocal composition with words usually from the Scriptures
  • 2: a song or hymn of praise or gladness
  • 3: a usually rousing popular song that typifies or is identified with a particular subculture, movement, or point of view

Both the VT Music Dictionary definition and definitions 1a, 1b, and 2 could comfortably coexist with this proposed Southern Gospel understanding of the term. The only definition which offers some difficulty is the third Merriam-Webster definition; pop, rock, and other genres will use the term “anthem” for a song that defines a generation or movement (e.g. “We Shall Overcome” for the Civil Rights movement), even if it has no Christian content.

At first glance, these definitions may appear to be mutually exclusive. Yet it is actually at the crossroads where they converge that we find our case for using “anthem” for dramatic, rousing, often orchestrated Southern Gospel songs. For these songs—songs like”Champion of Love,” “Midnight Cry,” “If You Knew Him,” and “I Will Rise Up From My Grave”—are among the only songs that would actually fit Merriam-Webster definitions 1b, 2, and 3.

Naturally, not every song which tries to be the next “Midnight Cry” quite succeeds. The ones that do succeed are the best candidates for the term “anthem.” The ones that make a valiant effort, but come up short (either lyrically or musically) do present somewhat of a problem for this proposition. Should they be called “anthem attempts”?

Is “anthem” the best option we have, or is there a one-word term other than “anthem” or “ballad” which is the best option for describing these rousing, dramatic, orchestrated Southern Gospel songs?

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Singers and Political Endorsements

Does it matter when a singer you love publicly endorses a Presidential candidate? What is the impact of such an endorsement?

To accurately assess the impact, we would have to look at four groups of people: Those who already know they would disagree, those who already agree, those who haven’t decided yet, and those who don’t care about politics. Or perhaps we only have to look at three, since those who don’t care about politics often don’t care too much about the political inclinations of their favorite singers.

Let’s start with those who haven’t decided yet. If you are in these shoes, is an endorsement from a favorite Southern Gospel singer likely to impact your vote? I think that in most cases, like with most other endorsements, the answer is no. If a candidate starts picking up a steady stream of endorsements, it can create a sense of inevitability, but individual endorsements from individuals (no matter how prominent) rarely have a significant trajectory on the course of the race.

Moving on to those who disagree: Most singers who will endorse a Presidential candidate are already somewhat vocal about their political inclinations. Rarely does an endorsement come out of nowhere. Chances are these individuals already knew they disagreed with the singer’s political views, and chose to listen to his or her music despite those.

Finally, the impact on those already inclined to agree: While it might not impact their vote, it is quite likely to deepen their connection to the artist. The more common points of shared interest a fan has with a given artist, the more likely they are to move from being a casual fan to a committed fan. Of course, it’s not just politics: Shared interests in anything from hunting to movies to (especially in our genre) points of theological doctrine can have the same effect. 

One other point. Some artists can get away with this more easily than others. For example, an endorsement from a member of Ernie Haase & Signature Sound would more likely to hurt the group’s reach than deepen fan connections, given their on-stage seeker-friendly approach and their audience’s broad demographic. On the other hand, groups like Legacy Five and Greater Vision leave no question that they are primarily appealing to a conservative audience, making Scott Fowler’s 2008 support for Mike Huckabee and Chris Allman’s current support for Newt Gingrich (see here, with follow-up conversations with fans here) far safer moves.

Would a Southern Gospel artist’s endorsement impact your vote? And would it impact your view of the artist?

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