Daywind signs Amber Nelon Thompson

Nelons members Kelly Nelon Clark and Amber Nelon Thompson announced today on Facebook that Amber signed a solo recording contract with Daywind. Kelly posted a photo of the signing here (limited accessibility Facebook link). Every indication so far is that the Nelons will continue touring as a group, in addition to Amber’s solo work.

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Similar Song Intros

Recently, I was listening to the Kingsmen song “Called Out.” The introduction’s strong resemblance to the opening bars of the Cathedrals’ “Somebody Touched Me” was quite striking. That got me thinking about other similar intro combinations our genre has seen:

  • “Somebody Touched Me” (The Cathedrals, The Prestigious Cathedral Quartet, 1984) and “Called Out” (The Kingsmen, Better in Person, 1985)
  • “If God Didn’t Care” (The Statesmen, The Bible Told Me So, 1958) and “I Found the Answer” (The Statesmen, Message In The Sky, 1963)
  • “Valley Of The Shadow” (Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet, The Lamb is King, 2000) and “Heroes of The Faith” (Legacy Five, Heroes Of The Faith, 2001) (It seems I’ve discussed this one before.)
  • “When Morning Sweeps the Eastern Sky” (Happy Goodmans, Good ‘n’ Happy, 1966) and “When It All Starts Happening” (Happy Goodmans, Bigger ‘n’ Better, 1967) (This is probably the most famous example in our genre.)

What other examples have you all noticed?

(In case anyone is curious: We had a great discussion about our genre’s most unique song intros six years ago, here.)

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Sheet Music vs. Soundtracks

Several weeks ago, quite a few readers indicated interest in seeing occasional topics connected to church music. Here’s one: For those of you who are involved in church music—whether on a regular basis or doing occasional features—do you use soundtracks, live accompaniment played with sheet music, or live accompaniment played by ear?

If you had the options of soundtracks and sheet music, which would you prefer and why?

If you prefer sheet music: How do you find sheet music, especially for recent songs? Will you do songs (whether features or congregational) for which you cannot find sheet music?

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Replacement Singers in the Hall of Fame

Yesterday, in the comments section, we had an interesting discussion about singers who came into a group, replacing another singer, and went on to have a career that would land them in the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame. It would be quite an interesting exercise to quantify this phenomenon. How many SGMA Hall of Fame singers were replacement singers when they joined the group that would ultimately launch them into the Hall of Fame?

  • Replacements (50): Glen Allred (Florida Boys), Les Beasley (Florida Boys), Roger Bennett (Cathedrals), Anthony Burger, Roy Carter (Chuck Wagon Gang), Denver Crumpler (Statesmen), Fred Daniel (both Sunshine Boys and Blue Ridge), Happy Edwards (Harmoneers), Neil Enloe (Couriers), Elmo Fagg (Blue Ridge), Eldridge Fox, Gloria Gaither, Kenny Gates (Blue Ridge), Smitty Gatlin (Oak Ridge), Jim Hamill (Kingsmen), Herman Harper (Oak Ridge), Jake Hess (Statesmen), Connie Hopper (Hoppers – maybe not replacement but also not founding member), Jimmy Jones (LeFevres), Harold Lane (Speer Family), Bill Lyles (Blackwood Brothers), Rex Nelon (Nelons), Duane Nicholson (Couriers), Ed O’Neal (Dixie Melody Boys), Doy Ott (Statesmen), London Parris (both Rebels and Blackwood Brothers), Squire Parsons (Kingsmen), Jack Pittman (Palmetto State Quartet), Naomi Sego Reader (Segos), Ray Dean Reese (Kingsmen), Tim Riley (Gold City), Rosie Rozell (Statesmen), Bill Shaw (Blackwood Brothers), Dale Shelnut (Dixie Echoes), Erman Slater (Rangers), Marion Snider (Stamps), Ben Speer (Speers), Derrell Stewart (Florida Boys), J.D. Sumner (both Blackwood Brothers and Stamps), Billy Todd (Florida Boys), Jack Toney (Statesmen), Wally Varner (Blackwood Brothers), Big Jim Waits, James D. Walbert (Vaughan Radio Quartet), Lily Weatherford (Weatherfords), Big Chief Wetherington (Statesmen), Gerald Williams (Melody Boys), Willie Wynn (Oak Ridge Quartet)
  • Founding Members of their groups (55): Buford Abner, Wendy Bagwell, Doyle Blackwood, James Blackwood, R.W. Blackwood, Dwight Brock, “Dad” Carter, Martin Cook, Anna Davis, John Daniel, Wally Fowler, Bill Gaither, Danny Gaither, Jerry Goff, Lil Jan Buckner Goff, Rusty Goodman (Goodmans), Howard Goodman (Goodmans), Sam Goodman (Goodmans), Vestal Goodman (Goodmans), Connor Hall, Bill Hefner, Joel Hemphill, Kenny Hinson, Arnold Hyles, Vernon Hyles, Bob Jones, Rose Carter Carnes, Charles Key, Lillian Klaudt, Alphus LeFevre, Eva Mae LeFevre, Urias LeFevre, Harvey Lester, Herschel Lester, Opal Lester, Pop Lewis, Hovie Lister, Fred Maples, Geraldine Morrison, Rosa Nell Speer Powell, Buck Rambo, Dottie Rambo, Mary Tom Speer Reid, Ace Richman, James Sego, Dad Speer, Brock Speer, Mom Speer, Frank Stamps, Bobby Strickland (Statesmen / Crusaders), Archie Watkins, Earl Weatherford, J.G. Whitfield (Florida Boys / Dixie Echoes)
  • Mixture (6): Ed Hill (founder with Prophets / replacement with Stamps), Jim Hill (founder with Golden Keys / replacement with Statesmen), Glen Payne (founder with Cathedrals / replacement with Weatherfords), David Reece, Henry Slaughter (founder with Imperials / replacement with Weatherfords), George Younce (founder with Cathedral Quartet, sort of / replacement with Weatherfords and Blue Ridge)
  • Not sure (2): Joe Roper, Eddie Wallace
  • Not applicable (soloists or primarily known for non-performing role in genre) (41): Lee Roy Abernathy, Doris Akers, Robert Arnold, Eugene Bartlett, Ma Baxter, J.R. Baxter, Albert E. Brumley, Bob Brumley, Charles Burke, Jimmie Davis, Cleavant Derricks, Vep Ellis, Polly Grimes, Stuart Hamblin, Lou Hildreth, Jerry Kirksey, Don Light, Mosie Lister, J.A. McClung, Otis McCoy, Lady Mull, J. Bazzel Mull, Marvin Norcross, W.B. Nowlin, Lloyd Orrell, Adger M. Pace, O.A. Parris, Luther G. Presley, William M. Ramsey, Anthony Showalter, Arthur Smith, V.O, Stamps, Ira Stanphill, Maurice Templeton, Benjamin Unseld, Charles Wesley Vaughan, Glen Kieffer Vaughan, James David Vaughan, William Walbert, Charlie Waller, R.E. Winsett

So, among performers, it looks like it’s roughly half and half Hall of Famers who founded the groups that took them to the top and Hall of Famers who replaced another singer.

But a straight half-and-half split is an oversimplification. As a quick scan of the list reveals, most of the Hall of Famers in the Replacements list are quartet men, while most of the family group singers represented in the Hall of Famers list were founding members.

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One-hit (album) wonders

Other genres are powered by one-hit wonders. But in Southern Gospel, groups that produce one spectacular album rarely stop at one. But every now and then, in our genre, you will occasionally find a short-lived group produce that one spectacular album.

The other day, a reader mentioned one of those, Mercy’s Mark’s debut self-titled album. As I listened to it again, I remembered just how amazing that was, and I realized that it would be altogether too easy for new fans of this genre to only listen to albums by groups they already knew. It’s the responsibility of those of us who remember when albums like that one were to mention them from time to time.

Then I got to wondering if there were others A second came to mind fairly readily, Cross 4 Crowns’ major-label debut album Turning Point, which picked up a 5-star review here in 2008.

Are there any other spectacular albums by short-lived groups?

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The greatest groups

Southern Gospel’s top-tier groups typically have the recognition they have because they are very good at at least one aspect of what makes a group great.

Some groups are strong at finding songs with thought-provoking lyrics that express Gospel truth in a fresh way.  Brian Free & Assurance is a great example.

Other groups have multiple spectacular vocalists that can take a perfectly ordinary song everyone has heard hundreds of times and turn in a show-stopping standing-ovation performance. Take Greater Vision (Gerald Wolfe and Chris Allman), Mark Trammell Quartet (Mark Trammell and Pat Barker), or the Gaither Vocal Band (everyone except Bill).

Still other groups, like the Crist Family, offer innovative modern harmonies that delight harmony aficionados.

Then there are groups who specialize in finesse (Collingsworth Family) or excitement (McKameys).

It wouldn’t be hard to list off any other number of factors that make a group great: Great, tight harmony phrasing, great pitch, great song melodies, great situational humor, great live accompaniment, or being the best at incorporating a stylistic influence (e.g., roots/bluegrass, country, or progressive).

Being the best in our genre at any one of these is enough to make a group top-tier. But what does it take to make a group one of the greatest of its generation?

It seems that the greatest groups of each generation are the groups that excel at several areas that make a group great. The Gaither Vocal Band is in the top three in several of these categories—multiple spectacular vocalists, both finesse and excitement (a rare combination to have in a group), innovative harmonies, and great live accompaniment. The Collingsworth Family—who, it’s safe to say, is the most popular family group right now—is in the top three in finesse, phrasing, innovative harmonies, and live accompaniment. The Booth Brothers are top three in both energy and finesse, in insightful lyrics, and in perfectly placed harmonies.

The same can be said for the greatest groups of the past. In any given lineup, the Cathedrals had at least three show-stopping vocalists—sometimes five—and from around 1981 on, they introduced some of the best songs in our genre. The Statesmen were among the best at show-stopping vocalists, innovative harmonies, excitement, and tight phrasing.

(UPDATE, 9/21: The two previous paragraphs were intended to be examples of great groups, not a complete list of our genre’s greatest groups of the current and past. Perhaps I did not make this clear enough, as I have received quite a few emails, and perhaps a couple of comments, from people concerned that one group or another was not on the list. The lists weren’t intended to be exhaustive!)

Each area in which a group excels draws that group fans. The more areas in which a group excels, the more likely that group is to be recognized as one of the best all-around groups of its generation.

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Farewell, Louisville

Farewell, Louisville.

It has been thirty-two hours since the final notes of Louisville’s final National Quartet Convention echoed off the rafters of Freedom Hall. Booths have been torn down, chairs and speakers have been put away, and artists and attendees have returned home.

Louisville, you had quite the difficult acts to follow: The Memphis conventions, where Elvis hid backstage in a broom closet to hear the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen, and the Nashville conventions at Municipal Auditorium, which saw the Happy Goodmans, the Big-and-Live Kingsmen, Gold City, and the Cathedrals their prime. 

In fact, when the convention left Nashville after 1993, people wondered if you could ever measure up. But measure up you did.

Freedom Hall seats over twice as many people as Municipal Auditorium. Many thought it would never sell out. But it did. There were days when every seat was filled to hear the Cathedrals, the Martins, and the Gaither Vocal Band.

There might be a few who thought that Freedom Hall was just another stage. There was a little truth to that—the other fifty-one weeks each year. But one week each September, it was a different story.

Southern Gospel has had many unforgettable moments over these last twenty years, and most of them took place in Freedom Hall. There are the moments I’ve only heard about: The Speers retiring. Glen Payne calling in from his hospital bed. George Younce’s final appearance. Gerald Wolfe singing “Redemption Draweth Nigh” on September 11, 2001.

And then, for some of us, there’s the part where we come in.

How I wish every Southern Gospel fan could have experienced at least one night in Louisville. Even the highest-resolution video fails to do it justice. Park somewhere near ten and a half miles from the entrance. Hear subwoofers rattling a few rows over; walk closer to find that it is a grandma rocking out to the Perrys’ Happy Goodmans CD!

Enter, and look for the correct seating section. There’s a delightful incongruity to the Heavenly music echoing through these pedestrian concrete-brick hallways filled with popcorn vendors and irrelevant plaques commemorating long-forgotten sporting achievements.

Find the section, and feel Freedom Hall before seeing the stage. Something’s physically different compared to every other Southern Gospel venue. There’s the hum of the ventilation system in the background, the commotion of fifteen or twenty thousand fans, and the music coming over the loudspeakers. Bones feel the sounds as much as ears hear them.

Reach the top of the steps and look in. The smoke or mist machines create an initial haze around the stage. But eyes quickly adjust to bring into focus the stage where a new chapter is being written in this genre’s history.

How could I ever forget the Florida Boys’ retirement? Being on the front row for the first Brian/Ivan/Mike/Tim Gold City reunion in two decades? The Bowlings’ return after their bus accident, with Kelly still in a body cast? Tracy Stuffle’s return after his heart attack?

The first night I was there in person, I posted, “NQC is something that has to be experienced. Words don’t do it justice.” It’s not just the historic moments that make it what it is. Will anyone who was there ever forget Ernie Haase trimming Tim Lovelace’s and Tim Surrett’s ties or Michael Booth getting “shot”?

But the on-stage moments are only a fraction of the experience. You just don’t forget things like getting locked into the parking lot  or witnessing the ghost of conventions past on teardown night!

Louisville, you had a tough act to follow. In 1994, people wondered if our genre’s best days were in the history books, and wondered if you could ever measure up. That kind of reminds me of another point in time . . . today. Can the Booth Brothers, Collingsworths, and some new groups we’ve never heard of yet sell out Pigeon Forge? Can tens of thousands more join via the live webcast, giving NQC a live, paying audience that even Freedom Hall could never have contained?

We don’t know, but we do know this: Louisville, you were so far past expectations that you give us every reason for optimism that Pigeon Forge will do far more than measure up.

Farewell, Louisville.

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Updates to the Singing News #1 Analysis Posts

Earlier this week, I updated the posts analyzing Singing News #1 Hits by artist, by writer, and by label (as well as the overall list). Here’s a quick summary of changes:

  • Label Analysis: There were no position changes. Crossroads picked up two #1 hits since the last update, while Daywind picked up one. 
  • Artist Analysis: There was only one #1 by a group with enough #1s to place on the list: The Kingdom Heirs picked up their eighth #1 hit, breaking the tie with the Inspirations to claim sole possession of the ninth-most #1s by any artist in our genre’s history.
  • Songwriter Analysis
    • With her ninth and tenth #1 hits, Dianne Wilkinson moves up into a two-way tie for third place with Ronnie Hinson. Her songs have spent twelve months at #1.
    • With his fifth #1 hit, Jerry Salley moves into a 5-way tie at #7
    • With her fourth #1 hit, Sue C Smith moves into a 5-way tie at #8
    • With his third #1 hit, Matthew Browder makes his debut on the list. The list only tracks writers with three or more #1 hits. Notably, all three of Browder’s #1s have come within less than three years.
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2013 SouthernGospelBlog.com Reader Survey

Every now and then, I like to step back to assess whether the coverage this site provides is the coverage you want to read. Instead of the usual click-a-poll-answer format, these topics lend themselves to open-ended questions.

1. News Coverage

To what extent do you rely on this or other Southern Gospel news websites for coverage of Southern Gospel news?

News coverage has been a central hallmark of this site’s coverage. But over the last two years or so, I suspect that many of you have started to follow your favorite artists directly on social media. I wonder if a news website still contributes value in a social media world.

I doubt that it would be worth dropping news coverage entirely. Though many of you follow your top favorites on social media, fewer of you follow every social media account of every artist you enjoy. (Besides, a fair number of holdout artists still lack a consistent social media presence.) One other nuance is that I’ve aimed to make this a one-stop resource where you can be sure you are reasonably well-informed and haven’t missed any significant news story concerning the genre’s leading groups. Yet I wonder if news coverage needs to be less emphasized.

2. CD Reviews

Do CD ratings matter?

I am not convinced that ratings, except perhaps 5-star ratings, add any substantive value; I have been seriously considering discontinuing them.

3. Daily Posts

Would it make any difference to you if there were only three or four posts per week?

Since our launch in September 2006, I have maintained a daily posting schedule. I’ve aimed to put up a post every weekday and, for most of this site’s run, every Saturday as well. I believe I’ve only missed two days in these seven years, and one of them was when the power was out for more than twenty-four hours in a snowstorm! But I’m not sure that it’s as big a deal to anyone else.

(Be honest! I am open to considering a slower schedule. This is also connected to the first question, because a reduction in news coverage would almost necessarily mean a reduction in posts per week.)

4. Favorite Column

Of all the columns on this site, which would you miss the most if it was discontinued? Are there any columns from the past that you would like to see return?

Thank you in advance for your feedback!

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Is Southern Gospel more stable than Major League Baseball?

One topic of discussion that never seems to die is member stability in Southern Gospel groups. Are groups more or less stable than they were ten or thirty or fifty years ago? If there’s an increase or decrease, is it because of economic factors, stylistic changes to the genre, or different tendencies of the generation currently in their twenties? These are just a few aspects of the discussion, aspects that have been covered in countless posts across our corner of the internet.

The other day, an outside-the-box approach to examining this question occurred to me: Are Southern Gospel lineups more stable than Major League Baseball lineups?

A comparison of regional groups with minor-league teams might be quite interesting. But to limit the scope of the research necessary for this post to a manageable size, this post compares lineup stability of Southern Gospel’s twenty-five leading groups with lineup stability in the thirty Major League Baseball teams.

Southern Gospel Lineup Stability

For the purposes of this list, we only included regularly touring multi-voice groups, eliminating soloists (e.g. Jason Crabb) and vocal configurations not on regular tour (e.g. Canton Junction or the Jubilee series). Pianists were counted for lineup consistency purposes in groups where the pianist is marketed as a group member (e.g. yes for Triumphant Quartet and no for Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, though the latter’s pianist happens to have been as stable as the former’s).

Groups were included in this comparison if they have achieved one or more of the following:

  • #1 Singing News Hit (October 2012-July 2013)
  • 2013 Singing News Fan Awards Top 5 nomination (in these categories: Favorite Male/Female Singer, Favorite Bass/Baritone/Lead/Tenor/Alto/Soprano/Musician of the Year, Favorite Artist/Traditional Quartet/Mixed Group/Trio)
  • 2013 NQC Music Awards Top 5 nomination (in these categories: Bass/Baritone/Lead/Tenor/Alto/Soprano/Musician of the Year, Male/Mixed Group of the Year)
  • 2013 AGM (AbsolutelyGospel) Award Winner (in these categories: Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Male/Female Vocalist of the Year, Male/Female/Mixed Groups of the Year, Traditional/Progressive/Country Song of the Year, Traditional/Progressive/Country Album of the Year)
  • 2012 Dove Award Nominee (in these categories: Southern Gospel Recorded Song/Album of the Year)

This criteria resulted in twenty-five groups. How stable have they been?

  • 16/25 (64%) had no vocal or pianist changes: Booth Brothers, Browders, Collingsworth Family, Gaither Vocal Band, Greater Vision, Hoppers, Isaacs, Jeff & Sheri Easter, Karen Peck and New River, Kingdom Heirs, McKameys, Old Paths, Sisters, Tribute Quartet, Triumphant Quartet, Whisnants
  • 1/25 (4%) had a change we’ll count as 0.5 of a lineup change: The Talleys moved from a four-vocalist to a three-vocalist configuration, though the three remaining were unchanged
  • 6/25 (24%) had one vocal or pianist change: Brian Free & Assurance, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, Gold City, Perrys (though one position is temporarily vacant during Tracy Stuffle’s stroke recovery, and one position is being filled by a fill-in at some dates), Legacy Five (the announcement of Fouch’s hire was last August 20th, so they missed being in the completely-stable list by a couple of days), Mark Trammell Quartet (Nick Trammell’s move to the group was slightly over a year ago, leaving the tenor change as the only one in the last twelve months)
  • 1/25 (4%) had a change we’ll count as 1.5 of a vocal or pianist change: The Bowling Family had one vocalist leave and two join.
  • 1/25 (4%) had two vocal or pianist changes: Inspirations
  • 0/25 had three vocal or pianist changes
  • 0/25 had four vocal or pianist changes
  • 0/25 had five vocal or pianist changes

Major League Baseball Lineup Stability

Through the course of a season, injuries frequently impact lineups and require fill-ins. For the purposes of this comparison, we compared each team’s opening day 2013 lineup with its opening day 2012 lineup (courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/opening.shtml).

Also, there are nine people on a baseball field, and only three to five on most Southern Gospel stages. So the comparison was limited to the positions of first, second, and third base, shortstop, and catcher.

  • One team (3.33%) had no infield changes: Washington Nationals
  • Five teams (16.67%) had one infield change: New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers, Los Angels Angels of Anaheim
  • Ten teams (33.33%) had two infield changes: Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers
  • Seven teams  (23.33%) had three infield changes: Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angels Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros
  • Five teams (16.67%) had four infield changes: Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins
  • Two teams (6.67%) had five infield changes: Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics

Conclusion

Two-thirds of Southern Gospel’s leading artists kept a completely stable lineup over the last year. By comparison, all except one of the thirty Major League Baseball teams had at least one year-to-year lineup change. 

Southern Gospel’s twenty-five leading groups had nine and two-halves vocal or pianist changes. These twenty-five both started and ended the year with 102 combined vocalists, thanks to the Talleys going from four to three and the Bowlings going from three to four. So ten changes out of 102 positions is a 9.8% turnover rate.

Major League Baseball’s thirty teams had seventy-six year-to-year Opening Day lineup changes at their one hundred and fifty infield defensive positions. This equals a 50.67% turnover rate.

Surprisingly, Major League Baseball players are five times less stable than Southern Gospel singers.

On the surface, there could hardly be more differences between Southern Gospel and Major League Baseball. One is an artistic endeavor, the other athletic. The stars of one are numbered among the most recognized faces in the world, while the stars of the other can often walk through Wal-Mart uninterrupted. And then, of course, the stars of one are among the highest-paid individuals in any profession, while the stars of the other are doing good to make a low-middle-class salary. In fact, the salary disparity is such that one would inaccurately guess that Southern Gospel would be the far less stable of the two.

Yet there are also significant similarities, one of the most significant of which is that the stars of both spend major percentages of the year on the road. 

Is this an apples-to-oranges comparison? Or does it have merit in putting Southern Gospel’s overall lineup stability in perspective? You decide.

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