George Younce’s daughter Dana Willis passes away

Dana Willis, daughter of George Younce and sister-in-law to Ernie Haase, died suddenly yesterday of a heart attack. This has been confirmed on a number of message boards (and in a brief statement on the Singing News website). Her husband Robbie Willis, former Nelons band member, was on a tour up in Michigan at the time. Perhaps because of this, there is no official statement or funeral arrangements yet, but this post will be updated once those are available.

EDIT (8/12/09, 4:47 PM): Ernie Haase has more information and funeral arrangements here. (EDIT 8/6/11: Broken link removed).

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Eva Mae LeFevre passes away

Yesterday morning (May 18, 2009), Southern Gospel legend Eva Mae LeFevre passed away at age 91. Her website has this announcement:

Eva Mae LeFevre passed away at 7:25 a.m. on Monday, May 18, 2009, at age 91. She had been hospitalized in April for pneumonia at which time doctors also discovered a fractured hip. …

Known as the First Lady of Gospel Music, Eva Mae LeFevre became the first living woman to be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1978. Ten years later, she was the first gospel music inductee into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Eva Mae first began singing and playing the piano as a young child at her father’s church in South Carolina. In 1934, she married Urias LeFevre and began a 40 year journey leading The Lefevres, which became one of the most beloved groups in gospel music history. Eva Mae’s trademark alto voice and piano artistry became a defining influence for the LeFevres. The group became staples on WGST radio, based out of their hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. They later pioneered a gospel music television program, The Gospel Singing Caravan, while touring as many as 100,000 miles a year across North America.

After attempting to retire years ago, Eva Mae could never walk away from her love for gospel music. She continued to delight audiences across North America throughout her twilight years, both through Gaither Homecoming appearances and solo concerts. Today, she has joined her husband in eternity. Her spirit, her dignity, that flawless alto voice and contagious laugh, her quick sense of humor and unshakable faith in Christ was an inspiration to us all. She will be sorely missed.

One thing the press release didn’t cover was her role in starting the Homecomings off; she was the one Bill Gaither called to the piano for the spontaneous sing-a-long that ended up becoming the first Gaither Homecoming video.

She was one of a very few people in any genre to stay on the road performing for seventy years, and was one of the last if not the last surviving members of a well-known 1930s pre-WWII Southern Gospel group.

Funeral arrangements are on her website.

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Billy Todd passes away

Stewart Varnado of the Dixie Echoes just sent out a press release announcing that former Dixie Echoes and Florida Boys bass singer Billy Todd passed away this morning:

It is with a heavy heart that I write this email to let you know that my friend and former Florida Boys & Dixie Echoes bass singer, Billy Todd, passed away this morning (November 30th), after a long battle against alzheimers.

Arrangements are still pending. They will be available at once they have been finalized.

I have just uploaded a “Remembering Billy Todd” page on our website that consists of a brief biography along with many pictures of Billy throughout the years. [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link is broken and has been removed.]

Please keep the Todd family in your prayers.

God Bless you all!
Stewart Varnado
Dixie Echoes

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Especially since I was reminded of singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman’s Southern Gospel ties, I feel this post is hardy inappropriate here.

His daughters* inspired him to write his most recent radio single, “Cinderella.” It can be heard on his MySpace page here. Since I don’t listen to CCM radio, I hadn’t heard the song until this afternoon. It was written before Wednesday’s tragedy, but the lyrics are poignant now.

She spins and she sways to whatever song plays
Without a care in the world
And I’m sitting here wearing the weight of the world on my shoulders

It’s been a long a day and there’s still work to do
She’s pulling at me, saying, “Dad, I need you,
“There’s a ball at the castle and I need to practice my dancing–
“Oh please, Daddy please…”

So I dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
Cause I know something the prince never knew
… all too soon, the clock will strike midnight
And she’ll be gone

How true.

* [Edit] Here’s the story.

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Dottie Rambo funeral today

Southern Gospel legend Dottie Rambo’s funeral is today. It will be held at Christ Church in Nashville, TN at 1 PM Central Time. The church will not be streaming the funeral live; however, there have been reports that they will tape it and might post it online afterwards. [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link is broken and has been removed.]

Visitations were yesterday and Saturday. Memorial donations can be made to the Dottie Rambo Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 50508, Nashville, TN 37205.

Larry Ferguson, Chris Barnes, and Ronnie Meadows continue to recover from their injuries; Ferguson’s family has been treated for various injuries and released. Contributions to cover their ongoing medical costs can be sent to Citizens National Bank, Attn.: Marcia Henry, 3212 South Glenstone Avenue, Springfield, MO 65804.

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Dottie Rambo, 1934-2008

Several Southern Gospel websites (including Singing News) report that legendary singer / songwriter Dottie Rambo died early this morning in a tour bus accident. [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link is broken and has been removed.] Her manager, Larry Ferguson, is unconscious and has two broken legs. Early reports were that the tour bus was caught in a tornado. (Update: He is now conscious but still in bad shape. Also, while it might not have technically been a tornado, winds from the same storm system are thought to have led to the wreck.)

I am not sure I have collected my thoughts enough to post something fitting. But this is certainly a stark reminder to pray for the safety of all who travel the highways and airways of the country to spread the Gospel in word and song.

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Danny Koker passes away

Danny Koker, the original Cathedrals Quartet baritone, has passed away after a long bout with cancer. He lived in Las Vegas.

He sang with Glen Payne and Bobby Clark in the Weatherfords. In 1963, after Earl and Lily Weatherford left the Cathedral of Tomorrow in Akron, Ohio, Koker, Payne, and Clark formed the Cathedral Trio. This became the Cathedral Quartet the following year with the addition of George Younce.

Koker played piano, sang baritone, and did many of the group’s arrangements. He left the group in 1969 and had since pursued other business interests, including owning a Los Angeles TV station.

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Jim Hamill passes away

According to a friend of the family, Southern Gospel legend Jim Hamill passed away at 5:30 this morning. He had been in steadily declining health for months.

Hamill’s debut in Southern Gospel was with the Weatherfords in the 1950s. After a stint with the Blue Ridge Quartet, he also performed for some time with the Oak Ridge Quartet and the Rebels before 1971, when he landed the job that would make him a legend, singing lead for the Kingsmen Quartet. During his time with the Kingsmen Quartet, he helped introduce and define for the fans many of the performers that have shaped Southern Gospel in the years since–among them Anthony Burger, Ray Dean Reese, Ernie Phillips, Mark Trammell, and Arthur Rice.
With the possible exception of George Younce, no other master of ceremonies has had as much impact on today’s Southern Gospel performers, who seek to capture just a fraction of his stage presence. Hamill was one of that tiny handful of singers who defined exactly what it means to be a Southern Gospel performer.

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Another artist tribute to Roger Bennett

Check out Daniel Ball’s tribute to Roger Bennett here. [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link is broken and has been removed.] The neat part about the story is he did what he did when they were completely unknown, out of the goodness of his heart.

EDIT: I’d been unaware that the post was originally members-only. Daniel Ball has made it a public post now, and added pictures. If the link didn’t work for you this morning, try again!

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