Christian music: Portal
Southern gospel music is a genre of
Christian music. Its name comes
from its origins in the
Southeastern United States
Southeastern United States whose lyrics are
written to express either personal or a communal faith regarding
biblical teachings and
Christian life, as well as (in terms of the
varying music styles) to give a
Christian alternative to mainstream
secular music. Sometimes known as "quartet music" for its traditional
"four men and a piano" set up, southern gospel has evolved over the
years into a popular form of music across the United States and
overseas, especially among baby boomers and those living in the
Southern United States. Like other forms of music the creation,
performance, significance, and even the definition of southern gospel
varies according to culture and social context. It is composed and
performed for many purposes, ranging from aesthetic pleasure,
religious or ceremonial purposes, or as an entertainment product for
2 Early performers
3 Representative artists
3.1 Notable artists
Gaither Homecoming series
5 Today's southern gospel
Southern gospel media
8 Further reading
9 External links
The date of southern gospel's establishment as a distinct genre is
generally considered to be 1910, the year the first professional
quartet was formed for the purpose of selling songbooks for the James
D. Vaughan Music Publishing Company in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.
Nonetheless the style of the music itself had existed for at least 35
years prior although the traditional wisdom that southern gospel music
was "invented" in the 1870s by circuit preacher Everett Beverly is
spurious. The existence of the genre prior to 1910 is evident in the
Charles Davis Tillman
Charles Davis Tillman (1861–1943), who popularized "The Old
Time Religion", wrote "Life's Railway to Heaven" and published 22
songbooks. Some of the genre's roots can be found in the
publishing work and "normal schools" or singing schools of Aldine S.
Kieffer and Ephraim Ruebush.
Southern gospel was promoted by traveling
singing school teachers, quartets, and shape note music publishing
companies such as the A. J. Showalter Company (1879) and the
Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company. Over time, southern gospel
came to be an eclectic musical form with groups singing traditional
hymns, a capella (jazz-style singing with no instruments) songs,
country, bluegrass, spirituals, and "convention songs". Because it
grew out of the musical traditions of white musicians from the
American South, the name
Southern gospel was used to differentiate it
from so-called black gospel.
Convention songs typically have contrasting homophonic and
contrapuntal sections. In the homophonic sections, the four parts sing
the same words and rhythms. In the contrapuntal sections, each group
member has a unique lyric and rhythm. These songs are called
"convention songs" because various conventions were organized across
the United States for the purpose of getting together regularly and
singing songs in this style. Convention songs were employed by
training centers like the Stamps-Baxter School Of Music as a way to
teach quartet members how to concentrate on singing their own part.
Examples of convention songs include "Heavenly Parade," "I'm Living In
Canaan Now," "Give the World a Smile," and "Heaven's Jubilee."
Southern gospel is sometimes called "quartet music" by fans because of
the originally all-male, tenor-lead-baritone-bass quartet makeup.
Early quartets were typically either a cappella or accompanied only by
piano or guitar, and in some cases a piano and banjo in areas that
were influenced by bluegrass music such as Appalachia. Over time, full
bands were added and even later, pre-recorded accompaniments
(soundtracks) were introduced.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, southern gospel drew
much of its creative energy from the holiness movement churches that
arose throughout the south. Early gospel artists such as The Speer
Family, The Stamps Quartet, The Blackwood Family, and The Lefevre Trio
achieved wide popularity through their recordings and radio
performances in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. On October 20,
1927, The Stamps
Quartet recorded its early hit "Give The World A
Smile" for RCA Victor, which become the Quartet's theme song. The
Quartet was heard on the radio throughout Texas and the South.
A handful of groups were considered pioneers in southern gospel music
for a series of "firsts." The Blackwood Brothers, with James Blackwood
J.D. Sumner became the first group to travel in a bus, which is on
display at the
Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame
Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame at
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Sumner also was instrumental in creating the
Quartet Convention, an annual music festival where many
groups, both known and well known perform for a week. The Speer Family
was known for bringing blended groups to mainstream popularity where
both male and female performers toured together. The best known group
of the 1950s and 1960s was Statesmen Quartet, which set the trend for
broad appeal of the all male quartets that would develop years later.
The Statesmen were known for their showmanship and introduction of
Jazz, ragtime, and even some early rock and roll elements into their
music and their stage appearance with trendy suits and wide audience
appeal and were known for their signature song, "Happy Rhythm" (Rockin
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From the start of the genre, the predominant type of artist has been
the male quartet. Notable examples from the past and present
include, The Blackwood Brothers, Brian Free and Assurance, The
Christian Troubadours, Ernie Haase & Signature
Sound, The Florida Boys, The Gaither Vocal Band, Gold City, The
Jake Hess and the Imperials, The
Kingdom Heirs Quartet,
The Kingsmen Quartet, Legacy Five, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Stamps
Quartet, The Statesmen Quartet, and the Plainsmen Quartet.
Trios and duos have also been a vital element of southern gospel for
most of the genre's history. From decades past, pioneer groups like
Chuck Wagon Gang, The Smitty Gatlin Trio, The Happy Goodman Family,
The Rambos, The LeFevres, The Lesters, Speer Family, and The Bill
Gaither Trio paved the way for modern mixed quartets and family-based
lineups such as The Crabb Family, The Hinsons, The Hoppers, The
Isaacs, Jeff and Sheri Easter, The Martins, The McKameys, The Perrys,
The Perry Sisters, and The Talley Trio.
All-male trios also are very popular. Groups such as Greater Vision
Booth Brothers are immensely popular. Both have been nominated
for numerous Grammy Awards.
The genre also has a growing number of popular soloists. Many of these
gained their initial popularity with a group before launching out on
their own as soloists. Some of the most well known have been Jimmie
Davis, Jason Crabb, Ivan Parker, Squire Parsons, and Janet Paschal.
J.D. Sumner and The Stamps toured with Elvis Presley, who originally
wanted to be a Gospel singer despite trying out for numerous groups
and never receiving an offer to join. Sumner and Presley met when
Elvis was 14 years old and the two forged a strong relationship.
Sumner sang at Presley's funeral and debunked many myths about
Presley's alleged substance abuse and also credited Elvis for saving
his life when Presley confronted Sumner about his alcoholism. Sumner
held the world record for the lowest bass note ever hit for a human
being until 2002, four years after his death.
Anthony Burger was the main pianist for Gaither's Homecoming Series
before passing away suddenly in 2006 during a performance. At the age
of five, Burger was accepted at the Cadek Conservatory at the
University of Tennessee
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. A child prodigy, Burger was
playing classical piano repertoire within a few years. In the latter
part of his career and life, the world-renowned classical piano
company Steinway & Sons announced that Burger was being added to
their exclusive roster of endorsing artists, making him the first
southern gospel pianist to ever hold that honor.
The Cathedrals were perhaps the most successful quartet of the 1980s
and 1990s. The group had massive appeal and recorded their 1987 album
Symphony of Praise with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and also
made numerous appearances NBC's The Today Show. After the deaths of
George Younce and Glenn Payne, the Cathedrals spawned off two
current groups that are immensely popular, The
Legacy Five and Ernie
Haase and Signature Sound.
Vestal Goodman perhaps the most influential female recording artist of
the 20th century with a career that spanned five decade. Born Vestal
Freeman, she started, like most gospel singers do, singing in her home
church in Fyffe, Alabama. When she married
Howard Goodman in 1949,
Vestal joined Howard's siblings in their family group The Happy
Goodman Family. Many variations of the group existed over the seven
decades the family traveled and recorded but the combination that came
about in the early 1960s of Howard, Rusty, Sam and Vestal would go on
to change the sound of
Southern Gospel forever. The Goodmans were a
powerhouse sound and with the addition of some electric guitars, bass,
steel guitar and drums they made and impact on southern gospel still
felt today. Vestal was awarded the first ever Dove Award for Female
Vocalist of the Year which in those days was called "Queen of Gospel
Music" which was a title Vestal held until and even after her passing.
The Goodmans were featured artists on the Gospel Singing Jubilee and
after the group took a hiatus in the 1980s Howard and Vestal were
featured artists on TBN and PTL Club. 1990 saw the recording of a
reunion album and shortly there after the passings of Rusty and Sam.
In 1991 Bill Gaither invited Howard and Vestal to be part of his new
recording project called "Homecoming" which would launch a whole new
season of their career. Howard and Vestal were a much anticipated part
of Homecoming concerts and videos. In the late 90s and early 2000s
Vestal started to branch off and do solo projects including 2
cookbooks and 2 duet albums called "Vestal & Friends" which
featured Vestal singing songs with her friends in both the gospel and
secular genres. Artists like George Jones, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton,
Andraé Crouch, George Younce, Jeff & Sheri Easter, Mark Lowery
and many more. In November 2002 Howard passed away during their
retirement tour "The Final Stand", Vestal finished the tour dates and
continued to appear with the Gaither Homecoming. On December 27, 2003
Vestal passed away in Celebration, Florida while on Christmas
vacation, she was 74. In 2004 the
Southern Gospel Hall of Fame
inducted Vestal into the Hall of Fame.
Several secular artists have expressed their love for and influence of
the genre by recording southern gospel albums or performing gospel
songs in concert. Among them are Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Dailey
& Vincent, Charlie Daniels, Bob Dylan, Larry Gatlin, Roscoe
Holcomb, Alan Jackson, Kentucky Thunder, Jerry Lee Lewis, Loretta
Lynn, The Louvin Brothers, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, The Oak Ridge
Boys, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Leann
Rimes, Ricky Skaggs, The Statler Brothers, Marty Stuart, Randy Travis,
Carrie Underwood, and Hank Williams.
Gaither Homecoming series
Traditional southern gospel music underwent a tremendous surge in
popularity during the 1990s thanks to the efforts of Bill and Gloria
Gaither and their
Gaither Homecoming tours and videos, which began as
a reunion of many of the best known and loved SGM individuals in 1991.
Thanks in part to the Homecoming series, southern gospel music now has
fans across the United States and in a number of foreign countries
like Ireland and Australia.
Today's southern gospel
By the 1990s, the "old-timey" quartet-style music began to develop to
include more soloists and duos. Although still mostly popular in the
Southeast and Southwest, it has a nationwide and even an international
audience. The music remains "more country than city, more down-home
In 2005, The Radio Book, a broadcast yearbook published by M Street
Publications, reported 285 radio stations in the U.S. with a primary
format designation as "southern gospel," including 175 AM stations and
110 FM stations. In fact, southern gospel was the 9th most popular
format for AM stations and the 21st most popular for FM. Southern
gospel radio promoters routinely service more than a thousand radio
stations which play at least some southern gospel music each week.
Recent years have also seen the advent of a number of internet-only
southern gospel "radio" stations.
Two popular satellite stations that feature southern gospel are
channel 34 on XM Satellite Radio and Channel 67 On Sirius Satellite
Radio. Both play the same feed entitled, "Enlighten on SiriusXm".
Enlighten plays southern gospel and has several featured programs
which air weekly including Paul Heil's Gospel Greats and Bill
Gaither's Homecoming Radio.
Over the last decade, a newer version of southern gospel has grown in
popularity. This style is called progressive southern gospel and is
characterized by a blend of traditional southern gospel, bluegrass,
modern country, contemporary
Christian and pop music elements.
Progressive southern gospel generally features artists who push their
voices to produce a sound with an edge to it. The traditional style
southern gospel singers employ a more classical singing style.
Lyrically, most progressive southern gospel songs are patterned after
traditional southern gospel in that they maintain a clear evangelistic
and/or testimonial slant.
Southern gospel purists view lyrical content
and the underlying musical style as the key determining factors for
applying the southern gospel label to a song.
Although there are some exceptions, most southern gospel songs would
not be classified as Praise and Worship. Few southern gospel songs are
sung "to" God as opposed to "about" God. On the other hand, southern
gospel lyrics are typically overt in their
Christian message unlike
Contemporary Christian music
Contemporary Christian music (CCM) which sometimes has had "double
entendre" lyrics, which could be interpreted as being about a devout
love for God or an earthly love for a man or woman.
Southern gospel media
Becoming popular through songbooks, such as those published by R. E.
Winsett of Dayton, Tennessee, southern gospel was and is one of the
few genres to use recordings, radio, and television technologies from
the very beginning for the advancements of promoting the genre.
One of the longest-running print magazines for southern gospel music
has been the Singing News. They started in the early 1970s
supplying radio airplay charts and conducting annual fan based awards.
They also supply popular topic forums for southern gospel fans to meet
and discuss the genre. The move to internet services has brought along
companies such as
SoGospelNews.com which has become a noted e-zine
forum for southern gospel and has remained a supporter for the past
twelve years. It too contains the music charts with forums and chat
rooms available to the fans.
Internet Radio has broadened the southern gospel music fan base by
using computer technologies and continual streaming. Some of these
media outlets are: Sunlite Radio which features many of the southern
gospel programs likewise heard on traditional radio. This list
includes The Gospel Greats with Paul Heil, which recently celebrated
30 years on the air,
Southern Gospel USA, a weekly half-hour countdown
show hosted by Gary Wilson, Classic radio programs such as The Old
Gospel Ship and Heaven's Jubilee with Jim Loudermilk. Another
online station is "The Gospel Station." 
Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame site on Tillman".
Charles Davis Tillman
Charles Davis Tillman from the
New Georgia Encyclopedia
New Georgia Encyclopedia Online
^ "Cyberhymnal on Tillman".
^ Edgar, Walter B. (2006). The South Carolina Encyclopedia. Columbia,
S.C.: University of South Carolina Press. p. 385.
^ Goff, James R. (2002). Close Harmony: A History of Southern Gospel.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
^ Goff, James R. (1998). "The rise of
Southern Gospel music". Church
History. 67 (4): 722. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Bisher, Furman (1956). "They Put Rhythm in Religion". Saturday
Evening Post. 228 (52): 32. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Mitchell, Monte (1993-08-08). "Gospel Radio DJ Touches Fans' Hearts
and Souls". The Charlotte Observer. Missing or empty url=
^ "EnLighten ...
Southern Gospel Radio for all of North America!".
Southern Gospel Radio. Retrieved 2009-06-15. Enlightened featured on
XM and Sirius radio
^ See, e.g., J. Bazzel Mull.
^ The Singing News. "
Southern Gospel Music, News,
Charts, Radio, Songs The
Southern Gospel Music Magazine
SingingNews.com". Retrieved 2009-06-08. The Singing News
^ SoGospelNews.com. "
SoGospelNews.com – Everything Southern Gospel".
Retrieved 2009-06-08. SoGospelNews.com
^ Sunlite Radio. "Sunlite Radio - Internet Radio's Best Country Music,
Gospel & Hymns". Retrieved 2009-06-08. Sunlite Radio Media
^ "The Gospel Station, The Gospel Station". The Gospel Station.
Retrieved 2009-06-08. Media Outlet
Beary, Shirley L. "The Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company: A
Continuing Tradition, 1926–1976." D.M.A. dissertation, Southwestern
Baptist Theological Seminary, 1977.
Brobston, Stanley. "A Brief History of White
Southern Gospel Music."
Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, 1977.
Downey, James C. "The Music of American Revivalism." Ph.D.
dissertation, Tulane University, 1968.
Collins, Mike and Gaither, Bill. "Hold On: The Authorized Biography of
the Greenes, America's
Southern Gospel Trio" Woodland Press LLC, 2004.
Eskew, Harry. "Shape-Note Hymnody in the Shenandoah Valley, 1816-60."
Ph.D. dissertation, Tulane University, 1966.
Fleming, Jo Lee. "James D. Vaughan, Music Publisher." S.M.D.
dissertation, Union Theological Seminary (Richmond, VA), 1972.
Goff, James R. Jr. Close Harmony: A History Of Southern Gospel.
University Of North Carolina Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8078-5346-1
Graves, Michael P. and Fillingim, David. "More than Precious Memories:
The Rhetoric of
Southern Gospel Music" Mercer University Press, 2004.
Harrison, Douglas. Then Sings My Soul: The Culture of Southern Gospel
Music. Urbana Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2012.
Harrison, Douglas. "Why
Southern Gospel Music Matters." Journal of
Religion and American Culture. 18.1 (2008) pp. 27–58.
Jackson, George Pullen (1965). White spirituals in the Southern
uplands : the story of the Fasola folk, their songs, singings,
and 'buckwheat notes'. New York: Dover. ISBN 9780486214252.
access-date= requires url= (help)
Terrell, Bob. The Music Men: The Story of Professional Gospel Quartet
Singing in America. B. Terrell, 1990. ISBN 1-878894-00-5.
Southern Gospel at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
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