Associative Disorder?

John R., a poster over at the sogospelnews message boards, recently suggested that “Southern Gospel needs a strong professional association.” His thoughtful, if audacious, suggestion got all of two responses as of my writing (maybe everybody else was too busy claiming and disclaiming to know just how big Ernie Haase’s ego is, or isn’t, or may be even though it shouldn’t be, or perhaps it just seems a titch large but really is quite normally sized because, ya know, he sold me a cassette tape once in 1992 and I got a deep and abiding sense of his heart in that brief but moving exchange … blah blah blah). Both responses to John R.’s suggestion dismissed his idea as either wacky or impractical. Well, most big ideas are, or at least seem that way at first. The real tragedy is that the wackiness and impracticality in this case spring not from the lack of wherewithal within southern gospel to establish a professional association. Any number of NQC board members, especially Claude Hopper and Les Beasley, easily possess the means and the clout necessary to launch something like this. The problem is that men at the top of sg (and they almost always are men) have a vested interest in southern gospel remaining largely a network of informal but strongly held alliances, business deals, and shared favors among a few wealthy owners, managers, and string-pullers. A less cynical way to say this: Claude Hopper and Les Beasley and the rest of the NQC directors probably don’t really have to struggle to, let’s say, find and keep decent, affordable health insurance. Put a professional association together and the first people to join will be young, less affluent singers and performers who need and want the assistance and influence that such an organization would give its members. And you know what happens then? The upstarts start asking for parity and equity and a voice in the way Big Decisions get made (for instance, ought there not to be a bonafide, struggling - that is, “less than above averagely wealthy and less than well connected” - singer on the NQC board of directors or advisory board who could speak from the perspective of the currently up and coming? Or would such a person immediately cease to be less-than-well-connected as soon as he or she took a board seat?). Never fear, though. According to Jerry Kirksey, himself a man of no meager influence and interest in the business of sg, “the future of the National Quartet Convention” and, one assumes, southern gospel more generally, “is very safe indeed” with the “distinguished men” who call the shots.

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