Gaither and wholism

Sharp-tack TK took me to task for the way I compared Gaither’s diversification into the general inspiration business to Oprah’s media empire. Citing my comment that “I get the sense that the Homecoming franchise has stopped being about mainly southern gospel music and has become the creepy equivalent of Oprah for sg,” TK writes:

I totally agree, but I think it is great instead of creepy. The advent of the Homecoming magazine proves the fact that Gaither is about much more than southern gospel music. Too many industry folk are too much about the industry and let other areas of their lives go - families, marriages, health, and their relationship with God. The magazine is all about feeding those areas of our lives, and of course it all has a Gaither music spin. I think it’s brilliant. Sure, he could have pigeon-holed it as another gospel music magazine and it would have already been better than the Singing News. Gaither has never claimed to be only about southern gospel music. And yes, he advertises the magazine at NQC and any other outlet where his market is because that is just good business. Bill has brought a much needed intelligence to the industry. Bill is aware that he’s not a great singer or pianist and even makes fun of the fact. I personally think he adequately sings the bass part. He has always put good singers to the forefront of the platform his reputation has created. That is the key to his success - he has put others before himself. And it’s made him a bunch of money. If you haven’t, you need to read the magazine and you need to read Gaither’s books … and you will get a better sense of where his heart is. I could be off base and oblivious to Gaither’s motives or agenda, but my life has definitely been enriched by his life and ministry.

As always, TK is an eloquent advocate for the other side of the issue. But for my part, the Oprah-esque stuff rings hollow and pretentious to me, seems schlocky and naïve. I don’t doubt Gaither’s sincerity. And he’s obviously a smart business man and everything he’s doing - not just with the magazine most recently - makes perfect sense to me from his perspective. But diversifying his business model into the inspiration business more broadly is a sure-fire way to scatter your force and end up being a watered down generalist rather than a really sharp musician (which Gaither IS, even if he can’t sing or play … and I don’t think he sings the bass well in the least, and sometimes I think he’s got so many stacks and tracks around his voice he could well NOT be singing at all). Gaither never has passed himself off as just about sg - true. But sg was the base from which he launched his stunning takeover of the white gospel music business in the 90s. So perhaps I’m chaffing at the sense that Gaither keeps (slightly exploitatively, it seems to me) coming back to the sg well for more water long after he’s stopped being even primarily about sg (go back and look at the very first Homecoming video - if memory serves, Larry Gatlin was the only non-sg legend in the room, and if I’m not misremembering, which I may be, you can make a pretty convincing case that Gatlin is sg at heart - and compare it to the magazine or even your average Homecoming concert these days. As that first video makes clear, Homecoming very obviously began as an sg event, phenomenon, and idea). For me, Homecoming was more successful in those early days (though I realize that could just be a mixture of product-fatigue and nostalgia speaking). But then, I’m also generally wary of the kind of “I’m your best friend” persona that people like Oprah rely on. It’s disappointing to see the Gaithers increasingly adopt this posture over the last decade or so as they’ve become more and more successful. TK is probably right to suggest that I was too quick to dismiss the profound effect people like the Gaithers have can on others’ lives. Perhaps I need to re-examine my wariness of for-profit spiritual advisers, whether televised, printed, or video taped. My instinct is to doubt the efficacy of spiritual guidance given from mass media marketers like Gaither and Oprah (and she definitely portrays herself in a spiritual light). And my first reaction is to question whether a good songwriter also makes an equally good spiritual adviser. The Gaithers are clearly doing good, honest work, and I don’t want to diminish that. But I think it’s possible to be an advocate for holistic conceptions of spirituality and Christian living (as TK suggests) and STILL be skeptical of these Oprahized approaches to ministry.

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