Happy 25th, and one month

In my extended hiatus, I missed the opportunity to mention that last month, Gerald Wolfe marked 25 years in gospel music. I don’t usually make habit of mentioning these kinds of things, if only because it can start a kind of milestone-mongering that cheapens the achievement, but I’m making an exception in this case because … well, to quote myself, “Gerald Wolfe is the finest performer of his generation.” In fact, I wrote that in the earliest days of this site, and I think I’ll reprise it here, since there’s nothing in it that I wouldn’t just have to re-say in slightly different terms if I were to make my case for Wolfe’s importance again:

One place to start the “Gerald Wolfe Is a Genius” entry might be a little known solo project Wolfe released in 1989, “Hold Forth the Light”[note: I’ve heard that Wolfe himself pretty much would rather forget this project, but I disagree and it’s my site so …]. It contains in miniature all the marks of smart, well-trained, highly disciplined thinking, arranging, and performing that Wolfe [has since come to be] almost universally known for now: the duet with Joy Gardner (”No Wonder”) suggests the great good sense Wolfe has to pair himself with complementary voices and styles and use guest performances to keep projects and live sets fresh; the orchestrations on “Travel On” and “To Know You More” anticipate the savvy use of strings (real strings, not synthesized garbage) Greater Vision regularly uses to add depth and texture to traditional genres (though Wolfe’s voice itself needs none of these augmentations). But all this is really fancy-talk that misses the point: in southern gospel today, Wolfe is the unrivaled master of stagecraft, both as an emcee and a vocalist. For proof of the former, see the live recording of The Quartets project at the 2003 NQC; for the latter, see his rendition of “The Longer I Serve Him” on the same project - the live and studio versions are equally compelling for different reasons. For something from his early years, check out his show-stealing performance of “The Land of Living” on the Cathedrals’ Can He, Could He, Would He video from [the 1980s] (to say nothing of his impeccable skills at the piano, perhaps best showcased on “Oh Happy Day” from the Can He video). Of course the list could go on at some length. And aside from all he is as a music man, he is also, by all appearances and accounts, a magnificent human being. I recall the year at the convention when he came out to hear the talent contest winner cover “There is a River.” Wolfe’s hanky-waving approval was both generous and rousing, all the more because Wolfe of course will always own that song - and just about any other he decides to sing - as long as he wants.

Here’s to 25 more years of impeccability.

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