Streamlining the SN Fan Awards

Daniel Mount does some nice work reporting out a bit of gossip on the sogospelnews message boards about changes to the SN Fan Awards. He’s got Salem big-wig Jim Cumbee on the record explaining the major changes, including the elimination of gender segregated awards for mixed vs male quartet as well as awards for part singers (alto, baritone, tenor etc).

This is the first I’ve heard of these changes, not being a big message board guy. Furthermore, I’ve only just read Cumbee’s main points and I’ll be curious to see a full list of the new streamlined categories. So I reserve the right to change my mind. But I can’t see a lot to dislike in these changes. Certainly I can’t see any reason for the Chicken-Little hysteria that Daniel Mount and some of his commenters seem to be headed toward. Gendered categories are the relics of another, more hidebound era. Depending on how the new categories shake out, these changes strike me as a fairly important recognition that times have changed. Or as Cumbee says, “A southern gospel group is a southern gospel group.” (No matter, I’m counting this a win for my one-man campaign for greater gender equity in sg: see here and here and here, among other places).

And far from being a “step backward,” as Mount calls the elimination of awards based on group composition, or some kind of hang-dog admission that “we did not have enough professional trios (to take an example) to make an award in that category competitive,” the disaggregated categories recognize that gospel music fans make very little practical distinction in their choice of “favorites” based on group composition. People don’t say “Greater Vision is a great group … for a trio” or “The Rupes sing good … for a bunch of women.” They’re just great or good or bad or whatever. For quite some time now, the mixed-group, quartet, and trio categories were not a reflection of reality in the way gospel music fans sift, weigh, and determine preferences among artists. Rather this pigeonholing of groups based on gender and number reflected an elitist view of the male quartet as the end-all-be-all in gospel music - a view that lingers to be sure, but is fast becoming the mark of smallmindedness, not to mention an economically untenable position.

The SN awards have for too long tried to serve way too many masters: artists, fans, and, not least of all, the SN itself. The result was a bloated ballot that gave fans the illusion of “a voice” and almost every artist of any caliber a spot somewhere in the nominating process. Meanwhile, the SN got to play beneficent king and queen maker to the stars. That the fans’ voice often seemed to speak schizophrenically (The Inspirations and EHSSQ favorite quartet! Short ties AND the full length holy roller denim skirt for favorite fashion trend!) is partly a function of how increasingly diversified and hybridized the southern gospel sound has become. But the odd results have had not a little to do with the SN’s “statistical ties” and byzantine balloting and other administrative idiosyncrasies. All this may not have actually amounted to having your thumb on the scale but certainly it gave the impression at times that the fans’ voice often spoke so schizophrenically because that was a useful way to keep powerful performers happy (I mean, honestly, I’d be surprised if even Martin Cook’s wife likes to hear him play the piano, but there he is … in the top 10 favorite pianists more years than not).

Thursday night at NQC has been less an awards show or even a popularity contest and instead a festival of handing out “good sportmanship” awards to everybody on the team while the two Tims take this or that sketch-comedy skit too far. “Four Time Singing News Fan Award nominee” sounds great but really means only that you’ve not disappeared from the sg stage in the last four years. Favorite female singer, favorite soprano, favorite hanky waver, favorite cry-talker — don’t wory, hon, you’ll be in there somewheres (we’re all winners in God’s eyes!).

Thus it’s encouraging to hear the SN officially, on the record, talking about the dangers of diluting the process and making the case for slightly more rigorous standards. Now let’s hope this newfound commitment to the awards process comes with the courage to send some powerful people home unhappy now and then. Not least of all because this would be great, great fun. Imagine: a single award (group of the year, for argument’s sake) in which, say, the Perrys, the Inspirations, Legacy 5 and Greater Vision were all contenders …

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  1. JB wrote:

    I say do away with all awards and open the “main stage” up to more of the groups, be it trios, quartets, or solo artist, that we never get to hear because they have not “earned their right” to be on the main stage. I think we are missing out on a lot of good, quality singers because someone thinks there are only a handful that are worthy enough to be on the main stage. I love going to the NQC every year and we can only make it to the Fri. and Sat. night sessions, however, we hear the same singers on Sat. as we heard on Friday. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, you have to play “politics”.

  2. Charles Brady wrote:

    It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….

  3. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    JB wrote:
    “I think we are missing out on a lot of good, quality singers because someone thinks there are only a handful that are worthy enough to be on the main stage.”

    I can’t speak to worthiness, but the statement is true. Only a handful of artists in SG are good enough, musically speaking, to sell tickets. NQC offers so many opportunities for groups of all shapes and sizes to perform during the week, I can’t believe there are still people like JB who whine about groups not getting on the main stage.

  4. Lacey wrote:

    Well it will certainly be interesting to see if the certain people who ALWAYS win in a certain part category even make it to the ballot! It was getting way too predictable anyway. Half the time it seemed like the votes weren’t cast because of current talent but just cause that’s who that voter always voted for before.
    I’m not sure I like the idea of the awards show being on Saturday afternoon instead of Thursday night. I think it will change it from being a formal event that people dress up for (fans included) to a “jeans and t-shirt it’s the end of the week, I just don’t care anymore, you can’t make me wear anything that is binding or cramps my poor abused feet” type of deal…if half of the artist are even there with more and more of them packing up and heading out on Friday night so they can make a paying date on Saturday night.

  5. Chuck Peters wrote:

    Trimming the awards ballot is a good move.. long overdue. to JB: If they ever eliminate awards (or anything) to give more time to regional or part time artists.. that’s when I lose interest in the main stage.

  6. Trent wrote:

    “Part-time” is not a dirty word. 95% of the groups on the main stage started out as part-time groups. Somehow they are only worthy of singing at NQC at night after they quit their day jobs. I don’t understand the problem NQC has with folks who can sing great but aren’t on the road full-time.

  7. Daniel J. Mount wrote:

    Avery said: “And far from being a ’step backward,’ as Mount calls the elimination of awards based on group composition…”

    Avery, go back and take a look at the first few years of Singing News Fan Awards. They did not have separate part or group composition awards back then. There is a closer parallel between this list of categories and the original list than anyone has yet pointed out.

    And by the way, if you’re campaigning for gender equity, you should campaign for SN to combine their Male and Female vocalist awards into one Favorite Vocalist Award. Then you can sit back and see what happens.

  8. JB wrote:

    Mr. Murray:
    I’m sorry if you think I am “whining”. It amazes me that when you have an opinion that doesn’t match yours, it is considered whining. I don’t care when, if, who, or where they have the awards. They make no difference to me anyway. I have the groups and singers I enjoy and those that I don’t. I married into a “part-time” singing group and believe me they work as hard or harder than any full-time group, and Mr. Murray, you will never convince me otherwise on that. It is sad that full-time artists have forgotten that they just didn’t become a fulltime, award winning artist over night. Thank God for the part-timers.

  9. THOM R. wrote:

    I welcome the changes. I agree with Trent here, too. Part-time is not a dirty word and many great groups are excluded from the “inner circle” that should be given an equal chance. I agree too with Lacey that the results have become way too predictable recently. The same ole “winners” year after year after year. But, leave the show on Thursday night, and keep it formal.

    Avery makes a good point about the schizo “tie” between Inspirations and EHSSQ. Interestingly that it was first called a “tie” then called a “statistical tie.” It all sounded a little too contrived for my taste. It was more like “let’s pay homage to the old guys, they’re good ole boys that have been at it a long time, and we all know these other guys would not even have a chance were it not for BG videos!”
    In think in this case change is good.

  10. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    As I said, when NQC is bending over backwards to give nearly every artist from the exhibit hall an opportunity to perform during the week, plus throw in the fact that you only come for two days, I’m sorry, but it strikes me as whining when you complain that too many of the same, full-time groups are being allowed to sing.

    However, if you pay attention, you’ll also see me disagree with guys like Daniel Mount, Doug Harrison, and even Chuck Peters from time to time, but you’ve never seen me say THEY were whining.

    Therefore, your second post is wrong as well.

    In fact, you’ve dug an even deeper hole into whiny territory now that you’ve admitted you have a personal stake in wanting to see more regional and part-time groups at NQC.

    Plus, I never said any part time group didn’t work hard. That’s really beside the point. I’m not trying to convince you of anything…just offering an opposing point of view.

  11. JB wrote:

    Mr. Murray:
    Thank you for explaining the difference between an opinion and whining….Merry Christmas..

  12. Quartet Fan wrote:

    I’m sorry, but I’ve heard very, very few “part-time” groups who were good enough overall to be on the main stage at NQC. They might have a singer or two who will eventually get there, but overall, no.

    As far as the award changes go, some of them are good (dj) and some are bad (individual parts).

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