Gaither and the “A List”
I’ve been meaning to comment on this for a while but since it happened during my blog-free week at the end of last year, it has slipped my mind till now.
Perhaps you’ll remember that Chuck Peters and others carried news that an “upcoming Gaither Homecoming taping in Nashville will include an ‘A’ list of Southern Gospel artists,” as Peters wrote in December 28, 2006 ShowPrep. “A Gaither insider told our reporter: ‘I don’t know all the artists, but I understand that practically everyone in the biz will be there, plus a few new faces.’”
Well, ok. So far, so good. Gaither has reached an elderstatesmenlike status in his life and career sufficient to invite just about anyone he wants to sing with him and not be upstaged by them. But what really made me cock my head to one side and squint was this:
A few names believed to be on the list are: Buddy Greene, Henry Slaughter, the Martins, Joel and LaBreeska Hemphill, Woody Wright, the Crabb Family, the Collingsworth Family, the Easters, the Freemans, Lisa Daggs, the Mike Bowling Group, Three Bridges and the Talley Trio.
THIS is the A list? Granted, this might just be an assorted list of guests, but if I were trying to be illustrative of an A-list lineup, this wouldn’t be the first, or the second, or the third or eighth grouping I’d put together. Some names fit, sure. Martins, Easters, Crabbs, Talleys. And some are long-time Gaither “Friends” (Greene, Slaughter, Hemphills, Wright). But whatever these people represent in aggregate, it is NOT the A-list.
Daniel Mount got all twitterpated when he saw this and declared that “Bill Gaither rethinks Homecoming.” Slow down, Opie.
Coming to Nashville and recording a video with a bunch of music-industry people, most of whom Gaither has some kind of existing relationship with, hardly seems to represent “rethinking” anything. Looks more to me like a continuation – and natural extension – of what’s come before. Were a certain faction of groups and talent in gospel and Christian music - people NOT on this list - to actually show up and sing, we may at best be looking at a little gospel détente between Gaither and a few artists who have waged a long lukewarm war with the Homecoming phenomenon.
But the “few names believed to be on the list” so far represent nothing more than Gaither and Co. come to Nashville with their cameras rolling. So what? Gaither has been to Jerusalem, Carnegie Hall, and not least of all the Ryman (in, uhm, Nashville), where he recorded a genuine landmark of a video with the “A-List” of gospel and inspirational music either on the stage or in the seats. Hard to see the regular Homecoming Friends and a few also-rans topping that.
Update: The comments seem to suggest the recording will include a pretty representative swath of top-tier artists (depending on how you define that term). Here’s an interesting exercise for you: tally up which of the groups formally associated with NQC board members have recorded with Gaither (or will at this upcoming event). It’s an informative exercise that leaves one to wonder: if Gaither records with pretty much everyone who’s anyone in gospel music, what - or who, exactly - is the chief obstacle to Gaither’s (re)appearing at NQC? I don’t think the answer is, quite yet, nothing and no one. But more disturbing is that NQC has become too irrelevant in a Gaitherized Christian music world for Gaither to have to care. As I’ve said before, the man makes his own weather in Christian entertainment and, as this Nashville event suggests, everyone else is left to scramble for a Gaither umbrella or stand out in the rain.
Later Update: Don’t forget, too, that Gaither has an especial knack for dramatizing moments of reunion, reconciliation and community redemption - in short, ceremonializing togetherness. I’m thinking particularly of the different tapings in which Mylon Lefevre, Calvin Newton and Michael English underwent what Michael Graves has called “ceremonial reinstatement” into the gospel music community, presided over by Gaither in a kind of high priest of gospel music role. Perhaps in a less overt way, this Nashville thing will be patterned loosely after the ceremony of reinstatement that Gaither has - whether consciously or not - made one of his signatures. Certainly a Gaither taping with groups that have not historically had a regular association with him seems like so much low hanging fruit from the tree of nostalgia and sentimentality that gospel musicians produce so well and often engage in authentically.