Overrated genius

In a discussion thread about genius in sg a bit ago, a commenter over at musicscribe.com asks about overrated genius in sg. The first thing to say is that genius is a badly abused word. Greatness is often mistaken for genius, which really should be reserved for vision or creation that genuinely transforms some part of the world in incontrovertible ways. Or whatever. Anyway, there have only been a handful of true geniuses in sg. JD Sumner, maybe (though he’s more myth than man these day, but then again maybe genius is mostly myth after all), the Gaithers for sure. If permanently changing the way things are done is one of our measuring sticks, then Mark Lowry’s brand of comedy probably ranks him in the genius category. You get the idea.

That said: on to overrated geniuses in southern gospel. I have a decently long list going, but I’ll just throw out two for the sake of getting the ball rolling, since I think it’s a good thing to have honest conversations – instead of lopsided “anybody makin’ a joyful-noise for Jesus is a genius” lovefests – about the people shaping and influencing gospel music:

  • Rodney Griffin: despite his early promise and achievement, he’s basically been writing the same two songs over and over with slightly different titles, lyrics, and melodies for the past several years (with the notable exception of the wonderful “Voice I Could Not Resist”). I guess you can’t blame him that people keep asking for his songs, but he’s a good enough writer to know how his work does (and does not) stack up alongside the work of peers who have continued to grow and develop while he’s stalled in a kind of stagnate parody of himself. Perhaps it’s time – a la the Anthony Burger Award – for the Rodney Griffin Songwriters Award at the SN Fan Awards?
  • Ronnie Hinson: cut the guy some slack … he’s had to be a kind of walking memorial for his dead brother, Kenny, for most of his professional life, so it’s probably impossible that anyone of whatever talent could live up to what people wish they might have been able to enjoy from the talented sibling who died young. But still … the Hoppers more or less jumped the shark on the “Ronnie = genius” myth with that video on NQC 07 depicting Hinson’s writing of “The Ride” as though it were the modern equivalent of Michelangelo painting the the Sistene Sistine Chapel.
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  1. Not Ernie Haase wrote:

    I think Phil Cross is often mistaken as a genius. “Champion of Love” was an amazing song that continues to remain popular even today. However, listen closely to his other songs. He typically uses about 5 words in the chorus and they’re repeated over-and-over. He also works exceptionally hard to make his lines rhyme and they often end up sounding silly.

  2. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    This is so obvious that I’ll go ahead and throw out a couple of names before anyone else does:
    1. Doug Harrison
    2. David Bruce Murray

    Of course, it’s possible one or both of us is(are) only (a) genius(es) in his(their) own mind(s).


  3. JM wrote:

    The problem with defining Genius is that we lack a comparative sense of history to appropriately evaluate those who are in our generation. During my early years in our educational system, William Shakespeare was held up as the leading Genius of literature. While I progressed through my higher education, it became “in vouge” to suggest that poor ole Bill didn’t write all those plays and rather than praising another white, Western European guy, we should evaluate the prosaic stylings of some Baltic state sheep herders. I would suggest that in another 10-50 years, ole Bill will be back on top and the poetry writing sheep herders won’t even be a footnote in a literary journal. That being said, it is foolish to try to estimate a given individual’s claim to Genius. This is particularly true in relation to a musical genre that has been established for less than 100 years.

    Doug: On a more personal note, I have noticed a decided “edge” to some of your initiated threads lately. I understand that if the question was “Who is a SGM Genius?”, we would be subjected to numerous fans of individual writers and performers, seeking to present their hero’s or heroine’s credentials and that would make for very uninteresting reading. However, when a question is posed in the negative (Who ISN’T a SGM Genius?), those who are harboring ill-feelings, grudges or just an excess of bitterness will invaribly “plie on” some unfortunate soul. I appreciate the intent of what I think you’re trying to accomplish with this blog; however, I think you should be aspiring to something “higher” than becoming the Jerry Springer of the blogesphere.

    Many years ago, I had a short four year stint as a bass in a gospel quartet. We were a regional group that travelled around the eastern US. I was, on my best days, adequete. Too often, I hit bad notes. Our quartet sang music penned by Albert Brumley, Bill Gaither, George Younce and various others. I have no idea if their music ranks them as Genius. But, for those who felt the message of Christ speaking to their hearts, it doesn’t matter. For in the final analysis, I can assure you that God can use poor and broken vessels, but he can’t use those who are overflowing with their own sense of Genius. More Humility; less Genius. Let History decide these things.

  4. cynical one wrote:

    DBM: I’m sure, at least, you two are “legends in your own minds”.

    Love the read!

  5. cdguy wrote:

    There are probably more s/g icons of days-gone-by, that would be considered geniuses, than current names. You mentioned J D, but I’d also list Hovie Lister, James Blackwood, and Jake Hess, for creating their individual groups’ unique sounds. Albert E Brumley, J G Whitfield, V O Stamps, John T Benson, G T Speer, and James Vaughan might fall into that category for their contributions, too.

    Many of the folks who are still alive are probably too recent to be fairly judged for “genious”. But that won’t stop us, will it?

  6. RF wrote:

    I totally agree on Griffin. One of his recent songs was a clone of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” His earlier work was sometimes brilliant, but his work, and the work of Greater Vision, has suffered due to some of the fluff he’s writing nowadays.

  7. Alan wrote:

    Somehow I doubt that this post will yield one of those 100+ comment threads. One person’s “genius” isn’t another’s. Rodney Griffin and Ron Hinson have written songs that have blessed the church and kept them singing. So did Fanny Crosby. Estimates are that she penned over 8000 poems, of which several hundred were set to music. Perhaps 30 of them are classics that have stood the test of time. Every song writer with talent will have some songs that are better than others, just like every CD has its stronger and weaker cuts. If you want another guy’s two cents about living geniuses today, Bill and Gloria Gaither are in that rare air that few - if any - ever attain. I say that, based on the combination of their writing, discovering so much new talent, realizing the enormous potential of the Homecoming tour and all associated with it, marketing, etc. After them, who’s left? JM said it best - everyone else in any field of ministry tries to capture the potential of each day, seize the opportunities that God gives us, and simply do what He asks us to do. Labels like genius aren’t what drives any of us as Christians…a “Well Done” one day is what we strive for. Or am I wrong?

  8. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    How about Bill Gaither?
    He is only more than just a genius.
    Bill and his people that he assembled around him are what you call being an inventor.
    Coming up with new ways to market the same message of Jesus Christ.
    By the way, how many songs have you written?
    Or better still, as David Ring says, “What’s your problem?”

  9. Roger Biehn wrote:

    Rodney Griffin’s very good but he can’t produce a CD’s worth of quality songs every year. There are few writers who can.

    Reduce his contribution to GV albums to maybe four songs max and fill up the rest of the space with quality contributions from elsewhere and Greater Vision’s recent snooze-a-palooza album parade will improve.

    As long as Rodney’s legend remains large for the fans that be, however, it doesn’t seem GV is going to be pressured into such a move.

    After all, how good/bad is Rodney compared to the average SG songwriter. Face it, you can’t make a living at it, so unless you do it for the love of it the best writers will prolly look elsewhere to practise their craft.

  10. RF wrote:

    I always love it when a commentator comes back with a reply like “how many songs have you written?” None, of course, but i have enough music training to know what’s quality and what’s not. And Griffin’s quality has gone steadily down the last few years, but so what? It’s just an opinion and I’m sure many people are blessed by his songs.

    The trouble is, anytime anyone tends to convey criticism of this genre, it always comes down to how such and such a song has touched a heart. That certainly doesn’t make the quality any better does it? I guess “Achy Breaky Heart” hit a chord with some people, but that doesn’t mean it was good. And so it goes.

  11. 1maidupmind wrote:

    Songwriting genius? Gerald Crabb.

  12. Linda Lovain wrote:

    I have three. They are not my favorite people, but none the less they appear to be very much genius and all for different reasons.

    * Rick Hendrix
    * Jonathan Bond
    * Tim Lovelace

  13. Faith wrote:

    “…the modern equivalent of Michelangelo painting the the Sistene Chapel”…hilarious!!! That is EXACTLY what the video depicted.

    BTW, #9 Roger…”snooze-a-palooza”…another classic!!! Perhaps you should trademark that particular phrase; I think it could catch on.

  14. BUICK wrote:

    JM, thanks for a positive contribution to this thread. Excellent thoughts that are well-presented.

  15. Angie M wrote:

    I…did not know about that video. Anybody care to describe it in more detail for those of us who can’t see it? :)

  16. John Masters wrote:

    #12 Linda . . . .
    I would hate to see your shady, dubious, and goofy entries!

  17. Trent wrote:

    I contend that most genius in SG happens in special moments or in particular niches. For example, I would call Jim Hammill a genius at emceeing a program. He was a very good singer, but not a genius at that. His niche was emcee work. I believe that Claude Hopper is a genius businessman. Average singer, but quite the innovative thinker in the arena of building a strong business and developing a local family group into a marquee group while enhancing his own stock as a “player” in the genre. I would call Ivan Parker a genius in the area of song selection. It’s my understanding that he selected some of Gold City’s big songs (like “There Rose A Lamb”) and has proven that he has a real knack for picking out winners as a soloist….”I Choose” being his current smash.

  18. Jim Bradley wrote:

    #15 Angie M……Here’s the video:

  19. Craig wrote:

    It’s Sistine not Sistene.

  20. Ron F wrote:

    Who is Doug Harrison?????????

  21. Radioguy wrote:

    How about Les Beasley? Not a great singer, but he made a big success of the Florida Boys and the Gospel Singing Jubilee. He knew how to make his strengths work for him and the group.

  22. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Poster #17,
    Excellent post.

    You do not have to be a genius.
    Check out the caption on this blogger:

    “It doesn’t take a genius to realize that sometimes life is hard. It’s gonna take time, but you’ll just have to wait.
    You’re gonna be fine, but in the meantime let me wipe your tears away.
    You’ll heal over someday.”


    Folks, I did not have to search for this blog.
    It was in my email box this morning.
    Maybe God wanted me to share it with you this morning.
    Sorry for being in a spiritual frame of mind.

    Plus read the story that Bill Gaither did something that we might have a hard time to do.
    Getting strangers to hold hands.

  23. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Doug Harrison is just another genius.

  24. tim wrote:

    Kathy Crabb….

  25. Ron F wrote:

    Ive been in Gospel music for 20 years and the only Doug Harrison I know is in my hometown. He sacks groceries and helps little old ladies cross the street.

  26. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    This Doug Harrison looks like a real genius:

  27. Revpaul wrote:

    Hey Ron F.
    We who read this Averyfineline blog intend to keep Doug Harrison’s identity a secret. Sorry.

  28. thom wrote:

    Dottie Leonard Miller? look at the empire

  29. Ron F wrote:

    Hey Revpaul just tell me this, Did Doug Harrison sing with the Singing Americans at one time????????

  30. Chris Henry wrote:

    Wow! I’m really suprised to read this one. You couldn’t be more wrong. The same two songs over and over? How “What you took from me” by the Whisnants? “He’ll carry me”? “Depths of the Father’s Love”? The truth is, he is a genius. He comes up with ideas for songs that no one, not one other singer, has come up with. And then they go #1. Genius.

    As far as Ronnie goes, he took over a decade off from writing songs, then comes back with “The Ride”, “The Dove”, and some fantastic songs on Brian Free’s and Karen Peck’s albums. Genius. No one else could do what these 2 men have done.


  31. 1maidupmind wrote:

    Kathy Crabb? Yep, she’s genius. Who else could take 4 siblings and a step sibling with (initially) mediocre talent, combine it with the song writing of her pentecostal preacher husband and turn it into an empire that would absolutely rock the sg world? I tell you, the woman could run GM.

  32. Aaron Swain wrote:

    #21: I agree with that 100%. Another great example of his genius is when he stepped back and let Josh Garner take the lead singer slot. He knew when it was time to step back, and he also opened up a door for one of the best leads out there today.

  33. Richamania wrote:

    Well, stated Mr. Henry from #30. I like your thinking. It seems a true genuis is never respected in his own time. I’d take Rodney’s “two song” catalog, or Ronnie’s genuis “myth” over anyone else.
    The problem with most folks, even those with “music training”, is they fail to recognize every songwriter has a style. They have a way of writing that comes natural to them. It’s how certain painters works are recognizable at glance. They strokes are the same; the feel is similar; the colors are familiar. It’s how every artist works. Even, songwriters. Just the other day, a friend and I were speaking about the late film score composer, Jerry Goldsmith. I told him a certain piece of music we were both familiar with was composed by Mr. Goldsmith. Before then, both of us were unaware he had composed it, nevertheless we were both familiar with the piece. My friend responded, I always thought it sounded like his work, but never put it together.
    And so it goes with Rodney and the, what was the “clever” adjective…oh yes, “snooze-a-palooza album parade” of Greater Vision.
    In my years in this world, it seemsto me the ones questioning one’s God given talent, or genuis, were those wishing they had any.

  34. Ron F wrote:

    Somebody Pleeeeeeeeease tell me did Doug Harrison write the song “Heavens Just a Sin Away” ??????

  35. Tony Watson wrote:

    Ron F - we may be overlooking the obvious here. Doug Harrison is the writer of averyfineline.com - this is his blog. I didn’t know if you were asking literal questions or being tongue in cheek but I wanted to clear it up in case you were really asking.

    He never sang with Singing Americans or wrote Heaven’s Just A Sin Away.

  36. RR wrote:

    #34: I don’t believe Doug Harrison wrote that song. He is better known in other endeavors, and not as a songwriter. He is, however, a genius, in my opinion.

  37. jb wrote:

    #33. Very well said. I love the way Rodney writes. His songs really touch your heart and you are right , every writer has a “style”. It would be really boring if everyone wrote the way “we” think they should. I think Rodney truly is in tune with God when he writes a song. You can not writes songs like he does without having a relationship with the “author”. God Bless

  38. Janice Kieft wrote:

    This is totally off thread, but what is going on with the Unthanks website? Anybody know, did I miss something.

    Janice K.

  39. Mark wrote:

    To #38, I think the fad may have gone away. Lately when I’ve gone to SGN website, there have been fewer and fewer posts on the message board. The only thing that has grown on that website are the banners those poor groups pay for to get better known. JMO God bless, Mark

  40. Brandon Coomer wrote:

    The Unthanks’ page served its purpose for a long time, but now…. I don’t know.

    The message board was moderated to a painful death and the opening of the Singing News forum pretty much nailed the coffin shut as far as I’m concerned. In the past, the Unthanks got news up before the Singing News did. Now, that doesn’t even seem to be the case anymore.

    The best thing the Unthanks’ site has going for it now is Nick Bruno’s monthly article. That and SG History 101.

  41. Aaron Swain wrote:

    And the weekly chart.

  42. Aaron Swain wrote:

    Oops, I also forgot to mention the album reviews. They do lesser-known groups as well, which is a good thing; reviews abound for the “top-tier” groups, but not many say much about the other ones.

  43. Matt Moore wrote:

    Richmania (#33) you are spot on. Another good example is John Williams. As an experiment try humming the theme from Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, and the Olympics. You will find your self humming Superman, thinking it is Star Wars. They are all alike. This is a common trait of geniuses. Look at George Washington Carver. Hundreds of inventions…all with the peanut or potato. All somewhat different…all somewhat the same.

    In regard to the two names mentioned in this post, it is interesting to note that both of them have 2 songs in the top 10 in this months SN chart. Mr. Hinson has 3 in the top 20. Not that i agree that these songs are worthy of their place on the chart (especially the #1 song) but just an interesting note.

    By the way, Is that THE Chris Henry?

  44. Daniel J. Mount wrote:

    #26, are you sure that’s the same Doug Harrison as the man standing to the left of me in this picture?


  45. RR wrote:

    Daniel, your face is not a household icon yet. I have no idea who you are in that picture.

    I do, however, know that the Joel Douglas Harrison mentioned by #26 is not “our” Doug, because one lives in California and the other in Florida, right?

  46. Daniel J. Mount wrote:

    #45–Doug is sixth from the left; I’m seventh from the left.

    I guess I’ve just posted my photo on my blog for so long that sometimes I forget that some people have never yet visited it. :)

  47. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    This is only a test

  48. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Its Game Time!
    How about playing the game To Tell the Truth about Douglas Harrison?

    No. 1- Is this the real Douglas Harrison that we know please stand up?

    No. 2- Is this the real Douglas Harrison that we know please stand up?

    No. 3- Is this the real Douglas Harrison that we know please stand up?

    No.4- Is this the real Douglas Harrison that we know please stand up?

    Next step for the answer

  49. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    No games about the one and only
    Daniel J. Mount of SouthernGospelBlog

  50. philo wrote:

    genius? 3 off the top of ma head.1. Mosie Lister 2.Dottie Rambo. 3.Andre Crouch.

  51. Leslie wrote:

    Is that David Spade–the third one from the right? :)

  52. oldtimer wrote:

    Here are those whose record merits consideration as some of the sharpest knives in the Southern Gospel Drawer…

    1) Martin Cook - He has done it his way, defied all odds, and built a gospel music empire unrivaled in longevity and consistent success by ANYONE in the history of Southern Gospel Music whose last name is not Gaither.

    2) Bill Gaither - You simply cannot argue these kind of results.

    3) J G Whitfield - Was way ahead of his time and underappreciated until his latr failing years- the Dixe Echoes, the Florida Boys, the SInging News, and numerous legnedary promotions merit his consideration.

  53. Faith wrote:

    I think that most of you missed the point about what this post was supposed to be about. Overrated “geniuses” (genii?), let’s see…

    The Crabb Family…they didn’t change SG, they were another genre from the very beginning

    Rodney Griffin…same song, different track

    Greater Vision in general…it’s hard to sound like a trio when you have such huge stacks behind you. They seem to have the mentality that “bigger (or louder) is better”. I swear I can hear at least three of each singer by the end of each song.

    The Speers…ever heard those old gals sing? UGH.

    Charlie Burke…a big bully who pulls too many strings (and those in the industry know what I mean)

    Now…true geniuses/genii?

    Anthony Burger - amazing ability to combine genres

    Roger Talley - innovative arranging

    Younce & Payne (and I hate to admit it, but Gaither Inc. as well) - selling SG to the masses

  54. philo wrote:

    Faith#53…..the plural of genius as in one gifted is geniuses or genera. Genii is the plural of genius as in demon or spirit of the place.(i am neither by the way).

  55. Richamania wrote:

    I for did not miss the point of the thread. Although, I now wonder, in this case what was the point of the thread in the first case. As it seems, many are just pitting venom at these artist. While, I agree Greater Vision does stack, I fail to see how it effects the ability to appreciate their music. While, I am not proponent of stacking, I don’t feel it effects one genuis. Please, read my first post on Mr. Griffin, as I feel you cannot be more wrong in his case. As far as the Speer sisters go, they’re near their 80’s now. The voices ages and there is nothing one can do about it. They did not always sound as they do now. The Speers without doubt were genuis. They’re father was musically genuis and they kept his dream and vision alive for 75 plus years.

  56. Donna wrote:

    I couldn’t disagree with you more about Rodney Griffin. I find each of his songs to be different, but I’m looking for both the music AND what the words mean to me. And I suspect Rodney’s a lot more interested in writing songs that touch peoples’ hearts and lives rather than measuring up to critics’ opinions. Genius is not the word I’d use about Rodney. Annointed IS.

  57. Faith wrote:

    Okay, okay, okay…excuse me and my opinions! May I beg forgiveness from everyone I have offended?!?! I didn’t think I was “pitting venom”, but thanks for letting me know.


  58. Chris Henry wrote:

    I got my SingingNews a little late this month, and I was just looking at it. I noticed something significant in the top 80 list. Rodney Griffen and Ronnie Hinson both have TWO songs in the TOP FIVE. Genius. Some people would feel lucky to have 1 in the top 10…ever. But these 2 gentlemen have 2 top 5s at the same time. Genius. How can they be overrated when 4 of the top 5 songs this month are written by them, genius?

  59. bayougurl wrote:

    To me the word genius is too relative to take seriously. You must always consider the source. For example….if someone, that I consider to be an idiot, tells me that I’m a genius, it doesn’t really feel like a compliment.

  60. Doug Harrison wrote:

    I am neither a genius, not a southern gospel music singer. However, I WAS referenced in #26 and as it happens was raised on southern gospel music. My dad sang in some semi famous quartets and my grandma and grandpa used to host, the Watchmen, the Imperials, the Stamps and a few others at their home after church concerts, back when quartets relied more heavily on the hospitality of strangers than on tour riders.

    I remember distinctly once the “Harrisons” (not related) parked the RV in front of our house while they were in town singing.

    Does anyone remember the Singing Ledbetters? I think they came through our house once or twice too.

    I no longer sing, and never had the privilege of singing in a gospel quartet thought Dad and I use to sign Gaither songs for offertories at the Temple City Church of the Nazarene.

    If any of all, y’all make it to Austin and would like to sit a round a piano I have a number of hymnals, mostly Nazarene, to choose form and would a love an ol’ hoot-n-nannie.

    I have many years later become Roman Catholic but miss more than anything the ol hymns

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