The Imperials Lawsuit
Since it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, I might as well as get this out of the way and comment on the ongoing legal dispute between various parties contesting each other’s claims to ownership of the Imperials name.
Skip to the next paragraph if you already know the history: If you don’t know, you’re going to have go elsewhere for it, because I’ve paid less than average attention. The uninitiated will probably want to start with this Christianity Today article, which really ignited a flame war. If you’re looking for horses mouths, “The Imperials,” whatever or whoever that refers to in this whole mess, posted an open letter about the ordeal a bit ago on their website. As for commentary and follow-up, Kyle Boreing (who’s really coming into his own as a sg blogger) has written two detailed and thorough posts on the matter recently.
But frankly, I just can’t see how this matters to the wider world of gospel music as something other than spectacle or litigious blood sport. Consequently, I really don’t care that much about the legal ins and outs. Obviously the young guys think there’s some value left in the Imperials name, and just as obviously the co-founder of the original group asserting ownership of the name has a stake it retaining control of the trademark and the artistic legacy it designates.
The ordeal pits a once-famous father, Armond Morales, against an ambitious son, Jason, which gives all this a nostalgic, oedipal overlay that’s irresistible from a gawker’s point of view. But honestly, what southern gospel drama isn’t about filiopiety and nostalgia at some level?
In the academic world, the fiercest fights often happen when the stakes are the lowest. And so it often is in southern gospel. As the genre has declined in the last 25 years, aspirants lacking the substantial ability or ceaseless drive (or both) it takes for real professional artistic achievement in southern gospel today often defer a reckoning with the truth by working to secure the trappings of success and appearances of greatness, the things themselves being hopelessly out of reach.
There seems to be a whiff or two of that wafting off this Imperials lawsuit over naming rights. As it affects the success of the young group suing for the rights to The Imperials, using the name would seem to supply the group with few advantages that aren’t purely personal or emptily symbolic (the open letter from the group claims this is a fight for the very existence of the group, but their music won’t be any worse, or better, or less popular, if they change their name tomorrow and start putting the time and money currently frittered away on this lawsuit into getting some good material and learning, among other things, how not to oversing most of their lines).
The ever-decreasing number of people who were fans of the original Imperials don’t strike me as a sustainable demographic for these new Imperials boys to target – either because this new group can’t (from what little I’ve heard of them) ever hope to live up to the standard set by the original, or because even if they could, their music is stylistically uninteresting to fans of the original Imps. That leaves people who either don’t know anything of the original Imperials beyond the name, or who have never heard the name before at all. In this context, it’s hard to see the professional point of prolonged trademark litigation.
So mostly, this lawsuit seems to be about whether or not an unknown group of b-side singers gets to toil in mediocre southern gospel obscurity with or without a semi-famous name.
Wake me up when it’s over.Email this Post