Bleg: Sg 101

So I’m teaching a senior seminar this semester on Gospel Music and American Literature, which is … well, basically what it sounds like: we read literature that appropriates gospel  music in some way (texts include Bastard Out of Carolina, Just Above  My Head, Southern Baptist Sissies, and, of course, The Gospel Singer, as well as selections from Elmer Gantry and Damnation of Theron Ware) and listen to music alongside the readings (prepping for this course in part accounts for my extended holiday hiatus).

To paraphrase James Goff, southern gospel makes perfect sense to insiders and often almost no sense to outsiders. Which is where you come in. Pretend you had to introduce southern gospel to a bunch of undergraduates with little to no knowledge of the genre (the course isn’t actually designated “101″ but that’s not a bad shorthand for the  kind of approach we’re talking about here as far as introducing the music goes). What three songs - any time period - would you use? Please show your work whenever possible (i.e. YouTube clips or other online references).

PS: Thanks for the running the asylum while I was gone. Seriously.

Update: Ok, so the first class was this  a.m. and I went with (in this order): “Heaven’s Joys Await” (the Cathedrals, with GVB, Faithful); “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now (the Goodmans); and “God on the Mountain” (the McKameys). The response was positive and insightful (Peg and the girls’ matching outfits were a special favorite - the women get all the good lines and the flashy clothes, one student (rightly) said … the guys just sort of stand there (right again!) - as was Vestal’s hanky … I guess they’re partial to props and costumes, this group). Thanks for the help! Keep ‘em coming. There’s an entire semester of songs to plug into the syllabus.

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  1. Musicscribe Blog » What IS it all about? on 08 Jan 2010 at 4:54 am

    […] buddy, Dr. Doug, recently asked readers, Pretend you had to introduce southern gospel to a bunch of undergraduates with little to […]


  1. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    You aren’t going to use _Standing In The Rainbow_ by Fannie Flagg?

  2. Amy wrote:

    I got to do that a couple years ago as a student. I used “When They Call My Name” by the Cathedrals … off of Faithful, and they liked it. If you don’t prejudice them against it too badly before you start, you might get similar results.

  3. Jeremy Hatfield wrote:

    This is a great question, one that is largely dependent on just how representational you want it to be. Are you representing the most quality? The variety of styles? Different eras of Vestal’s hair?

    Three that pop to mind automatically are 1)We Shall See Jesus by the Cathedrals 2)I Rest My Case at the Cross by the Perrys and 3)God on the Mountain by the McKameys, which as much as any song illustrates the existential, emotive punch of a very simple lyric if delivered in a live setting. Of course, you have to include this video:

    Others, if you wanted to discuss the classic Statesmen/Blackwoods era would include Give the World a Smile and/or Oh What a Savior, as well as I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for My Journey now with the Happy Goodmans.

  4. QwertyJuan wrote:

    IMO, if you are looking at showing a clip or professionalism in SoGo music, as well as quality and workmanship, you HAVE to include Gold City for the early ’90s…

  5. NG wrote:

    Bit of a longshot but what is you started with Elvis and the Jordanaires doing “Working on a Building.” Elvis always wanted to sing in a SGM quartet and this is the closest he came since the recording features not only Elvis but the tenor and bass of the Jordanaires.

  6. Matthew Moore wrote:

    1. Champion of Love (Cats Reunion version) It is imho the best orchestration in the history of SG. Plus you have to love all the rolled “r’s”

    2. Yo have to include the Statesmen, simply because SG would probably not exist without thier influence. Here is a good example of the close harmony and piano playing that set SG apart

    3. Anything from GVB. The industry follows their lead.

  7. DamonFromKY wrote:

    I would make these three points:

    Traditional southern gospel music is often characterized by 4-part male harmony performed in a distinctive 4/4 timed style - Just a Little Talk With Jesus -

    More than other styles of music, family groups often develop into successful leaders of the genre - I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now -

    More than vocal talent, southern gospel is dependent on strong lyrics delivered with emotional connection to the song - God on the Mountain -

  8. Janet B wrote:

    C’mon Doug - you already know what moves you. Go with that.

    My two cents? Choose songs by 3 writers: Rusty Goodman, Dottie Rambo, & Mosie Lister. Just pick the best performances of said songs.

    Of course, don’t you have to include a convention song? Show the clip you had awhile back of “O The Glory Did Roll.” It would show the students that kids about their age get sg, too! :)

    One request: I want to know what you finally land on!

  9. KC wrote:

    Three songs only is hard. This would be easier if we could pick three albums. :)

    How about:

    1. “Can He, Could He, Would He” - by The Cathedrals - George Younce, my all-time favorite bass; with Danny Funderburke, Mark Trammel, and of course Glen Payne - great sound, and a fun example of convention style singing. Gerald Wolfe’s short time on the piano with The Cathedrals was excellent - I’d rather hear him here on the piano than singing. :)

    2. “Love Lifted Me” - by The Kingsmen - shows how a song you normally hear in church could be done differently at a southern gospel concert. Jim Hamill - genius lead singer onstage, what a presence and voice; Jay Parrack - excellent sg quartet tenor; Anthony Burger - what he adds to this song is just sweet!; Kingsmen Band - they were a great example of how to accompany a quartet.

    3. I’m going to do a tie, to slip in another song! Need to add a family group or two to the list.

    a. “The Lighthouse” - by The Hinsons – great example of a family that sang with the anointing and also vocally-pleasing; they wrote original hits; Kenny Hinson, one of the most recognizable country/twang southern gospel voices that, hopefully, will be remembered forever.

    b. “Build My Mansion Next Door to Jesus” – by The Rambos – Dottie Rambo’s contribution to southern gospel songwriting was so tremendous. What group hasn’t recorded a Dottie song.

    Okay, just ONE more:

    3c. “The Holy Hills of Heaven” – by Vestal Goodman – sounding at her best in this clip, singing another great Dottie song. Can’t leave Vestal out of any description of southern gospel. :)

    Notice my list contains nothing “Gaither.” Yet, his impact on southern gospel music has been amazing. So, be sure to show the class a Homecoming DVD. Gaither is its own genre!

  10. Terry Franklin wrote:

    How about a mention of the Imperials approx. 1967-1971? Jim, Terry, Roger, Armond and Joe had something really special. And, to show the diversity within the genre of Southern Gospel music, play some Inspirations. I would just play the whole “We Shall Rise” record (I think recorded in 1972). It shows them in their prime singing those great straight tones.

  11. Brandon Porter wrote:

    Jesus Is Coming Soon by the Inspirations.

    Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by The Goodmans.

    Oh, What a Savior by The Statesmen Quartet.

    These songs represent Southern Gospel Music’s focus on Heaven and on the goodness of Christ. Both of which brought hope and elevated the music to its place in the 1960s and 1970s. I believe they also represent an era when the music was at its peak when it comes to songwriting and energy.

    Of course, to see where much of America learned of this music it would be nice to see these clips performed on the Gospel Singing Jubilee.

  12. Bud Alexander wrote:

    These suggestions show the evolution of SGM, the diminishing role of women’s voices (though that is less true today than the era of the 50′-80’s), and the repitition of rhythms, sounds, and familiar theological phrases that create an emotional and spiritual collective consciousness.

    A selection of your choice from “The Social Harp: Early American Shape-Note Songs,” Rounder CD 0094, 1994 Rounder Records Corp., USA

    Live version of the Happy Goodmans singing “Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound”

    Video version of Signature Sound of “Glory to God in the Highest”

  13. Mr. Big wrote:

    I’ll just use the three songs that I was indoctrinated with:

    1. Excuses by the Kingsmen actually the entire Live…Naturally album)

    2. Movin’ Up To Gloryland by the Cats

    3. That I Could Still Go Free by the Hinsons

  14. KDM wrote:

    I definitely think you should include convention-style quartet singing…Heaven’s Jubilee, Heavenly Parade, I’ll Sail Up High, etc. Anything where the four parts just go crazy on the chorus. Wonderful Grace of Jesus would be good, too. The Cathedrals did great recordings of Wonderful Grace of Jesus (their first a cappella recording in the Kirk Talley days) and Heavenly Parade (Symphony of Praise, I believe). Greater Vision’s recording of Heaven’s Jubilee on Church Hymnal Series Volume 1 is very good (the Church Hymnal Series in general would probably be a great resource). The Kingsmen did a great rendition of I’ll Sail Up High back in the early 90’s. I don’t remember the name of the recording, but it was one of those jobs where they all gathered around some old RCA mikes and recorded like the old boys used to do it. Great recording, if you can find it. This stuff shows the roots of SG, and what initially made it so appealing to listeners. It might also be interesting to note that SG got its radio start as an advertising campaign for the Stamps song books back in the day, and kind of took off from there.

    Hope this information is useful. Good luck on the course!

  15. Terry Franklin wrote:

    Ok #12, so we need more diversity, eh? How about The Downings 1971 Live recording singing “I’ve Got Confidence” or “One More Time.” Shoot, play the whole record!

  16. quartet-man wrote:

    There are several, but here are some suggestions to choose from.

    Just A Little Talk With Jesus - The Oak Ridge Boys

    Wonderful Grace of Jesus or Heavenly Parade by The Cathedrals

    on the Heavenly Parade there was a version with Funderburk on the I’ve Just Started Living video, but I can’t seem to find it on Youtube anymore.

    We Shall See Jesus

    Because He Lives (or all of these)


    Gold City

    When He Calls I’ll Fly Away

    or When He Blessed My Soul

    or In Time On Time Every time

    Gold City - God’s Building a Church

    Of course there are tons by the artists above and The Gaither Vocal Band (which I never got around to but one that comes to mind is the I’m Free from the Gaither Vocal Band Reunion.

  17. Wes Burke wrote:

    1. Pick a track from the aforementioned Downings Live album. (Terry, you have good taste!)
    2. Statesmen Quartet - “When My Master Walks With Me”
    3. Pick a current song from the Booth Brothers or the Gaither Vocal Band.

  18. Jim Cumbee wrote:

    As the father of three kids in college, I am uber-sensitive to the cost/value of higher education, which therein begs the question in my mind: “why in the heck do kids go to college to take a course like “Gospel Music and American Literature?” No offense to Doug, he’s a smart guy and I’d be pleased for my kids to have him as a professor. But American Literature is not the literature that distinguishes or otherwise defines Gospel Music. Don’t complicate it, the adjective says it all, it’s GOSPEL music and the only literature that matters are the 66 books known as the Holy Bible. “Gospel Music” is that form of music which results from stories of lives changed because of the Gospel. The ONE song that best captures that essence for me is “Ain’t That What It’s All About?” by the late great Rusty Goodman.

  19. William R. Boen wrote:

    #18 “ain’t that what it’s all about” was written by one of the hinsons

  20. Deron wrote:

    Another song that I would recommend to represent the classic era of SG would be Zion’s Hill by the Blackwood Brothers with London Parris.

    Of course, another great one would be I’m Telling The World About His Love, as performed on the Gaither Video by Robert S. Arnold, Ben Speer, Jake Hess, and Rex Nelon, accompanied by the incomparable Stan Whitmire.

    Another that comes to mind, although I’m not sure if it’s on Youtube, is Hallelujah, I’m Going Home performed by the original Greater Vision members accompanied by Stan Whitmire, from their Now and Then album. In my opinion, there is no better representation of the convention style of Southern Gospel than that song.

  21. Troy wrote:

    I would suggest songs representing three major categories/styles of Southern Gospel:

    1. Classic male quartet: The Statesmen singing Get Away Jordan

    2. Mixed family: The Goodmans singing I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

    3. Convention song by a chorus: Gaither friends singing The Eastern Gate (with solo by Lily Wetherford which is a great example of a female voice in SG)

    (An alternate possiblity for the convention song is Gaither’s Turn Your Radio On:

  22. Tim Rockwell wrote:

    Doug, sometimes you kill me. I am not at all against music criticism but you frequently make harsh, even vicious sounding remarks, about the singing of people like Connie and Claude Hopper, Troy Peach, Bill Gaither and others who are integral parts of groups that keep turning out fine music and, in the next breath, you praise the McGruders or The McKameys, who are to gospel music what Jethro and Ellie May were to fashion. There’s nothing wrong with liking the McGruders or McKameys if that’s your taste but exalting them by/while belittling Connie etc., makes a huge dent in both your credibility and readability. I suggest you dial back the personal critical rhetoric just a notch and leave room for context. For example, Claude Hopper is a weak bass. Even he says he’s a weak bass. Nevertheless, his singing is technically average and in tune and he is a perfectly adequate bass for what they are doing. As much as I’d love to hear Gene McDonald or Jeff Pearles with such a group, their presence may well kill the group by altering its sound too drastically from the sound we love. Ergo, Claude Hopper may well be the best bass for that group and criticizing him for not being a top-shelf bass is foolish and appears uninformed, especially contrasted with the fact that the McKameys are just bad by any measure. The blogger who cannot tell the difference would not be worth anyone’s time.
    Something to ponder.

  23. gina wrote:

    Tim, how can you criticize Doug for doing exactly what you just did, only reversing the groups you praise/belittle??

  24. QwertyJuan wrote:

    He did Gina, BUT comon…. saying that the McKameys CAN sing? The only reason they are popular is that they(like Greater Vision does or as the Crabbs did) seem to ALWAYS get the “good” songs - songs with great lyrics.

    AND because old people like them…. only two reasons.

  25. gina wrote:

    QwertyJuan - Actually, the McKameys CAN sing, and just because they aren’t one person’s cup of tea doesn’t mean they aren’t capable messengers of the Gospel in song. As for your two reasons they are popular, number one, they don’t GET the good songs; most of them are written by a family member of the group. And number two, you would actually be surprised at the number of people who like them that are not old at all. Bottom line is that they are good singers in a style of their own and their humble sincerity about their message is evident.

  26. Bud Alexander wrote:

    #15 - I fully agree with the Downings suggestion.

  27. QwertyJuan wrote:

    “As for your two reasons they are popular, number one, they don’t GET the good songs; most of them are written by a family member of the group. ”

    I am sorry, I worded that wrong.. I don’t mean they just “GET” the good songs… I mean they generally have GOOD songs on their albums. Some SoGo artists will take anything and try to sing it…. McKameys are one of the few(I mentioned two others) that actually seem to(time after time) get a decent song listing on each album(and they have numbers to prove it… most #1 songs ever)

    But as far as their SINGING?? Terrible… :p

  28. cynical one wrote:

    gina - #25 — Just because a group is humble and sincere, that doesn’t mean they can sing WELL. A lot of us can sing POORLY. So, I guess a point could be made that ALL of us can “sing”.

    And maybe some of us have seen enough to question the “humble and sincere” part, too.

    Seriously, though, there are some folks who have gotten far in their careers, in spite of their lack of talent, you HAVE to assume they’re sincere. Otherwise, no one would have listened to them.

  29. joe wrote:

    #15 - Right on about the Downings!

  30. gina wrote:

    cynical one - Nowhere did I say the McKameys could sing well just because they were humble or sincere. They actually have very good harmony in their own style, even if it is not the style you might like or prefer to hear. The point about the sincerity comes in when people who might not even be a fan of their style of singing still likes and respects their ministry because of that.

  31. Ron copeland wrote:

    To whom asked who wrote ain’t that what its all about! Kenny hinson as did he write “call me gone”.as he had written most of the families most popular songs before the family disband In 1988.I read these post,the ear is just a channel to the heart! It depends on the listner! Everyone is gonna have their own opinion on this like anything else.I don’t care to much for Bill gaither but I will not belittle him or his music. No one knows the content of anothers heart but “god”.

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