A tenor problem?

A regular industry reader offers a Grand Unified Theory of Gospel Tenors:

A recent comment on your site asked if “Gerald was hard to get along with?”  Gerald is a bit “quirky” but who amongst us isn’t?  Ye who are without quirk stop taking your Prozac. Think about it. Just to take three or four mostly random examples: Legacy Five has had 4 tenors in 10 years. They have had 1 lead singer, 1 baritone 1 bass and had it not been for the death of Roger Bennett, 1 piano player. Sounds like a tenor problem to me.  Greater Vision is about to announce their 4th tenor as well.  They have had the same lead singer for 20 years and the same baritone singer for what….17 years? Sounds like a tenor problem to me. Take for instance, Gold City.  Never mind.  Now check out Ernie Haase.  He has lost half a dozen or so members in 7 years.  Ernie is a TENOR.  Hello?  This would be a great riddle of next month’s issue of Highlights magazine.  “What is the common denominator in this scenario?” (Is there still a highlights magazine?)  It would be interesting to do a bit of research and add up all the changes over the past 5 years and just see where each part lands. I bet tenors are WAY out front.

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Comments

  1. wanderer wrote:

    Don’t forget all the tenors the Florida Boys went through. And I think if you add it up, the GVB has had more tenors than any other part. On the Reunio DVD Bill said that people don’t relaize when you’re a soloist, you’re up and down, but in a group a tenor is up there every night.

  2. Revpaul wrote:

    I think tenor’s brains are probably wired backward, which pitches them way higher than normal and makes them hard to get along with by correctly wired men. Or maybe not . . .

  3. Byron Kinard wrote:

    Triumphant Quartet seems to know how to put a group together and stay together. The Inspiratons kept there tenor for may years and I will give you one more how about the Original Couriers. So there are some groups that know how to do it right.

  4. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    There’s no correlation between a person’s vocal range and a skittish personality. Singing tenor night after night takes a greater toll on the voice than singing lead or baritone or bass.

    Of the four parts, tenors are the most likely to get tired of the pressure and quit. They’re the ones who are pushed (or push themselves) the most to sing parts that are too high.

  5. Jeff Crews wrote:

    As a tenor myself, I ask the same question. I think one answer lies in the fact that it is not natural for 99% of singers to sing in the range that SG tenors sing, nor for a lot of true tenors to sing in the range that their group owners want them to. So, the first possibility is that tenors do not age as well vocally as other singers, and need to be replaced more often. Managers like Jim Hamill made it their personal mission to consistently get the crowd whipped up by screaming their tenors out of natural range to emphasize the freak of nature, sideshow aspect to tenors. It is hard to do that night after night. Secondly, since true tenors with pleasing timbre are rare, they are in high demand, and if they are talented and unhappy in their current group, there is always some other group willing to utilize their unique gift. They are generally the most featured and loved voice in the quartet, and the crowd attention has an effect, particularly if they believe their options are better than other singers in the quartet. Thirdly, since many tenors are the most out front singer in the quartet, their departure is more memorable than the departure of baritones or basses (who by my count, leave with just as much frequency). I think if two prominent bass singers had left their groups this week, this post would be about how womanizing bass singers are the most unstable member of a quartet. There is a widely held stereotype that tenors are divas, bass singers are skirt chasers, piano players are queers, lead singers are jerks and baritones are victims of low self esteem. SG history certainly has plenty of examples of the stereotypes, but still they are just stereotypes. Fourthly, there simply haven’t been many group owners who are tenor singers. Group owners stay put, others look for better financial opportunities. Of course there are notable exceptions to the unsettled tenor. Archie Watkins sang with the same group for more than 35 years. I sang with Paid In Full for 16 years. Rosie Rosell, Bill Shaw, Joe Bonsall, Dexter Benjamin (of the Heismen), and others show that it is possible to be a happily employed tenor singer.

  6. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Jeff Crews wrote:
    “piano players are queers”

    That’s real funny (ha-ha) coming from a tenor singer.

  7. quartet-man wrote:

    I play piano, but I think I am a lesbian. :-)

  8. Wade wrote:

    WoW Q-Man that is out there for you!! ;-)) Been in the wine tonight??? I mean tomorrow is Easter. Thought you might be getting the little cups filled up!?!?!?

    DBM… Yes that was funny coming from Jeff. But just remember he IS a TENOR singer as you pointed out. It’s OLD but still so true what I first heard Hamil say so many times is still true. “.. it is tough to find some one who looks like a man and sing like a woman!!”

    The rest of Jeff’s observations was mostly spot on… but I never heard of a bass singer being a skirt chaser!!?? Well except…[edit]

    Happy Easter EVERYBODY!!!

  9. Blowtone Bill wrote:

    Tennors burn out real fast because it’s not a natural part for any man with testosterone to sing that high - unless his voice is so naturally pitched. It’s probably the most abused part in SGM & it’s not their fault. Most Quartets need to learn to key a song properly in order for the tennor not to have to use afterburner to hit the notes. A tennor with the proper tone doesn’t need to sing above a high C to sound great. I can’t stand falsetto singers . . . .

    The last time I heard one of the falsetto singers in the bathroom stall next to me, I though some blind lady stumbled into the wrong bathroom because she couldn’t read the sing on the door.

  10. Crayton wrote:

    If I got the choice between
    Irish lyric tennor, dynamic tennor, or operatic tennor. I’ll take the smooth mellow tone of the Irish tennor any day of the week. No one likes harshness when it comes to listining to a singer.

  11. quartet-man wrote:

    Wade, sorry to burst your bubble, but not only did I not get into wine, but I have never drank any alcohol in my life. We use grape juice for communion as well.

  12. Ron F wrote:

    Jeff Crews #5 Thanks for your input. That was great.

  13. Jeff Crews wrote:

    #6. I wasn’t stating that I believed the stereotypes, just that they exist, and yes, the other stereotype about tenor singers is funny and often mentioned, but I can’t off hand think of but four prominent tenor singers who were or are homosexuals. One is deceased, one - everybody knows about and he says he isn’t anymore, and the other two are less known about. Having said all of this and talked about the stereotypes that exist, I want to be clear that most of the people I encountered in Gospel Music were genuinely decent, likable, God fearing people who just loved making music. Most of the stories of skirt chasing and the like are from the days when Gospel Music singers were stars (1950s- 1960s), and most of those guys had seriously changed their ways by the time the more ministry minded groups had come along. SG is no different than your church - imperfect people, gifted in different and specific ways, who love God the very best they can, occasionally stumble, pick themselves back up and start all over again. Of course all churches have a few folks who are just lost. It’s no different in the SG world.

  14. TigerTom wrote:

    If Ernie were not the owner of Signature Sound, they would have another tenor singer.

  15. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Jeff,
    I completely understood you were talking about a stereotype.

    It’s just that I’ve always heard that particular stereotype applied to tenor singers in Southern Gospel rather than to piano players. I’ve heard it frequently said about various tenor singers over the years, but rarely about piano players. (Of course, there’s Elton John, but he doesn’t play Southern Gospel.)

    That’s why I thought it was amusing that a tenor said it was a stereotype for Southern Gospel piano players.

  16. JR wrote:

    #14: Ernie stayed with the Cathedrals for 10 years, I think that should state something for longevity. Jim Murray sang tenor with the Imperials for 20 years, but I think he was part owner. Brian Free was with Gold City for 11 years. I think if you stay with the same group (think job or boss) for over 5 years in general that is a very long time. The problem is we only get 5 albums to add to our collection.

  17. cynical one wrote:

    JR — #16 — Ernie’s 10 years with the Cathedrals doesn’t realy count either, since most of that time, he was the boss’ son-in-law. It would have been difficult to fire him, even though he sang flat, most of the time.

  18. NonInsider wrote:

    Hmmm well Jason Waldroup was with GV for 13 years… I am not sure that 4 tenors in 20 years is as a big of deal as people are letting on… As for L5, well Cobb was a little immature back in 2000… Tony Jarman has bi-polar disorder so that kind explains his group hopping… Frank’s son had cancer and survived. It made Frank realize how important spending time with your family truly is… Now they have a tenor that should be with them for quite a long time IMO… Tenors in most groups are not used properly… So many group owners/managers push their tenors to do things that their voice was not truly meant to do… An above poster said that groups lose bass singers, lead singers, and baritones. Almost just as often as tenors. But you just don’t hear about it as much as when you lose a tenor. Such is life in a SG group… Triumphant is a rare exception to the rule of groups losing members… But who knows one of those guys could leave this year… That is what makes things in SG so interesting…

  19. cdguy wrote:

    I think someone pointed out on another thread that turnover is probably no higher in s/g (whether you’re talking about specific parts or the genre in general) than in the general marketplace. I tend to agree with that.

    40 years ago and more, a large percentage of the poplulation worked the same job, for the same company, for 30-40 years or more. That doesn’t hold true any more.

    Also, pastors tend to average 2 years or less at one church. So job-hopping is not exclusive to sg artists.

  20. Tommy wrote:

    Its funnt to hear people say that the only reason George kept Ernie was because he was his son in law. Did Ernie win tenor of the year more times than ANY tenor ever because George rigged it. Is it because of George that fans line up to see ERNIE at Sig Sound concerts. you may not like his tones, that may be due to the fact that mant SG fans are tone deaf and prefer the chipmunk singing of Brian Free, but ask and “pro” singer and they will confirm that Ernie is one of the most skilled singers on the road. While others sat up front of the Cats bus, Ernie was in the back room working on technique.
    Now to the point of “tenors” being weird, traveling with many over the years they are normally not the issue. Its normally the lead. They are always jealous of the bass and tenor and start drama. Tenors get tired of the abuse they take, considering they carry the hardest work load on stage, amd they quit.
    There is very little loyalty with any singer but why should there be. If a group owner decides he wants to make a change he doesnt consider the impact on the singers future. Why do groups expect loyatly from singers when they dont offer any.
    There are wierd-o’s at every posistion. Ive known some stupid bass singers and Ive known some stupid baritones (including myself). Stupid funs thick in SG.

  21. Tommy wrote:

    …runs thick>

  22. Wade wrote:

    Tommy I want some outta your sack!!

  23. Harry Peters wrote:

    Princess Ernie, couldn’t quit. Where else could he get a gig and get paid to wear his pink eye shadow? I keep expecting those Westboro Baptist Church folks to show up at a SSSQ

  24. Kevin Clayton wrote:

    Jim Murrey: was with the Imperials for 30+ years. And one of the best. I’ve spent some time with him, normal nice guy. Exception????

  25. Winston Hyde wrote:

    Well you guys can say what you want to about tenor singers and piano players, I am a gospel piano player and have even played sitting right beside Anthony Burger he was the only good piano player gospel music ever seen. Now as far as tenor singers Johnny Parrack was the only good tenor singer in gospel music.

  26. Winston Hyde wrote:

    Why do people knock Ernie at least he don’t false note and he does keep the crowdes attention.

  27. FulltimePianoPlayer wrote:

    I’m a piano player, I play for a Quartet. Someone above said Piano players are “Queer” I’m not, but honestly think our tenor is…

  28. Robby wrote:

    I have been singing 1st tenor since i was 15. I’m 25 now and i understand what everyone means. It just comes so natural to me that the very first note i hear in any song is the tenor note. I started off playing the bass for a group called New Revival Quartet out of east TN. And after hearing all the different notes and boogies you can do in a lot SG songs, the higher notes always stuck out to me. Then i sang a song one morning at a church in Morristown i found out that hitting the high notes just was where i needed to be and for me my voice and lungs came natural. And yes choosing the right key for a song is very important because a song with a falcetta tenor just doesn’t sound as good a true tenor. Oh and for a old comment on here, Ernie Hasse to my ear has never sounded flat. Goodness sakes he was my inspiration and i really learned how to sing tenor in the proper way by him. O What A Savior was the same song i auditioned in just like ol’ ernie!! God Bless

  29. Anoldgospelmusicguy wrote:

    I have read every entry on this post. I have news for you all. Tenors and piano players aren’t the only “queers” in gospel music. I could name (I wouldn’t dare because it doesn’t really matter anyway. They love God and that’s why they sing gospel music) at least 3 that sing each part and play each instrument. But again, what’s this gay obsession? Let it go! As for Ernie, I will never understand how he made it with The Cathedrals, aside from being Lisa’s husband. I knew him when he sang with Ed O’niell and when he sang with Squire. I think he got worse as time went by. Ask Ed what he thinks… And I would imagine he won favorite tenor from time to time because they had to pass it around. Give me Danny or Kirk any day. Back to the stereotypes. That’s all they are. Stereotypes… It’s just easier to pin labels on a person by the way the sound or act. Seriously…. Rock Hudson? Randolph Scott? Vin Diesel? Ricky Martin? Lance Bass? Hello….

  30. Christy wrote:

    I love them all -Brian,Jay,Johnny,Steve L,Ernie,Kenny,Jerry,Jason,Chris collins- Rosie -I’m not old enough to remember Denver Crumpler who passed away at age 45 in the 50’s ? I think he was great .I found him on you tube by chance. come on guys , someone has to sing the tenor part, everyone can’t be perfect.

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