Blasphemy of the day

In a discussion about southern gospel bass singers, a reader takes issue with the cult of J.D. Sumner:

JD Sumner was a castastrophe, both spiritually and musically.

Spiritually, dude had no fruit, the most glaring example being his atrocious Singing News columns. And spare me the whole “he had fruit in his personal life” nonsense. That argument is completely without merit as he was (allegedly) a professional minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Musically, the guy was a freak show on his best day. Though I never witnessed it, I’m sure his “singing” through a 1970s PA system bore a striking resemblance to a fart through a bullhorn.

JD Sumner’s entire career can be summed up in this Latin phrase: soli JD gloria. The fact that he built such a bullcrap career on the backs and money of Christians makes him disgusting, not heroic.

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  1. JEB wrote:

    I went to see the Stamps one time when Donnie Sumner was still singing with the group and it was the night before Easter (all night singing in Charlotte, NC)… I went never doubting they would sing then young Sumner’s “Night Before Easter.” It was not sung - not even mentioned.

    He was an interesting person who seemed to have more admirers among his peers (they were perhaps likely hesitant to say what they really thought of him) than the audience. The Gaither Homecoming tour probably help him to salvage a few good commendations towards the end of his life. But I can think of dozens of bass singers I would rather hear than Sumner.

    I think he peaked before the Blackwood Brothers. He always sung about half a beat behind the QT and that really bugged me.

    The Stamps’ legacy today - I feel, is in very bad shape.


  2. Michael McIlwain wrote:

    I have a friend in the Middle Tennessee area who claims that J.D. experienced a personal revival near the end of his life. This friend seemed to think that Mark Lowrey had a great influence on J.D.’s walk with the Lord.

    I do agree that J.D. was not the most melodic singer, but his work with the Blackwood Brothers revealed a versatile bass singer who could sing nicely in his upper register.

    Concerning J.D.’s somewhat abruptness, I have been told by some in the industry that J.D. would give you the shirt off his back. J.D. is not my favorite bass singer, but I do think he was one of the most interesting.

  3. drummingdrew wrote:

    “…..I’m sure his “singing” through a 1970s PA system bore a striking resemblance to a fart through a bullhorn.” Classic! I love it!!!

  4. oldtimer wrote:

    The guy/gal who wrote the original post adite to not knowing JD, and never even hearing him live. In other words he pretty much said “I have nothing on which to base my comments but here they are anyway.” I was not a friend of JD - but I met him and worked with im on many occasions. He was abrupt and brutally honest and one of hte most genuinely compassionate people ever. I don’t know if he experienced revival or not - I did not know him in what were purported to be his wilder days. But I know that the JD I knew from the time I first worked with him in 1992 until I got out of the music industry was my favorite person in music. The guy who wrote the original post is just wrong. And getting something wrong is not a sin. Judging, however……..

  5. Sam wrote:

    I personally do not share the view(s) expressed by the original commenter. Sumner was instrumental in establishing and growing the SG genre through its earlier formative years and well into what some consider its hey-day. It is well documented how he contributed to the industry so I won’t rehash all that. The harsh critique of his life and life’s work, while the posters right, are unwarranted and cruel in my view. I saw him in concert and at the record table many times. I thought his voice in his prime was legit and I enjoyed his singing, although in later years (whose would not be after years of singing…ok and smoking) it did become gravely. He could be intimidating and brash in person but there are also many who knew him to have a kind and big heart. Many of the Singing News articles were tongue-in-cheek. Some were not, but he was always the type who spoke his mind.

  6. Michael McIlwain wrote:

    I saw J.D. and the Stamps back in 1989 in Meridian, MS at the gospel music night of the Jimmie Rodgers festival. J.D. revealed the “rascal” part of his personality that night when Cheryl Prewitt, the former Miss America, opened the program and went past her allotted time. She had married someone in the Oral Roberts organization. This was right after the time that Oral had said that if he didn’t raise a certain amount of money to build a medical tower or prayer tower that the Lord would call him home.

    The Stamps went on right after Cheryl Prewitt and sang their full program. At the end of their program J.D. said that he had a bus full of records to sell and that if he didn’t sell them all, then the Lord was going to call him home. Cheryl and her husband were sitting near the stage and laughed politely while the audience roared with laughter. J.D. must have sold all the records, because he lived another 8 years, lol.

  7. Michael McIlwain wrote:

    I wonder how many of you have heard the album “The New, Very New Sound of J.D. Sumner and the Stamps.” J.D.’s voice on this album is very full and rich. When he sings in his upper register he even has some strong vibrato. It is my favorite Stamps album.

  8. Bones wrote:

    If you don’t know someone, or never saw them you can’t judge them.

  9. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    People who were intimidated or turned off by JD Sumner’s persona probably don’t laugh very much and often have moments where they wonder what just happened.

  10. wanderer wrote:

    In the early nineties I went to see the Stamps. I was hosting an hour long Gospel Music show on Sunday mornings. I asked him for an interview after the concert. I could tell from his look he didn’t want to. But what came out of his mouth was Let’s sit over here and do the interview. I was impressed. He even signed an 8×10 and gave it to me. I told the promoter afterwards that I was afraid to ask J-D for the interview because of his brash image. The promoter laughed and said, Don’t be afraid of J-D. He’s a good guy.

  11. AmyR wrote:

    Somebody fell for a troll.

  12. Steve Eaton wrote:

    JD Sumner was more personality than singer (at least in his later years). But that is what endeared him or turned him off to most folks. I for one, and I know I am probably in the minority, will pull out a classic Stamps LP from the late ’60s/early ’70s to listen to than the Statesmen or Blackwood Brothers.

  13. Eric Stephens wrote:

    Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, chose J.D. Sumner and the Stamps. Any questions?

  14. quartet-man wrote:

    #13 True, but the version he chose had Baize, Donnie Sumner, Ed Enoch and Richard Sterban. Admittedly, he expected J.D. to sing as well (according to J.D. he wasn’t going to and hadn’t practiced, but Elvis insisted and wanted some of the ‘56 endings (the glissandos). So, both basses sang bass with J.D. at times singing an octave down.

  15. Wade wrote:

    DBM… We AGREE… Great Post!!!

  16. Irishlad wrote:

    I’ll freely admitt JD was a much better singer in his younger days,but can any one listen to Old Man River(later version)and tell me of anyone who could pull that off just as well? Perhaps Harold Gilley could but then again he’s a mimic….a very good one.

  17. Irishlad wrote:

    “Soli Deo Gloria”….interesting handle,any connection to the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory in the Episcopal Church?

  18. Alan wrote:

    I worked with JD and the Stamps on a good few occasions. He was a character, no doubt. Those here who have said that he was an interesting personality, intimidating and brutally honest are all correct. Today he would be called a very “complex” man. I saw a hard side to him and I saw the kind side. To him, Gospel music was a business, and the folks paid good money to hear them sing, not preach. If this business is an ongoing balancing of music and ministry, JD was comfortable and honest with his position. He wrote over 500 songs, some of them quite good. Many have talked about his spiritual renewal at the end of his life, with (as one has stated) Mark Lowry at the center of it. I pray that it was true. I know that the last time I saw him was with his guys in the St. Louis airport. They had just flown in from France, and JD was obviously worn out; but, he was extremely cordial and kind. What I’ll remember most was that one of his daughters was there to meet him, and the love that passed between them was palpable. Just an old man, a widower, tired, and a daughter who obviously loved him incredibly. In my mind, there have been much nicer bass voices, but few personalities as memorable.

  19. Aaron Swain wrote:

    #16: This the version you’re talking about?

  20. Extra Ink wrote:

    It would be unfortunate not to mention JD’s expert handling of recitations. The guy was probably better at them than anyone. I thought the song on his last record called “Old Man Death” was done particularly well. I loved the line “I’m not afraid of you!..” it was as if Sumner could see that his own passing was nearing. Great work on his part. I also always enjoyed the recitation he did about auctioning off a violin…can’t remember the name of that one. He was adept at recitations.

  21. irishlad wrote:

    #19 Thanks Aaron that’s the one.

  22. Soli Deo Gloria wrote:

    No. 17: never heard of it.

  23. Brian wrote:

    #20…The Touch of the Master’s Hand.

  24. NG wrote:

    #22 Soli Deo Gloria: I assume Irishlad thought you might be involved with the group because of your poster name.

    “The Brotherhood of Saint Gregory is a Christian Community of the Episcopal Church, whose members follow a common rule and serve the church on parochial, diocesan, and national levels. Members–clergy and lay, without regard to marital status–live individually, in small groups, or with their families. They support themselves and the community through their secular or church-related work, making use of their God-given talents in the world while not being of the world. The trust that all labor and life can be sanctified is summed up in the community’s motto: Soli Deo Gloria, To God Alone the Glory.”

  25. Soli Deo Gloria wrote:

    No. 24: my handle is Reformation based. I like using it on this site because it’s one of the absolute bedrock truths of our faith, and it’s one of the bedrock truths that’s tossed out the window first by southern gospel artists.

    And I cannot state strenuously enough that I have no affiliation with the Episcopal church, or any of its offshoot groups.

  26. Irishlad wrote:

    Yes NG, my thoughts exactly,Soli Deo Gloria has that High Church/Episcopal/Anglican ring to it but the eponymous poster is right;SDG was one the five Solas taken during the Protestant Reformation to summarise the Reformers basic beliefs.

  27. Tjeerd wrote:

    I heard JD and the Stamps in Toronto at the Peoples Church back in the mid nineties. After the concert I purchased CD’s, 8X10, and JD’s book. He signed them all. I noticed that he took pride in his signature, he took his time, its no quick scribble. This tells me something about the man.
    John Daniel Sumner, the best bass singer that ever was, is, and will be.
    RIP I miss him.

  28. cdguy wrote:

    A couple of things JD said on Gaither videos told me about the kind of man he was. One was about he didn’t use to like Gloria Gaither. Talked about how she cried too much. Then he started working with them, and he grew to love Gloria.

    The second, in a story about some incident in a diner or restraurant, JD referred to himself as a “celebrity”. Yes, to some extent he was a celebrity, but, IMO, a minor one. Celebrity in minor circles. He apparently had no low opinion of himself, and wasn’t afraid to express that.

  29. Mountain Man wrote:

    RE No. 20’s JD and recitations:

    JD is supposed to have said that the best he heard at recitations was Dave Kyllonen of the original Couriers (try Peace on Ovations, I think it is… you feel peace). Also, JD had Kyllonen preach twice at NQC as the successor to Hovie Lister, in days when there was organized preaching.

  30. Lisa wrote:

    I have had the opportunity to meet the three kindest men in SoGo that I could have ever met. They were, in random order:

    1) George Younce
    2) JD Sumner
    3) Glen Payne

    All three went out of their way to be kind to a short, chubby, bespectacled, not-very-graceful teenaged girl and make her feel like there was no one else in the room.

    I’ve listened to the Stamps since I was a baby. Imperials, too. JD was world class, in every aspect I ever saw.

  31. matureman wrote:

    #7: Your mention of J.D.’s upper register vocals helped me recall “He’ll Hold My Hand” on the album The Stamps made in Cincinnati years ago. It may be the same one you named. I haven’t dug my copy out to check the name but it was a very good project.

    Was it Sterban singing the bass on the backup? Aside from J.D.’s solo, that was the hook on the song.

    It seems to me that J.D. brought innovation and popularity to the our music. He drew a lot of fans to concerts where other groups could hitchhike, be heard and sell product. He was genuinely witty and a great showman.

    For the record, in my youth through the 50’s and 60’s, I never paid for a ticket to a concert while thinking I was going to a revival. It was the music and fun that drew me.

    Toward the end of his life, J.D. could talk about Jesus as easily as he could talk about his friend, George Younce. He had a family and friends that prayed for him down through the years and the prayers were seemingly honored and answered.

    You know, Homecoming gatherings helped a lot of the singers as much as it has helped the listeners and fans. Lots of bitterness and hard feelings just dissolved. To God be the glory!

  32. eerjd wrote:

    I believe the Bible says “Judge not, lest ye be judged”….. just sayin’

  33. Wade wrote:

    32 eejd… You must be new to the blog so WELCOME!!!

    I say that because if you had been around a few years you would know that IT IS OK, from some of our REAL GODLY posters, to JUDGE ppl if you are living the GOOD LIFE!!!

    They will tell us that Jesus himself judged ppl and even got angry so that made it ok cause they are CLOSE to being that perfect.

    They will also give you the example of how CHURCHES JUDGE ppl when they do BAD THINGS and need to be removed from positions of church leadership.

    AND we ALL KNOW that a CHURCH would never Judge some one harshly…well if it was CLOSED and no one was in it!!! ;-))

    I agree with YOU so don’t get me wrong. I was trying to prepare you for the BS to come.

    I personally have an issue with CHURCHES doing this because as a child I watch a man be removed as a youth leader cause he drank beer. Funny thing was the man and PASTOR who was leading the BANISHMENT was screwing the organ player despite them not being married… well they were married but not to each other.

    So be ready!!!

  34. Bones wrote:

    Do you remember J.D. bringing Tony and Susan Alamo to the NQC? Bad judgement! Please don’t suck up to everyone.

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