Riding the Southern Gospel Tiger

Well, judging by the 120+ comments proliferating around my most recent post on Gold City’s very long, very public goodbye to its own integrity, I think it’s safe to say that Gold City Fatigue Syndrome is not contagious.

For the most part, there’s been a lot of heat but not much light given off by all the huffing and puffing on this topic. And I don’t have anything new to say about it. But having been at this for nearly seven years now, I also realize that what I consider repeating myself may not really be as redundant as I imagine, given a)the shifting nature of online readership, b)the short memories of the average skimtastic blog reader, and c)the forgetability of my prose.

So let me paraphrase a point I’ve made before in other contexts and that seems to me to be the most salient feature that no one is really talking about, not just regarding Gold City but the general phenomenon of group’s wanting to have it both ways when it comes to their public and private lives: You can’t have it both ways.

By which I mean: more than most performers, southern gospel artists rely on - and actively cultivate - their fans’ becoming deeply invested in the idea that to love someone’s music is to somehow form a personal relationship with the artist, a relationship with the rights a privileges and access of a close family friend, or even a family member. A good chunk of the southern gospel industry is built around perpetuating this dynamic: our favorite songs, we are told by artists over and over again from the stage, were chosen for how powerfully they connected to the artist’s situation or life or spiritual journey (cancer, deaths, crises of faith, a tragic accident, a bout with gravely ill health). And here, let’s have my kids come up on stage and sing Jesus Loves Me, … these kids represent five generations of Songster Family singers keeping the southern gospel tradition alive, and while we’re at it, how bout a round of applause for Aunt Blabby Songster, who is celebrating 153 years in southern gospel music! And then there’s the Singing News, which would be little more than a pamphlet were it not to chronicle the births, deaths, illnesses, infirmities, marriages, and other personal milestones in the lives of performers and often their extended families. This, in addition to the enormously popular At Home feature (Here’s Aunt Blabby with her Gideon Bible collection!).

Yes, dear readers, I slurp all this up too every chance I get (I kid because I love, or maybe I should I say put the jest in the ingest). Lapping it up is what our favorite artists and the mostly unseen overlords of the southern gospel industry hope, want, and work to ensure that we do. Except when they don’t want us to. To quote myself, it’s as if the southern gospel world says to fans: “Please … over here look at us, look at us! … Hey! What are you looking at!?”

Whether it’s curiosity about messy personnel changes or inquiries about sordid sexcapades on or off the bus, if artists are being asked or having to answer uncomfortable questions about things they’d rather not discuss, it’s almost always because they taught their fans to imagine they have a pretty much total right to know about artists’ private lives. Can artists really be that shocked that fans don’t operate as if this is only a useful fiction of Christian music entertainment ministry?

Gold City fans have been invited to share in Tim Riley’s health problems over the years and mourn right along the with the Riley family in the tragic death of Doug Riley, to take just two prominent examples.  You can’t put these kinds of deeply personal experiences and tragedies out there for all to see and share (that is, these things weren’t just public knowledge through news outlets or the grapevine; the group chose to involve fans in these ordeals through press releases and on-stage comments and other active modes of engagement), and then suddenly discover you want fans to mind their own bidness when something like a sex scandal happens that you’d rather not publicize.

Or rather, you can try, but you shouldn’t be surprised when the fans you’ve conditioned to expect to publicly share in your private life aren’t prepared to respect your quixotically shifting notion of your own privacy. When you ride the tiger, you go where the tiger wants to go.

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  1. Wade wrote:


  2. NG wrote:

    Over at Music Scribe, Kyle is reporting that Brent Mitchell who was taking a break as Gold City’s tenor has been “permanently” replaced by fill-in Dan Keeton.


  3. DARREL PEATON wrote:

    gripe would have been a better word

  4. Irishlad wrote:

    Imagine a Group captured on a cruise with said fans… phew, Doris Claiborne wouldn’t be in it.

  5. William wrote:

    Got an email tonight, that I’m sure was sent to everyone on GC’s list:

    Brent Mitchell has decided to come off the road. As many of you know, Brent and Heather welcomed a new baby girl, Paislee, back in January. Brent says, “My 3 month old daughter, Paislee, has been very sick for the past few weeks and I feel I need to be with my family at this time. Family has always come first in my life, but I am so sad to leave my dream job. I did not think it was fair to Gold City for me to hold them back not knowing the future health of my little girl. Please pray for my family and for Paislee, that she will get through whatever her little body is going through right now. I will miss GC and cherish the little time I had there!” Daniel Riley says, “We will miss Brent. During his time here we have grown to love him. He will always be a part of the Gold City family. I know this was a very hard decision for him, but I admire him for making the right decision.”

  6. JD wrote:

    Dear Scribe,
    One of those times when what you say ought to be published and distributed to the masses.

  7. Haha! wrote:

    Angry fans on a cruise ship. Can only imagine.

  8. BUICK wrote:

    I was formulating a post for the next open thread but you have said it first and better.

    I will add that the outrage over immorality in the industry makes perfect sense. We say the medium is the message and we want quality musicianship (My Utmost for His Highest and all that). In SGM, the life of the the musician is an integral part of the medium. If I just wanted melodies, harmonies and rhythm with no particular concern for the meaning of the words or the morality of the singers, I would listen to Barbershop Qt music. Some of those boys do a really fine job. But I listen to SGM for the message even more than the music. The message rings hollow if the musicians don’t live it.

  9. William wrote:

    Just curious, how long do you have to be with a group to be able to participate in a reunion concert?

  10. Dixie Dawg wrote:

    Whew! Now I see why Magnolia wanted me to read your Blog more often. You’ve broken the code.

    I am amazed to find McLuhan being sited. “The medium is the message.” Thank you.

    “In SGM, the life of the the musician is an integral part of the medium.”

    Your statement doesn’t need my agreement. It is just plain true.
    Having been around SG a very short while, it appears to be a thinly veiled soap opera with a religious overlay.

    To commodify human suffering by wrapping it in a sentimental religious package sold for a price, trivializes both pain and the Gospel. Thousands upon thousands deal with cancer, automobile collisons, etc. every year. It seems that SG is afforded the priviledge of claiming their drama as special, while turning it into dollars.

    Something tells me that the SG groups are only one and maybe part of the study. The fan base may be more of the motivators than we might think.

    B. J. Thomas’s “Hooked on a feeling” may come closer to their description than I care to admit. It scalds me that Marx could be uncomfortably close with his “opiate of the people”.

    Addiction come in all shapes and sizes.

  11. Magnolia wrote:


    Excellent article and a very truthful observation of the business! It’s kinda like this……Look at me, please look at me, watch what I’m doing…….STOP looking at me……now, quit it! Sounds like elementary school! LOL

    To #8 - Buick,

    You might get a kick out of this thread on the Singing News Forum. Part of this thread was also posted on Music Scribe. Now, the thread is a little long, so you might want to get a cup of strong coffee and a comfortable chair! However, some interesting points were brought to the discussion!


  12. Ode wrote:

    8- Agreed, acting in tune with proclaimed beliefs is expected from a SG singer. If he gets caught with his pants down and the rumor mill starts, he pays the price, becomes damaged goods -band hires a substitute. Big deal! Maybe some call it news; here on earth we call it Tuesday. Occasional human shortcomings, fully expected.

    But messenger’s vices don’t affect the truth of the message. If that was true i’wouldnt be a believer-Christian history and present is way too nasty. Theologians and pastors, catholic and protestant, reassured Germans that Nazism was in full accord with the Biblical principles. The well-intentioned, pious people were committing horrendous acts for years, without regret or repentance. Most well documented examples of the ugly behavior of German Christians during the Third Reich prove how manipulative reading of scriptures actually came to justify the Holocaust. Witnesses of that, as well as the dirty part of SG history called racism, are still living among us…

    While human actions don’t affect the message authenticity,culture of “turd polish”,false pretence, cover-up and lies, however, DOES hurt the message and is not a scalable business model to increase SG ticket sales, btw ;) Public loves a repentant sinner, and hates a cocky religious asshole.
    Doug, good article.

  13. BUICK wrote:

    Ode, of course you are correct. I used a kind of shorthand when I said that the medium is the message. To tease that out, the medium is a vital component of the way the message is received and perceived. Phillips Brooks defined preaching as “truth through personality.” It is still truth even when the personality is flawed (as they all are). The new wine is new wine even when the old wineskin is brittle. When the old wineskin is brittle and it breaks, the wine, still as new and precious as before, spills and is wasted. To update the figure of speech, the Gospel is still good true news even when carried by cracked pots. But the crackpots prevent some from receiving the truth of the gospel. The [true] message really can be drowned out by the cacophony of the phony life.

    I apologize for taking a shorthanded way of saying what I meant. Again, you are correct and I was incomplete.

  14. JD wrote:

    Long ago and far away I remember two of THE bass singers having young ladies stashed away on the west coast, one of which was only 18, and nary a word was spoken. But I think back then people didnt expect that of SGS’s and the avenue for stories to spread wasn’t there. The crowd has changed, people who used to go to those concerts dont exist anymore. The people that do go are a little more street smart. After all as a society we have been through just about everything. Nothing is very sacred anymore. You slip up now and you are fair game. It has always gone on we just didnt know about it.

  15. Dixie Dawg wrote:

    Another take I have long thought of relative to SGM and their audience.

    Is there something implicit between the seducers and the seduced?

    The message when relationally translated may be something other than that of the Gospel. The Gospel message, assuming it is present, seems more a vehicle for a relational exchange than the content of the exchange.

    Seducers and the seduced. Both seem to enjoy the moment.

    The tell for me, when may mother-in-law said of a Gospel singer, “when he looks at you it’s as though he is undressing you with his eyes” My response to her. “Was that a prayer?”

    Maybe what goes through our mind while we sit in church should stay in our mind.

  16. cynical one wrote:

    #15 — Dixie Dawg — Yes, at least SOME things should stay in your mind.

    And that may have been just mother-in-law’s perception. She may have been telling more about her own weakness than the attitude of the singer.

  17. tommy wrote:

    I dont normally agree with you but this was well said. Of course their are lines that need to be understood but how can they stand on stage and beg us to adopt the new singer as part of the “family” and then get mad when people asks why they left. SG artists so deperately want to be treated like celebrities but get mad when they are.

  18. Ode wrote:

    13, Buick -Indeed so. Eloquently said. I saw us as rather adding to each other, not disagreeing :)The initial message is lost on so many due to the messenger’s lack of credibility. Thanks for the excellent quote by P. Brooks.

    14 - Baruch hashem, may God be praised!yes, nothing should be sacred when it comes to humans/their deeds. Quick look at what deep shit Roman Catholic C is in for keeping priests, cantors and such “sacred” and beyond reproach… reveals a poor business model, costs them millions dollars in damages and lost revenue.

  19. Bones wrote:

    #9 1 day.

  20. Bones wrote:

    #14 They had wads of money then.

  21. Tony Rush wrote:

    Buick #8 said, “The message rings hollow if the musicians don’t live it.”

    REPLY: Are you sure you’re able to tell the difference? How would you know if you were right?

  22. Jeremy W Horne wrote:

    As a former Southern Gospel Singer and a student of music history (AA vocal and AA piano Chipola College, Music Ed Troy University) I can probably shed the most light on the ministry… err… industry. There are many, many singers/musicians in Southern Gospel Music who understand its bi-racial birth and hold true to its Gospel message. These are also the many, many singers/musicians who never “make it big” because they only know how to minister the Gospel in song… they don’t know how to play the game. Now, while there are several “big name” artists that hold true to the Gospel, and while there are several “big name” artists who are truly Christians that are still works-in-progress and have some glaring character flaws that the Holy Spirit is still working on, there are countless individuals in the industry, from singers, to musicians, to group owners, to promoters, to producers, etc. etc. etc. whom I have personally seen make a mockery of the Christian walk they claim on stage with their back-stage antics.

    I remember as a child being blown away by a group I admired when I finally got to meet them after the singing in my home town. Wait a minute… actually I didn’t get to meet them… I’m allergic to cigarette smoke and therefore couldn’t get near their bus… it was also the first time I ever got a good whiff of liquor… and two young girls were being helped up into the bus for a personal tour… Having seen this as a child I knew there were wolves in SGM just as in anything else God has going. Satan will take nothing lying down… he will try to infiltrate every movement God is in. I understood this even as a child and did not let it get me down.

    But I was unprepared for the high prevalence of such behavior I later found in the industry behind the music I so dearly love. I’ve seen just about everything. A good friend of mine, a man of God with whom I still sing from time to time, told me about the first time he got to sing on the same stage with his childhood idol… he was mortified when he heard this man cursing at the “performers” on stage because one of the musicians missed a musical cue… which the crowd didn’t seem to notice. After letting the musician know what he was going to do to him when they got back to the bus in a profanity-laden tirade, he turned and nodded at my friend and simply said, “Hey. How’r you doin?” as if it was normal.

    The truth is that these people are human just like everyone else… some are genuine… a lot are not… but don’t let the phonies ruin your enjoyment of the music and remember that the message is true regardless of the messenger. But, also remember that God requires more of His messengers… one gospel singer was rumored to be a drunk for years, sometimes even arriving on stage with a slur… years later he was sober, but still spoke with a slur due to a stroke he suffered… coincidence? maybe, maybe not… but one thing is certain… God is not pleased with this mess. If it is His message that takes top priority then act like it. I’m not saying I expect perfection from the people in the industry… none of us are perfect… but a certain level of spiritual maturity, sincerity, and self control would be nice.

    To all those who are sincere in Southern Gospel Music, ignore all the mess, ignore all the drama, and ignore all the charts: remember that the music you sing was born out of the great revival of the late 1800s as a result of whites and blacks attending tent revivals together, going to church together for the very first time. Remember that God was moving then, and He is still moving now. I still love Southern Gospel Music… but I don’t read any publications about it anymore… it’s not relevant to the Gospel. The only charts you want to be on is the “I am doing what God wants me to do” chart and the “I am doing it with integrity” chart. Get a top 80 there and you’ll be doing well. Remember, do your best: but its the message that matters. Don’t try to sing higher than you can sing… or lower… I love a high tenor and a low bass… but that piercing high note and the floor-moving low note won’t get anyone into Heaven… the message, sung somewhere in the middle, will!!! Many will have great advice, but if they are telling you how to work your way up the charts or get bigger bookings, they are missing the point themselves. The object is to follow Christ and tell people about Him in song, not to chart your single. If you can do both, great. But the former is the mission of the Church… the latter is the mission of the world.

    -Pastor Jeremy Horne

  23. Charlie Tew wrote:

    Pastor Jeremy Horne. You have just hit the ultimate home run on being a Christian, I humbly thank you for saying what needs and should be said to all people proclaiming to be of faith in a living savior. Listening to siriusXM and was doing a search on Golden City after I had heard them on internet radio and was not aware that the GSM society needed to clean up it’s act.
    While it sounds to me like a bit more forgiving is in order for all parties concerned and a true changing of hearts to return to Christ is in order, I hope we all remember that we all fall in so many different directions so let’s don’t collect to many stones to throw at each other unless you have a catcher’s mit and outfit made of Kevlar. Thank you for your comments. From the HEart. c2

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