Who’s the father? ctd

As you might have seen, David Bruce Murray has made the case for the other JD - JD Sumner, rather than James D. Vaughan - as the “one person [who] contributed the most to the Southern Gospel industry we have today”:

Every significant group in Southern Gospel today has been affected by some past act of J D Sumner. They continue to place a high priority on his contributions whether they want to or not. Any time an artist sings on the stage at NQC, steps on a tour bus, sings a Sumner song or simply aspires to sing in front of a massive audience, they testify that J D Sumner was the Father Of Southern Gospel Music.

Based on the criteria DBM values, he’s probably on to something. The idea of Vaughan as the founder of southern gospel has always been as much about people in our time looking for examples in memory of what southern gospel could or should be: namely, quartets of conspicuously pious, smart, conservative southern patrician gennulmuhn with an ear for harmony and eye for selling the gospel in song. (What’s that you say? You’d like to hear more about this? Well … how convenient … I’ve written a book that includes this topic preeee-cisely … Chapter 3 to be exact … you know, in case you hadn’t heard and all)

But of course southern gospel in actuality today is also a lot of other things that Vaughan (or the image we have constructed of him in our time, at least) never was or could be: brash, loud, ticky-tacky flea-markety, flamboyant, a little (or a lot) cornball and/or cornpone, endearingly and aggressively not genteel, and - this last one is really important - not traditional or classic quartets.

So if not Vaughan, who? Since DBM has weighed in persuasively already with one possibility, let me offer another option, not of the omnipresent southern gospel good ole boy, but rather of a figure who convincingly captures and comprehensively conveys what I’ll call the southern gospel zeitgeist today. With apologies to regular reader JS, I give you Vestal Goodman.

If Sumner is the quintessence of midcentury southern gospel bidness innovation, Vestal and the Goodmans are the embodiment of the southern gospel gestalt. To quote myself (chapter 5, page 146 to be exact):

“A large part of the Goodmans’ success in the 1960s and 1970s is attributable to the fact that they offered audiences a new, unguardedly emotive way to express what it felt like to be an evangelical from the South in postmodern America [compared to the traditional male quartets]. Vestal Goodman, the archetypal gospel diva otherwise known as the queen of southern gospel, came to epitomize not just the Goodman Family itself but also the dominant style of highly emotional southern gospel expression [that’s been] popular since the 1960s. To ‘classic quartet’ traditionalists, “the Goodmans ruined everything,” as one performer once put it to me in conversation. Nevertheless in her popularity and the southern gospel persona she typified,” Goodman is southern gospel, and southern gospel is Vestal Goodman.

But as I hope you’ve gathered, this is happily debatable. So go ahead. Give it try. If not James D. Vaughan, then who?

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  1. irishlad wrote:

    DBM, oh yes i have to agree with you 100%, i even “warmed” to ygg’s assessment. :)

  2. Wade wrote:

    Gawd I thought I was the first person on here that said the Goodmans screwed it up for everybody!!!

    But the Oaks should still thank them!!!

  3. observor wrote:

    I do not think we should overlook the impact of Dottie Rambo as well. I would not say that she would be a “founder”, but i think she and the Rambos had a more subtle but lasting impact. From the style and type of songs that she wrote to the harmony and sound of the group. There was no doubt that groups like the Greenes were heavily influenced by the Rambos. And now there are many trios and mixed groups that copy the sound of the Greenes early years (whether they admit it or not). This style really came from the Rambos. I think to some extent they took the sound (harmony) of the industry in a different direction.

  4. weber wrote:

    For what its worth, the Goodmans ruined gospel music at least for the Nashville area dating back to the all night singings,, they got to big for there britches raise the price of the admission and people said hell no we wont go…

  5. NG wrote:

    I think a good case could be made for the Blackwood Brothers. First of all, some of JD’s achievements (bus travel, NQC) might not have been achieved without the clout and financial support of the Blackwoods. But as well the Blackwoods were probably the first nationally known SGM quartet thanks to being on RCA Victor and to winning Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (TV show) and both those happened before JD joined them. On RCA they recorded the first album by a gospel quartet. The Blackwoods were so popular in the late 40s they formed two quartets under the same name. As well as JD, other individual members have claims to fame beyond being quartet members. James was a marketing genius who started a record store that shipped records all over the country. One-time pianist Jackie Marshall is credited by some (including Eldridge Fox) with changing quartet music the most when he had the singers switch parts inverting the harmonies.

  6. carl wrote:

    How many founding fathers can be fixed on the head of a phonograph needle.

    It’s a fun idea to play around with, but it’s not a game anybody could ever win, unless we use pin-the-tail rules.

    I have a list as long as both Vaughan’s and Kieffer’s arms when it comes to major innovators and contributors to the roots traditions that are stylistic or canonical precursors of today’s Southern gospel. I want to add Showalter, for one, but there are several other candidates in the field of publishing, also full time traveling quartets (before Vaughan’s day), and very early recording, whose works were direct precedents for what came to be called Southern gospel.

    About today’s Southern gospel, I can’t think of a single person or group that embodies the zeitgeist or gestalt of SG. Especially for “gestalt” the “singing” is the embodiment. I tried to think of someone by wondering if I had to give an in introductory lecture to a group who knew nothing about SG, and could use only a single recording to illustrate as many points as possible, what recording should I choose?

    What single person has the most influence on today’s genre? If the criteria are contribution to the canon, stylistic influence (especially with respect to stylistic range), commercial success, and political clout I don’t even have to type out “Bill Gaither”. Funny thing is that he’s not Southern and doesn’t pretend to be, and to my ear, neither is his own musical style.

    Somebody who’s played a big role in defining today’s Southern gospel music by heavily influencing the popular conception of what the genre is–what it includes, how it has evolved, what it excludes, and who’s in it–is Jerry Kirksey.

  7. irishlad wrote:

    When i think about all(early) things Sg two people and one song come to mind: Frank & Virgil Stamps & the song: “Give the World a Smile” :)

  8. Jonathan Sawrie wrote:

    Excellent point irishlad.

    Yes, I’m from the other side of the river (and that weights my opinion), but an honest discussion of this topic cannot be had without examining the influence of J.R. Baxter and V.O. Stamps. An influence largely ignored in Mr. Terrell’s work. Dr. Goff went somewhat further.

    The father? Perhaps either Vaughn or Kieffer. But without the nurturing that took place in Dallas, what was born in Lawrenceburg might not have ever come of age.

  9. weber wrote:

    So the Blackwoods started off with two groups traveling under the name? Now they have six groups traveling under the name…all of which cannot hold a candle to the originals…

  10. cynical one wrote:

    Who’s your daddy?

    Maybe several great-uncles are listed here.

    And might Gaither be considered the Godfather of sgm?

  11. ode wrote:

    Montserrat Caballe of white gospel, oh Vestal. A queen, indeed. Got the book, will start reading soon.


    Wise point by Carl, as usual. Would be hard name just one “father“ of a volatile music genre that’s in a state of perpetual change. Brings to mind similar example- the criminal history of Chicago(to honor the state of DH’s book publisher). Most historians name notorious Al Capone or Sam Giancana as fathers of the city’s organized crime, despite the mob lord McDonald’s case happening 40 years prior to Capone. After the end of prohibition it all became mostly limited to racketeering and gambling, which the recent law made history by legally allowing land casinos, in addition to already existing riverboat.

    Fast forwarding to now, the mob crime scene is exclusively white collar and high end, from corruption, bribery, illegal lobbying to an attempt to sell the senate seat (these extra boring details provided for brits, auzzies, Mississippians and other AFL guests unaware of US affairs) . Currently the magnificent IL, the state of my alma mater, boasts 6 former governors charged with federal crimes, 4 of them serving(ed) prison sentences-

    -something young Capone, starting a bootlegging career at speakeasies in Elmwood Park could ‘ve never imagined . Neither did Vaughan, Shmaughan, etc possibly foresaw the great revolution that Bill Gaither, imho, a genius, made in this genre. I vote for cynical’s suggestion.

  12. irishlad wrote:

    9,well Web my old son, i tend to agree w/you …however there have been some post originals who have been really good. You only have to look at the 70’s/80’s line-up of: Hoffmaster, James, james jr & Turner..’nough said.

  13. Ken Qualls wrote:

    There were many who contibuted to Southern Gospel and many who may have “ruined” it. Some who made significant contributions in the earliest years are no longer remembered by most people.

    On October 20, 1927, The Stamps Quartet recorded its early hit “Give The World A Smile” for Victor, which become the Quartet’s theme song.

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