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?Email this Post