Singer/Songwriters in Southern Gospel

Songwriter Daryl Williams posted an insightful column over at SoGospelNews about singer/songwriters in Southern Gospel Music. [EDIT, 2/21/13. Broken link removed.] One thing he said, in particular, caught my eye:

There are still a few artists out there today that deliver their own great material, but not near as many as we had in the past. There is something special about hearing the songwriter sing their own song.

Is this quantifiably true?

Are there fewer good singer/songwriters then there used to be? Of course, we have prolific songwriters like Bill Gaither, Rodney Griffin, Joseph Habedank, Jim Brady, Mark Bishop, and Scotty Inman at the forefront, who frequently are supplying groups other than their own with material regularly, and we also have less prolific writers like Ernie Haase, Misty Freeman, Dustin Sweatman, Sheryl Farris, McCray Dove, Ernie Haase, Gary Casto, and Kim Collingsworth.

Fortunately, singer/songwriters are still a major part of the genre. But are they less so now then they used to be?

About Daniel J. Mount

Daniel Mount has written 3199 posts.

Daniel J. Mount is the founder and editor of Southern Gospel Journal.


For more about —and other Southern Gospel news and commentary—follow our RSS feed or sign up for our email updates!

27 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. How about Ernie Haase? LOL

    • He’s in there … and yes, he was in before your comment. I didn’t just edit him in. :)

      • I think Clarence was hinting at the fact that Ernie is in your list twice.

      • Aha! Now there I’m guilty. Oops! :oops:

      • I would be forever grateful to anyone who might be related to a Thomas J. Farris who wrote songs in 40′s and 50′ for Stamps/Baxter and others. When i was a youngster, Tom had a reel to reel tape recorder that he carried to the Singing Conventions (Van Buran County/Arkansas),My memories are so wonderful of my family’s participation in these singings. I so would like to know if Thomas Farris’s family would have any of these recordings. PLEASe, if you know of these relatives.

  2. Here a listto check out:
    Ellen Adney
    Tim Ard
    Kimberly Allen
    Rick Angel
    Ricky Atkinson
    Mary O. Bachmann
    Glenn Baker
    Delores Barr
    Linda Barton
    The Bledsoes
    Donna Beauvais
    Kathy Joy Bell
    Chris Binion
    Mark Bishop
    The Bledsoes
    Sandy Bloemer
    Gary Boytim
    Jim & Melissa Brady
    Lynda Bridwell
    Michael Bright
    Shelly Brown
    Stephanie Brown
    Bill Burns
    Jack Cannaday
    Bobby Carter
    Nancy Capps
    Steven Cheney
    David Clark
    Larry M Collie
    Michael Combs
    Carolyn Connor
    Jeanette Cooke
    Michael Combs
    Gerald Crabb
    Roddy & Eric Crochet
    Eddie Crook
    Phil Cross
    Ernie Dawson
    Jimmy Dooley
    Chris & Marlene Downing
    Sammy Easom
    Naomi Edwards
    Barbara Fairchild
    Penny & Paul Ferguson
    Billy Fields
    Charles& Glenda Fitzgerald
    Freedom Trio
    Frances Fulton
    Marty Funderburk
    Iva Gardner
    Dee Gaskin
    Alan Godsey
    GospelSongWriter
    Sylvia M Green
    Tim Greene
    Rodney Griffin
    Rebecca Griffis
    Phil Grimes
    Rebecca Griffis
    Donald Harding
    Wayne Haun
    Patti Hawkins
    Joel Hemphill
    Shirley Henderson
    Laverne Hill
    Kenny Hinson
    Ronny Hinson
    Dewayne Holt
    Eric Horner
    Katherine Howell
    Steve Hurte
    Curtis Hyler
    Cheryl Jackson
    James Jackson
    Gordon Jensen
    Shane & Denise Jeter
    Annette Johnson
    Mark Jones
    Rex & Vonda Jones
    Betty Jordan
    Donna Kazenske
    Ed King
    Sharron Ray King
    Danny & Dee Kramer
    Sheri LaFontaine
    Denver Lamb
    Thomas Dwight Latham
    Craig W Ledford
    Debbie Lewis
    Ray & Laura Lewis
    Joel Lindsey
    Tim Lovelace
    Tim Lovell
    Reggie Lovorn
    Mark Lowry
    Moni Lutz
    Mark Mathes
    Kim McLean
    Annie McRae
    Elmo Mercer
    Kris Miller
    Sandra Miller
    Walt Mills
    Quinton Mills
    Randy Mobley
    Tim Monroe
    Rosalee Moore
    Van & Kathryn Morris
    Max R New
    Gerald Newsom
    David Patillo
    Squire Parsons
    Rebecca Peck
    Larry Petree
    Candy Pfifer
    David Pitillo
    John Poe
    Jeff Purdue
    Sally Quick
    Lois Reece
    Marjorie Reece
    Robin & Kim Rhoades
    Brenda Robinson
    John Darin Rowsey
    Kyla Rowland
    Danny Rushing
    Shane Sawyer
    Bill Schell
    Floyd & Christine Scott
    Debra Shepherds
    Cheryl Smith
    Sheri Smith
    Sue Smith
    Paula Stefanovich
    Ronnie & Beverly Sparks
    Kevin Spencer
    Kevin Stokes
    Jay Stone
    Michael Sykes
    Gerald Sweatman
    Randy Swift
    Garrin Templeton
    Terry & Carmen Thrasher
    Terry Tidwell
    Kathy Timmins
    JoeTomlinson
    Jack Toney
    Gene & Ann Young
    Randy Vader
    KennaTurner West
    Danny White
    Scott Wilemon
    Dianne Wilkinson
    Dave Williford
    Loretta Withee
    Lanny Wolfe
    Tony Wood
    Sandra Wright

  3. Even the great writers don’t churn out homeruns all the time. Ronny Hinson has turned out a lot of fluff, and Ernie Haase’s “Happy Birthday, Anniversary Too” was, in my opinion, completely pointless.

    • What may be “fluff” for some often turn out to be signature things for the given person or group. I think it’s good to have a mix of good, scripturally/spiritually powerful songs and some more “fluffy” ones. Even some of the greatest songwriters out there right now write what you call “fluff” songs like Rodney Griffin and Bill Gaither.

  4. #2 – I’m not sure you got the point of this topic. It is singer/songwriters, and while people like Joel Lindsey, Dianne Wilkinson, Rebecca Peck, and Marty Funderburk are some of the best writers out there today, they do not sing in groups, at least on the level that I feel Daniel intended this message. Correct me if I’m wrong, Daniel.

    I think Daniel is referring to people like Ronny Hinson, Dottie Rambo, Lanny Wolfe, and Joel Hemphill, just to name a few from years past who basically wrote everything their groups sang on every project they did, and did it at a high level of consisency on a national level. Other than Bill Gaither and Mark Bishop, I’d say that very small percentage today currently supply even 50 percent of their group’s material. Rodny Griffin would come closest. Gerald Crabb did it when the Crabbs were together as one.

    I do think one major thing to consider is the quality of music. Yes, some writers may write everything their group does, but are the songs good quality? Would the notably best writers of today think the songs were good if they were at a round table discussing them? Do they all sound alike? Etc. I think quality is a major factor. Just because a writer writes all the songs for their group doesn’t necesarily mean they should.

    • . . . my feelings are not hurt . . . really!

      • Gee, Woody, I wasn’t the one that left you out!! LOL! Take it up with GospelMusicFan in post #2! LOL! :)

        I imagine Belinda Smith, Twila LaBar, Barbara Huffman, Marcia Henry, Barry Weeks, Sandy Blythe, and Sandy Knight would have liked a mention, as well.

    • I agree whole-heartedly. I have noticed on some albums where 8-9 out of 10 songs are written or co-written by the same individual, always a group member, that some of them don’t really come out the best. I get the feeling that the producer said, “OK, we need a fast song here” (or a slow song, or a sad song, or what-have-you) and the writer just sat down and made something up to fit the bill. (I really did hear someone on the Gospel Greats talking about this like it was an accomplishment.) Not infrequently, a song like that ends up being just “filler.”

      Of course there isn’t just one way to write a song, but one likes to feel that there was a little inspiration behind it. On the other hand, as Gerald Wolfe said (jokingly), “Every album has to have a dead spot.” Unfortunately, I think this can be a good way to have them!

      I realize I’m being ultra-nit-picky here! An album with 8 home runs is a tremendous accomplishment, so why should I sit around wishing that it had one more on it? I just thought I’d mention it, since we were on the subject … perfection is a nice goal, anyway.

      • I agree, Amy. And a “filler” song shouldn’t be a lesser quality song. A lot of times groups pick out songs for their projects that are the type of song they need on stage. So, while a song may not be that song that would grab radio’s attention, it may be just what the group needs to open up with or use as an invitation song. But it can still be of good quality.

        And I think that one person writing each and every song over a long span of time can sometimes magnify that writer’s weaknesses as much as it does to showcase their talent.

        And projects that have 8 songs that I really like are very few and very far between.

      • 99% of the time they’re Greater Vision, for me! (I’m kind of being more transparent than I meant to be here … )

    • No, Brady, you’re right … I was talking about artist/performing songwriters.

  5. Just to let you know Daniel, you have Ernie Haase in that list twice. Once in the beginning and once towards the middle.

  6. Hey, Daniel…you have a great blog site! I was interested, of course, in the comments you’d receive on this thought-provoking question. I will mention one thing…”fluff” songs. Even if a song is just the greatest, most rockin’, up-tempo SG song ever, with the hottest track, it’s more important than ever that this type song have a strong lyrical content (I would actually prefer to say “doctrinal”, but everyone will know what I mean…lyrics of substance). Of all the things I’m passion about concerning songwriting (and that would be EVERYTHING), I have the strongest feelings about that. Even my “White Flag” song which has been SO much fun for Clayton and the Triumphant Quartet is a song about urging someone to accept Christ, and then go out and witness to his friends. So, that’s just a word from a non-artist writer who loves it more than ever at this age in my life (old!), and more blessed than ever. Please pray for ALL the songwriters…especially in these times we’re living in. We don’t have long to get the message out!

    • Dianne,

      Thank you so much for commenting. It is always so fascinating to hear thoughts from songwriters. Thank you for your very valuable insight!

    • “Even if a song is just the greatest, most rockin’, up-tempo SG song ever, with the hottest track, it’s more important than ever that this type song have a strong lyrical content (I would actually prefer to say “doctrinal”, but everyone will know what I mean…lyrics of substance).”

      I couldn’t agree more!

  7. #5. I agree, Meagan. Not every song can or should be a huge power ballad. “Fluff” is good–it makes for a well-balanced program. But the “fluff” songs still need to be of good quality.

    If a writer’s fast songs all sound the same and all his/her slow songs sound the same, etc, it honestly showcases the writer as being very one-dimensional. A good gospel song needs to be creatively unique, Biblically sound, and written technically accurate. And just because a song is popular with the masses of people, doesn’t mean that the professional writers, people who actually know what they’re doing and have the songs to back it up, would agree.

    Music is so subjective–much like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, musical beauty lies within the ear of the listener. What one person thinks is the greatest song in the world, another might say is only mediocre. There are those songs that are undeniably incredible by anyone’s standards, where a majorty of fans and writers alike say “this is an awesome song.” But there are also those that fans love, and writers sit back and scratch their heads and say, “Why?”

  8. To answer your question, Daniel, there is something interesting about hearing an artist convey his or her own song. The whole idea of hearing a songwriter sing his or her own songs allows the listener to view the songwriter’s viewpoint as they wrote their songs. Rarely an artist or even the demo for the artist’s listening has been able to display the song with the original feeling given to the songwriter when the song was written. I like to hear people like Joseph Habedank, Bill & Gloria Gaither, Karen Peck Gooch, Kim Collingsworth, Joel & LaBreeska Hemphill, Jim Brady, Rodney Griffin, Ronny Hinson, and Mark Bishop sing their own songs simply because they express the song like no other artist can–straight from the heart.

    • I do agree that the songwriters themselves give a uniquely expressive performance to their own songs at times. However, I recall reading an interview with Libbi Perry Stuffle where she talked about how they meet with Kyla Rowland and pray and discuss her songs as they are choosing something of hers to put on a CD. I also remember Rebecca Peck introducing her song, His Life for Mine, on the Song of a Lifetime DVD before the Talley Trio sang it. She talked about the fact that she felt that it was a gift to her that the Talley Trio chose to record it because they sing it the way she wanted it to be sung when she wrote it. It’s always great to hear writers sing their own songs. But sometimes artists can convey the spirit, heart, and power of a song enough to perform it incredibly well also.

    • I’ve noticed this, too. When I got Far Beyond This Place I was looking at the lyrics before having a chance to listen to some of the songs. When I saw the first verse to “He Washed My Feet,” I felt that Rodney, as the writer, would have to be the one to sing that in order to really get it across. (I can’t remember how it goes right now, but it’s about Judas.)

  9. Actually, #8 Andrew, this topic has two questions. The last question is “are singer/songwriters” less so now than they used to be. And that answer, in my opinion, is “it depends.”

    If you’re talking singers who write some for their own group and/or a few songs for other groups here and there, I believe those types of writers are more prevalent than they used to be. That would be the likes of Joseph Habedank, Scott Inman, Jim Brady, etc.

    But if you’re talking about singers who write their entire repertoire or at least 90 percent–Gerald Crabb, Michael Combs, Mark Bishop, Phiil Cross, Ronny Hinson, among others–then I would say that those types of writers are probably around the same as in years past. What I personally think is great is that some of the writers we remember from the 70′s like Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither, Ronny Hinson and Joel Hemphill are still around and continuing to write great songs as far as I know. Had we not lost Dottie, I’m sure she would have still been at it, too.

  10. This may be off topic slightly but…my favorite songwriter, from the ones you mentioned Daniel, is McCray Dove…he is able to write in a special way with unique chord progressions, and so on.

  11. We recently just got offered a recording contract and with the legalities of the contract it states that we must be the songwriter or have the rights to the music does anyone know of any songwriters for Gospel Music that would like to have them recorded? Please let me know thank you and God Bless.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. SouthernGospelBlog.com » Singer/Songwriters in Southern Gospel, chapter 2 - [...] had intended yesterday’s post as a standalone post. But something came up in the comments which comes up frequently …