This list aims to be inclusive of Daywind, Crossroads, Horizon, Sonlite, Vine, Gaither Music Group, Stow Town, New Haven, Difference Media, Song Garden, Mansion, and major independent group releases where known.
6/4: Show Me Your Way, Canton Junction (Difference Media / EMI CMG)
6/4: Live at Cornerstone DVD, Canton Junction (Difference Media / EMI CMG)
6/18: He’s Alive, Barry Rowland & Deliverance (Crossroads)
6/18: A Song Everyday, The McKameys (Horizon/Crossroads)
6/18: Front Row Live, Kingsmen (Horizon/Crossroads)
6/18: Duck Hunter’s Bluegrass Gospel (Daywind)
6/25: Surrender, Adam Crabb (Daywind)
7/16: These Truths, Old Paths (Crossroads)
7/16: No Two Ways About It, Inspirations (Horizon/Crossroads)
7/16: Hit Replay Again, Tribute Quartet (Sonlite/Crossroads)
7/23: Here Comes Sunday, Wilburn & Wilburn (Daywind)
7/23: Old Soul, Wayne Haun (Stow Town / Provident) (This is an album of love songs, so it’s not technically a Southern Gospel release. But it is newsworthy enough and of enough interest to include here.)
Is this list missing anything significant, especially among major independent releases? Let us know in the comments!
Past the Press Release is an interview series featuring a new member of a professional Southern Gospel group. It’s a chance to look past the standard “excited to be here” press release comment and learn a little more about them. In this case, the column title is somewhat of a misnomer, because the Inspirations’ official announcement that Stephen Srein is their new lead singer is coming a little later today on Facebook. So watch for that, but meanwhile, let’s get to know Stephen a little better!
Daniel: Which artists were your first exposure to Southern Gospel and sparked a desire to sing it yourself?
Stephen: My very first exposure was the Gaither Vocal Band album I Do Believe. It was given to me by a great friend and helped encourage me through some rough times as a teenager. I then began to be introduced to groups such as The Kingdom Heirs. At a Kingdom Heirs concert, Arthur Rice took about twenty-five minutes to talk to me about singing. It was that conversation that sparked the desire to sing in quartets. (especially the lead part)
Daniel: Have you sung in any groups prior to joining the Inspirations?
Stephen: I sang in some regional groups while I was in college: Sacred Heritage Quartet (with Jon Epley and current Promise tenor T.J. Evans) and also a group called Committed Quartet.
Several years ago, I was listening to a message where a very well-known preacher, for whom I have the highest respect, said that Southern Gospel songs were theologically shallow, all about streets of Gold and not about God.
While I knew that Southern Gospel’s songs dealt with a broader range of topics, I also knew that many songs would not come to my own mind. In November 2011, I started looking at one book of the Bible each week, asking for your input on suggesting songs drawn from these passages. This series can serve as a resource for addressing criticisms of this nature.
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This genre’s roots lie in the American South during and before the Great Depression. The worse things get around us, the more vivid and real Heaven becomes, and the more meaningful the promises of Heaven are to us. So, yes, Southern Gospel has always had a fair number of Heaven songs. But equating Heaven songs with weak theology is a false dichotomy. Just because a song is about Heaven doesn’t mean it has weak theology! We could name examples of Heaven songs with deep theology all day; I’ll just mention two comparatively recent songs recorded by Southern Gospel artists, “A Pile of Crowns” and “A Higher Throne.” Granted, Southern Gospel has always had a fair number of Heaven songs. Provided the focus is where it needs to be—on Heaven’s King—that’s hardly a bad thing.
Perhaps the preacher’s only exposure to our genre was the Southern Gospel of the 1950s and 1960s. It would be a fair self-critique of our genre’s history to admit that our genre’s songwriters’ attempts to employ the popular idioms and catch-phrases of those decades did produce a fair number of shallow “man-in-the-sky” songs. (If some of them seem absurdly dated now, let that stand as a warning to any of today’s Christian songwriters who are trying a little too hard to be cool!) Of course, numerous richly theological classics also came from those decades and endure to this day.
I believe a major shift in Southern Gospel songwriting occurred after the rise of contemporary praise and worship music in the 1970s and 1980s. While I will try to avoid committing the same error that prompted this post, painting other genres with inaccurate overgeneralizations, it would be fair to say that there have been some repetitive praise choruses and some double entendré CCM songs that could be taken either about human love or God’s love. I believe that Southern Gospel artists and songwriters reacted to these trends by steadily moving in the direction of deeper and more solid theology.
From a standpoint of theology in lyrics, I believe that Southern Gospel is now the strongest it has ever been. There are still theologically shallow songs; I collect hymnals, and have several hundred from over the last several hundred years, and regrettably, every generation of Christian music has had its weak songs. But a rising number of writers and artists care deeply about rich theology in their lyrics.
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I would make the case that the crux of our genre lies in understanding life today, with its blessings and its trials, through two lenses—looking back to Calvary to understand life today in light of the Cross, and looking forward to understand today’s trials in the light of Heaven.
As with every other genre of Christian music, Southern Gospel has its weaknesses. It has its songs with bad theology and its hypocrites. Yet, today more than ever, it has songs with rich theology. In fact, I grew up on CCM and Praise & Worship; it Southern Gospel’s richly theological songs that drew me in becoming a fan of the genre nine years ago.
Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs. In a special Memorial Day edition, here’s the story behind one of Southern Gospel’s all-time greatest songs, “Statue of Liberty.”
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the Southern Gospel classic “Statue of Liberty.”
Its writer, Neil Enloe of the Couriers, still vividly recalls the occasion that inspired the song: “We were invited to sing for an afternoon and evening boat excursion on the Hudson River. The Assemblies of God young people from both New Jersey and New York were together and had a boat ride. There were 2,400 kids on this big excursion boat we were using, but the auditorium only seated about 400 people. So we had to have six little twenty-minute concerts to get everyone in. At the end of one concert, it would take five or ten minutes for the people to leave, and then that many minutes for the next crowd to get back in.”
“During a break between those concerts,” he continues, “Dave [Kyllonen] and I both stepped out on the deck to get some fresh air. By now, the sun had gone down, and the lights of New York were beautiful. We went back in and did another one, and came back out after that. And this time, we were leaning against the outer rail, just watching the kids hold hands, and all that.”
“All of a sudden, it got quiet. Everyone goes ‘ooh’ and ‘aah,’ and we thought, ‘What on earth’s going on?’”
They turned to see the Statue of Liberty. “Boy, there she was, right above us. Everything American in me rose up. But I have a greater citizenship, and so my heart turned to that, too.”
He turned to Dave Kyllonen and said, ‘You know, there’s a song in there somewhere!”
Dave said, “Yeah, sure! Remember, we sing Gospel Music. Where’s the Gospel in the Statue of Liberty?”
Enloe replied, “It’s in there.”
The song took him three months to write. He explains his painstaking writing and editing process this way: “I just don’t let lyrics flow. I am terribly, terribly critical of my own lyrics. I don’t want to say something that’s not quite right. So I worked, and worked, and worked, and I revised, revised, revised. If there’s any success at all I’ve had as a writer, it’s been in the revision process, because what comes off of my tongue doesn’t really fly most of the time. I have to write it down and look at it and say, ‘No, that’s not right. How can I say that better?”
After he had completed the song, he sang it at a Couriers concert, which, as he recalls, was in a Methodist church near Allentown, Pennsylvania. He sang it as a solo for three months, “because evolution will set in. I did not want it to lose its direction and its feel. So I did it for three months so Dave and Duane [Nicholson] would not know that song any other way.”
After those three months, they began singing it as a group. “It took us a month to lock it in vocally,” he remembers. “It’s just a very strenuous song. If you notice, the melody starts in the basement and ends in the attic. The range is so wide that it almost takes a group to do it justice, although Larnelle Harris did it well.”
Enloe can be humble and rather understated; he observes, “Anyway, we recorded it three times, four times, depending on what the grouping, and it doesn’t seem to want to go away, for some reason.”
Though songs that combine patriotic themes with a Christian message are now common to the point of commonplace, the concept was revolutionary at the time. “Statue of Liberty” was among the first of its kind, and still stands at the head of its class. It is one of those songs that has been often imitated but never surpassed.
The song immediately caught on like wildfire. In the 1970s, the Blackwood Brothers, Blue Ridge Quartet, Cathedrals, Heaven Bound, Jerry and the Goffs, the Kingsmen, London Parris and the Apostles, and the Speer Family recorded the song. The song has established itself as a classic with its consistent presence in the genre ever since. In the 1980s, the Cathedrals and Hoppers each recorded versions. The Dixie Echoes, Glen Payne, and the Gaither Homecoming Friends each recorded versions in the 1990s. In the 2000s, Anthony Burger, the Cumberland Quartet, Ivan Parker (with the Gaither Homecoming Friends), Liberty Quartet, the Mark Trammell Quartet, and Triumphant Quartet all have recorded the song.
Last year, on the Fourth of July, Couriers tenor Duane Nicholson revealed a little-known chapter in the song’s history:
Neil Enloe would not reveal this to anyone so I will, after all these years! He was approached by officials coordinating the festivities for the nation’s 200th Birthday that was televised nationally to millions of people to use his song “Statue of Liberty.” The only problem was that they wanted him to change the second verse. Neil kindly thanked them for the invitation but declined to do so. His remark was that God gave Him the idea for the song and the second verse was the main theme of the song. He refused to compromise!
[UPDATE, 7 PM]: Gold City’s bus engine caught fire this morning. There were minor injuries (to Tim Riley’s leg) when a fire extinguisher malfunctioned. They have made other transportation arrangements and expect to complete their weekend of concerts. It is unclear how much of the damages will be covered by insurance.
Clayton Inman had to miss a recent Triumphant Quartet concert, so Jeff Stice sang “The Old White Flag” in his place. Jamie Minchey captured this priceless moment on SocialCam, here (hat tip, Lauren). This has to be one of the funniest things that ever happened at a Triumphant concert; don’t miss it!
Last month, the Dixie Melody Boys announced that baritone Steven Cooper’s would be transitioning to the bass guitar position, after his doctor prescribed several years of vocal rest. Yesterday evening, they sent out a press release announcing his replacement: They have hired Aaron Dishman as their new baritone/pianist.
Dishman had filled in several years ago at the pianist position. “We fell in love with his spirit,” bass singer and manager Ed O’Neal stated. “When this came open, we knew he would be a great fit.”
Tenor and publicist Matt Felts added, “We are excited to have Aaron join us. When he came to audition and sat down at the piano to sing us a song, you could feel God’s spirit. He will add so much to our concerts and I know the fans will love him.”
The Dixie Melody Boys are currently accepting applications for the lead singer position vacated yesterday by Mike Rogers, who moved to Brian Free & Assurance
Last night, Brian Free & Assurance announced that Mike Rogers is their new baritone singer. Brian Free stated:
When I received the audition info for Mike I was very impressed with his vocal ability and the gift to deliver a song. After spending some time with him, his wife Bekki and daughter Coraline at my home, I knew he was the one God had sent to be a member of our family. I love his heart and the love he has for people. He will be a wonderful addition to BFA.
Having over 300 people apply for the job, it was a hard decision due to all the talent I heard. I want to thank each person who took their time and effort to apply for the position. I am truly honored that so many wanted to be a part of our ministry. I know God has a place and time for you to use your talent for him.
Mike Rogers added:
The warmth and humility from Brian and the guys when I auditioned made me feel this was truly a God-thing, and confirmed for me that I wanted to be a part of their ministry. BFA is very family-oriented, which means a lot to me. Ministry is important, but after God, family is top priority. Quartet music doesn’t get any better than BFA. They are top notch, and I am honored to join them.
Rogers is the latest graduate of Ed O’Neal University. He was introduced to Southern Gospel when he joined the Dixie Melody Boys, ten months ago. (The day his hire there was announced, we interviewed him, here.)
Dixie Melody Boys owner Ed O’Neal commented, “We wish Mike and his family the best.” Tenor/publicist Matt Felts added, “Change can be hard but also exciting. History has proven that every time a singer has left, God has brought us another great addition to the Dixie Melody Boys. We know God has someone coming that will be the right fit for years to come.” The Dixie Melody Boys are accepting auditions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE, 5/25/13: The Dixie Melody Boys have issued this press release:
As many of you read last week, Mike Rogers resigned as our lead and will join Brian Free and Assurance in June. We will miss Mike. He has been a blessing to us and we know he has a bright future wherever God leads him in the future. We have begun to search for a new member of our team. This is truly an exciting time for our group. Over the last two years, we have been blessed to see the Dixie Melody Boys rise back up to the top of Gospel music. We are currently in the studio working on a new project that is sure to be a milestone recording for us. This album will be finished released shortly after the addition of a new lead singer. Last week, we announced that we have hired Aaron Dishman as our new baritone and piano player. With Steven Cooper moving to bass guitar, we know the fans will love seeing us add live music back to our program.
Ed O’Neal has set the standard in Gospel music for having the very best talent in his group through the years. We plan to keep that tradition alive for many years to come. Working for a true legend like Ed is a special opportunity. We are currently seeking the very best person available for this posistion. Our producer and Executive VP of Song Garden Music Group David Staton had this to say. “This is a rare opportunity for a singer. The Dixie Melody Boys are iconic and the next lead singer has a chance to become part of something special. This next album will allow them to make their mark on Gospel music as a great vocalist. The Dixie Melody Boys are set to be the group to watch over the next decade.” …
We will be accepting applications at email@example.com. We look forward to hearing some great singers. We covet your prayers through this process and your support for the group.
As multiple online sources havereported, Roger and Kirk Talley’s father R.C. “Red” Talley passed away this afternoon. He had been ill for some time. He was preceded in death by his wife, Connie Talley, in 2010. The visitation and funeral will be on Monday.
It’s never a good time for a parent to pass away, but some are decidedly worse than others. Debra Talley is currently in a Nashville hospital with a concussion. Her chair fell off the back row of the stage at yesterday’s Gaither Homecoming video recording.
Please keep the Talleys in your prayers!
UPDATE (5/23): Debra has been released from the hospital and is on the mend.
Yesterday afternoon, The Perrys announced on their Facebook page that Joseph Habedank is leaving the group. Habedank offered this statement:
After 10 years of having the great privilege to serve with the Perrys, I have decided to step down as Lead Singer at this time. Libbi and I talked earlier this week, and while I would never want to abandon her in such a great time of need, sometimes The Lord has other plans. There aren’t enough words for me to express how truly grateful I am for both Tracy and Libbi giving me the opportunity that they have. They are like parents to me and I love them dearly. I will miss them.
To the Gospel Music community, thank you all for loving and accepting me over the years. I never dreamed that The Lord would allow me to feel so loved by the fans of Gospel Music. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
As for my future, only The Lord knows what He has in store. I am confident of this one thing tho; I am absolutely nothing without Him and I only want His perfect will for my life. My wife, Lindsay, and I both covet your prayers in this time of transition. We love you all.
With a grateful heart, Joseph Habedank
Libbi Perry Stuffle added her own thoughts:
While it saddens me that Joseph is leaving, we definitely respect his and Lindsay’s need to reevaluate their lives and future. He has been like a son to me and Tracy. Although he is leaving our group, we will always consider him part of our family.
As for the Perry’s, we will continue on. It is my plan to be back on the road as soon and as much as possible. I don’t have all the answers right now, but God is in control. Thank you for your love and prayers for me, Tracy, Jared, Bryan, and Leah; and your continued support of the group.
In His Grip, Libbi
At the time of the stroke, Joseph Habedank was nearing ten years with the group. Besides the length of his tenure, his stature as a songwriter (multiple #1 hits and a Song of the Year) played a major role in audiences accepting the Stuffle-less Perrys. But at the time of the stroke, Bryan Walker was the rookie in the group; he’s now the senior member at the programs far enough from Nashville that Libbi can’t make it. So Bryan, Leah, and Habedank’s replacement face a steep road ahead and will need our prayers.
Crossroads has released a free twelve-song sampler on AmazonMP3, here. It includes songs from many of the label’s leading artists; most are radio singles, and several are #1 hits. It’s worth checking out; most readers will find at least a couple of songs you didn’t have already.