Southern Gospel Music: A 103 Years Later

The Speer Family was one of the earlier southern gospel family groups who traveled from city to city in the 1940’s.

Some historians say southern gospel music was founded in the 1870’s but 1910 is when the first southern gospel quartet was formed.

However, the first southern gospel song The Old Time Religion was published in 1873. Charles Davis Tillman is credited with bringing the song to white southerners, when he heard African-Americans sing it in a tent meeting in South Carolina.

The song is still being sung 140 years later in churches and in gospel singing concerts. The song was used in the movie Sergeant York in 1941. Life’s Railway to Heaven is another song brought to southern gospel fans by Tillman. The Carter Family, Chuck Wagon Gang and Oak Ridge Boys were just some of the groups and soloists who sang the song.

 Poor Wayfaring Stranger was even older than the other songs mentioned, since it was found in a 1858 songbook. It has been sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Cash and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, not to mention too many other groups and soloists to mention.

Singing schools such as the Stamps-Baxter School of Music taught quartet singers to sing their part properly and how to blend in with a group, when the whole quartet sang at once.

Southern gospel music could be heard at singing conventions, which featured more difficult songs like I’m Winging My Way Back Home and Heavenly Parade. I can personally vouch for how difficult I’m Winging My Way Back Home can be to sing, since I have tried to sing it in choirs and have not had much success. When done right though it is true southern gospel music at its best.

The Cathedral quartet first became known as part of the Rex Humbard ministry.

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet was formed in 1934 and still is singing today 79 years later. Tragedy struck the quartet in 1954 when a plane crash killed baritone R.W. Blackwood and bass singer Bill Lyles. Cecil Blackwood replaced his older brother R.W. as baritone and J.D. Sumner replaced Lyles as the bass singer.

This was my favorite Blackwood Brothers Quartet record album. Played it so much that wore out the grooves in the record and had to order a new copy of the album. My favorite songs on the album were when J.D. Sumner and Jim “Big Chief” Wetherington of the Statesmen had a singing contest singing I’ve Got To Walk That Lonesome Road at a concert, trying to see who could hit the lowest note and I think it is safe to say that J.D. won. Old Country Church was another favorite on the album, especially when the tenor hit the chorus on the last verse.

I have seen the Blackwood Brothers sing in the Alexandria, Louisiana area a few times, but never saw them with J.D. Sumner singing bass, since Ken Turner was singing the bass part. James Blackwood singing lead made up for that though, with his great delivery of the songs we grew up with. My mother lived in the Hiawatha, Kansas area in the 1970’s and was able to see the Blackwood Brothers sing there many times.

J.D. left and joined the Stamps Quartet, which toured with Elvis Presley throughout the United States. I saw them sing backup for Elvis in 1977, shortly before Elvis died, in a concert in March of 1977 and when Elvis wasn’t feeling well he had one of the quartet singers sing a song, while he sat down and gathered enough strength to continue the concert.

All night sings were a big part of southern gospel music in the earlier years when throngs of southern gospel fans would spend a good part of the night listening to southern gospel music.
Have never seen the Statesmen in person, but have seen them numerous times on the Gospel Singing Jubilee and Gospel Caravan shows shown on television on Sunday mornings. Watching southern gospel music before church was a routine at our house.

I can remember when a local southern gospel radio station in Pineville, Louisiana held a concert every year in the Rapides Parish Coliseum, in Alexandria, Louisiana. I heard that a heckler one time was giving Howard Goodman of the Happy Goodman Family a rough time, but if I remember right Howard got the best of it.

The original Dove Brothers Quartet pictured left to right: John Rulapaugh tenor, McCray Dove lead, Burman Porter bass, Richard Simmons pianist and Eric Dove baritone.

My favorite gospel quartet is the Dove Brothers Quartet which was founded in 1998.

We traveled 200 miles to see them in Texarkana, Texas and will never forget them singing When I Move To Hallelujah Square and the classic Get Away Jordan which had been recorded many years earlier by the Statesman Quartet.

I was able to talk to all the members of their quartet at their product table and would travel many times to see them in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas and they finally appeared in my hometown of Pineville, Louisiana.

Only McCray Dove, Eric Dove and Burman Porter are singing in the current configuration of the group.

The following video is of the Dove Brothers Quartet singing Get Away Jordan, at the National Quartet Convention in 1999 at Louisville, Kentucky. We need more singing like this today.

Southern gospel music has in recent years seen more soloists and duets and trios, but for me what draws me to southern gospel music are the traditional quartets.

Mark Lanier is a southern gospel soloist who used to sing with the Bibletones, Perfect Heart and Poet Voices. He lives in Ball, Louisiana and travels mostly throughout the south singing at churches. His son played baseball with my grandson in Tioga, Louisiana, so have been able to talk with him often and he sang at our church in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2010.

This is a video of Mark singing the lead on I Hold A Clear Title, when he sang for Perfect Heart in 1994.:

Most southern gospel fans like to hear the tenor or bass being featured on songs. I like the traditional southern gospel songs like He Touched Me, Mansion on the Hilltop, I Never Shall Forget That Day, The Old Country Church, Without Him, Farther Along, The King is Coming, The Lighthouse and O What a Savior.

Bill Gaither has done a lot to make southern gospel music more popular, since he brought the well-known names of the past back to the forefront, through his homecoming videos. We have at least 10 of his videos and enjoy watching the greats of the past singing on stage in unison.

The Atlanta Homecoming video is one of my favorites of the series, but my favorite is the Ryman Gospel Reunion video. That video includes The Lighthouse, Unclouded Day, I Never Shall Forget That Day and too many others to list them all. Clips of all the songs on the video can be heard at

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet bus which can be seen at the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame on the grounds of Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The following links to a complete list of those enshrined in the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame:

Some of those who will be inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame on October 2, 2013 in Dollywood:

Thomas Dorsey, who wrote Take My Hand Precious Lord and Peace in the Valley. He died in 1993.

Tim Riley, who is owner of and bass singer for Gold City Quartet.

“Little” Roy Lewis and Polly Lewis of the Lewis Family.

It is sad that southern gospel groups don’t travel as far south as Louisiana, as they used to but the big busses of these days owned by the groups make it cost prohibitive, because of the higher gasoline prices.

We may not hear southern gospel music as much as we once did, but we are glad to be members of Calvary Baptist Church in Merryville, Louisiana,  which sometimes even sings from a southern gospel music hymnbook and southern gospel music is often sung for special music.


Pineville, Louisiana in the 50’s and 60’s

Entrance to Louisiana College campus in Pineville, Louisiana.


I was born in 1944 in West Lafayette, Indiana and moved to Pineville, Louisiana, before my 2nd birthday in 1946, so my dad could teach chemistry at Louisiana College.

My first memory of Pineville was starting the first grade at Pineville Elementary in 1950 and walking the mile to school. I did ride the bus in the second grade, until the day I didn’t get off, at my stop and wound up in Libuse, Louisiana, which was about a ten-mile walk back home. Needless to say I never rode a bus to school after that incident. The bus driver was Harold Price, who drove a school bus many years.

I remember being in the class of Mrs. Eva Price, if I recall her first name right. One of my best friends in first grade was Robert Cavanaugh, who would later run track for Pineville High School and LSU. Then later Dr. Cavanaugh would become the chancellor of LSU in Alexandria and was responsible for it becoming a four-year college.

One thing I remember about the first grade is the ten-cent lunches. The price has probably gone up to 15 cents some 63 years later.

The second grade through fourth grade years sort of ran together, with no standout memories from those years. I do remember my second grade teacher being Mrs. Frankie Reed, third grade teacher being Mrs. Clarice Ellis and fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Effie O’Neal.

My fifth grade teacher was Mrs.Mabel  Powell and my main memory of that year was that I played my first Little League game the last day of school. I played for Bates Insurance Co. team that year and made a shoestring catch in that first game off of a ball hit by Luther Richardson. Think I was more surprised, than  anyone else that I caught the ball.

Mrs. Scivique (sp) was my sixth grade teacher if I remember right, but can’t remember her first name. Grady Harper was my seventh grade teacher and I think Robert Cespiva was my eighth grade teacher, but not sure of that.

1957 was a year that stood out, since that was the year Hurricane Audrey hit the Pineville area that June. I can remember Jim Gaines of KALB radio giving the latest reports about the hurricane. One memory is that we had no power for three days and my dad went to Jimmie Hoyt’s to buy some dry ice.

1957 Trip To Maine

My most vivid memory of 1957 didn’t take place in Pineville, since my dad and my older brother took a trip to Maine that summer. The trip was an education in itself, as we stopped at tourist stops like Rock City and can remember the signs saying SEE ROCK CITY on the roofs of barns along the way. We also saw many Burma Shave signs on the trip.

Stopping at Mount Vernon was one of the highlights, while  Washington, D.C. was the place that I remember best. We went inside the Capitol building and saw Congress in action, saw the U.S. Mint making bills and visited the National Archive building. We also visited the White House, Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. The Smithsonian Institution was particularly interesting, where we saw the Spirit of St. Louis hanging from the ceiling. The last place I remember seeing was the Library of Congress.

Having been an avid baseball fan it was a thrill to see a major league game in Connie Mack Stadium, which was my first game to ever see. Saw future Hall of Famers like Roberto Clemente and Richie Ashburn in the game that, plus another Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski hit a home run that landed on tin roof above us in left field bleachers.

We also went to the planetarium in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and saw the Liberty Bell.

New York City was a place I will never forget and have not been there in the last 56 years. The main thing I can remember is seeing drunks lying on sidewalk in the Bowery District. That is something a 12 year-old kid always remembers.

We drove on to Beverly, Massachusetts, which was our next destination, since my Dad was there for the American Chemical Society convention there. I remember stopping at a Howard Johnson’s Restaurant with the famous orange roof and was impressed that they had 31 flavors of ice cream.

While in the area we were able to see the House of Seven Gables and Cape Cod.

The convention dealt with such topics as radiocarbon dating of trees and many other topics, that a 12 year-old would never comprehend.

Then we went on to Maine to see my Uncle John for the first time and I think the only time. It would be the only time to see my Maine relatives, since my cousin Jim would die in Vietnam in the 60’s, while piloting a helicopter and was shot down.

We stopped in Millville, New Jersey to pick up my Dad’s mom and while there saw my Grandpa Godfrey for the first and only time, while he was in the hospital. That reminds me of the times pranksters would call his grocery store and ask if he had Prince Albert in cans and then when he said yes, they would say then let him out.

The first and only stop on the way back home was Warsaw, Kentucky and Dad drove almost non-stop from there to Pineville, since school started the same day we got back home.

Random Memories

I don’t remember this but my mom told me I had gotten out of the A&P Grocery store at the age of three and walked down to the Murray Street Bridge. George Huffman a Pineville policeman, according to my mom said when he took me off the bridge that he was going to put me in jail, if it ever happened again. I probably didn’t even know what a jail was at that time, since we wouldn’t even have a television till six years later.

We didn’t have a television till I was about 9 years old and the only reason we got one was because, of my sister’s eye doctor prescribed it for her, so she could use both eyes and we had a polaroid screen on one side to make her use her “lazy” eye.

Being on Cactus Jack with Jack McCall hosting the show on KALB TV was one of my memories from this period and being in the Cub Scouts was another and I can remember riding in the Alexandria Christmas Parade one year.

George Huffman was part of another memory, when we thought our cat may have had rabies, so he tried to shoot at it with a shotgun under the house, but missed and the cat lived happily ever after.

My folks liked to go to Berwick’s Drug Store in downtown Pineville. The dilapidated building was not like Walgreen’s stores of today, but they must have had good prices on prescriptions.

Plane Crashes During Little League Game

One night we were playing a Little League game at Sandy Canyon, when I heard someone say “That plane’s going to crash” and we could see the plane heading downward and it landed near the Memorial Cemetery for veterans about a block from Main Street in downtown Pineville.

Pineville Elementary Burns Down

Pineville Elementary burned down shortly after I finished the eighth grade. This photo shows the firemen battling the blaze:

The story as it appeared in the Alexandria Daily Town Talk the next day:

Will never forget riding the mile from home to the fire that night. News traveled fast back then, even without any media coverage to speak of.

Fast Thinking Commercial Spokesman

Will never forget Larry McHale of KALB TV, who was ordinarily a newsman, but was advertising the virtues of a certain brand of cigarettes. Then in the middle of the commercial he starts coughing and thinking fast said “Just the thinking of those other brands makes me cough”.

Daredevil Over Red River

One memory that stands out is when a motorcyclist ran across the Red River on a some kind of contraption, that enabled him to ride a motorcycle. Anyone there that day is welcome to give their version of what happened that day.

College Drive Baptist Church Founded in 1947

Think we were living on Lawrence Boulevard, when College Drive Baptist Church was founded in 1947. It is now 66 years old and was located close to Louisiana College. I can remember J. Taylor Walworth as the founding pastor, when we joined in 1948. He is one of the few people in my life that never changed and looked the same shortly before his death many years later.

Can remember when Harvey McGraw was the education superintendent and a Sunday, which had 237 people present in Sunday School. It was a different time back then when fewer Louisiana College students had their own car, so they naturally walked to the church, which was closest to the college. As the years went by and more students had their own vehicles attendance started to fall. Students then could drive to the bigger churches in Alexandria and Pineville.

Starting Pineville High School in 1958

It was a huge change going from elementary school to high school and it took time to get used to moving from class to class all day at Pineville High. Went to summer school for three years, but graduated from Pineville High in September of 1962.

State Football Champions in 1960

The highlight of my high school years was when the Pineville High Rebels won the state football championship in 1960. Coach Jimmy Keeth and assistant Coach Vernon Beall led the team to a year, that the coaches and players will never forget. I think Coach Gene Millet was also a coach that year, but not positive. There has not been another championship football team from Pineville High School in the last 53 years making that year even more special.

Said Goodbye to Pineville in October of 1962

I joined the United States Army Reserve in 1962 and went to Fort Polk, Louisiana for basic training. Finished basic shortly before Christmas, then about two weeks later boarded a train at the Missouri Pacific station for Indianapolis,Indiana and headed for the brutal Indian winter, with snow on the ground in Indianapolis, when I arrived in January of 1963.

Returned home again from the Adjutant General School in Indianapolis in April of 1963. It didn’t take long to get tired of going to Army Reserve meetings, so joined the Regular Army for a three year enlistment in May of 1963 and would only come home in October of 1964 and 1965, before being honorably discharged in May of 1966 after a tour of duty in Hawaii and Vietnam.

Town Talk Employment

It was later in 1966, when I would be employed by the Alexandria Daily Town Talk, not having any idea that I would be working there for 36 years with two years working for the Monroe Morning World from 1974-1976 leaving Town Talk for an $8 a week raise, but Monroe paper had me working so much overtime, that I earned $5,000 more than I had earned with Town Talk the year before. Elvis Presley, indirectly helped me get the job in Monroe. We were in Monroe to see Elvis Presley and happened to drive by the newspaper and I wound up mailing in a job application, which was accepted.

More Memories of Pineville in the 50’s and 60’s

I remember we didn’t worry about how hot it was, because we didn’t know what air conditioning was and didn’t have one till the late 60’s. We only had one television station the first few years, before Alpine Cable came to town.

We would go out Highway 28 on our bicycles, since there was not much traffic. Nowadays it would be foolish to try to ride a bike on that same road today.

I can remember the Star Theater on Main Street catching on fire and Chief Crazy Horse and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were on the marquee that day.

Think it was still in the 60’s when Louisiana College ended their football program, due to lack of attendance at the games. I can remember the names of some players from back then like Clayton and Harry Bullard, Bill Mount, David Corley, Harry Ingalls, Frank Mobley, Gene Southern, Jim Jossick and Moose Munyan and of course Hamburger Harrison.

I remember George Huffman and Gus Perry from the Pineville Police Department and for some reason those are the only names I can recall.

Will never forget T.C. Brister who owned a sporting goods store letting me pay $6 for a $6.50 Nokona baseball glove, because that was all the money I had with me.

Can remember going to the display window of Jimmy Walker’s Appliance to watch television at night. I can remember visiting neighbors who had a television, which only got a New Orleans station and the picture was mostly snow, but a better picture would appear from time to time.

Trips to A&W Root Beer stand in Alexandria were a special treat. Those frosty mugs filled with root beer always hit the spot.

It is good to know that the same Martin Library we used to go to in the 50’s and 60’s is still operating many years later.

Remember well walking to Jack’s to buy the Sporting News baseball newspaper for a quarter on way home from high school.

Can remember the KALB radio record hops with the Big Bopper appearing a year or two before his death in a plane crash,which also killed Buddy Holly in Iowa.

Who can forget Mr. Pendergrast walking down the street with his top hat? There were rumors that he was rich, but not sure if he was or not. He sure didn’t live like a rich man.

Hope this article revives memories of what it was like growing up in Pineville in the 50’s and 60’s.





Bill Gaither Concert in Beaumont, Texas

The Gaither Vocal Band as they appeared on stage in Beaumont, Texas on July 26. The group from left to right is David Phelps, Michael English, Wes Hampton, Mark Lowry and Bill Gaither.


I have been to a lot of southern gospel concerts, over the years but had never seen a Bill Gaither concert till last night at Ford Park in Beaumont, Texas.

My wife Rhonda and me thoroughly enjoyed the show.

The show featured the Gaither Vocal Band, with the Nelons, Martins, Gene McDonald and Angela Primm appearing before the Gaither Vocal Band took the stage.

Gene McDonald the former bass singer for the Florida Boys sang a solo, which is unusual for a bass singer, but he pulled it off, with no problem at all.


Michael English, Bill Gaither, Mark Lowry, David Phelps and Wes Hampton who comprise the Gaither Vocal Band.


The Nelons, Martins, Angela Primm and Gene McDonald finished their acts and then the stage went dark and the Gaither Vocal Band started singing their first song. It was exciting when the stage lights were turned back on and there was the Gaither Vocal Band bigger than life.

Mark Lowry the comedian-baritone of the group carried the show in my estimation, with his humor and him singing his hit song Mary Did You Know. Lowry said that was his only hit, so he was going to sing it. Lowry was the consummate comedian, with his exchanges with Bill Gaither one of the highlights of the concert.

Gaither hosted the concert and did an excellent job of introducing the singers, while also singing bass for the Gaither Vocal Band. The 77-year-old Gaither didn’t show his age as he didn’t seem to tire, as the concert which lasted close to three hours went on.

They did sing a lot of songs, that I hadn’t heard of, so assume it was new material. But that didn’t matter, since whatever song they were singing at the time didn’t matter, because of their delivery of the songs.

Kevin Williams the guitarist transformed into a pitchman shortly before the intermission, as he showed the various products for sale at the product table, by all the performers on the show.

He held up one product and said it was the Beaumont special and Bill Gaither interjected, that it will be the Tulsa, Oklahoma special tomorrow night.

A highlight of the show was when the audience sang along on a song that was sung by a lady, who was not introduced. The song was I Stand Amazed In The Presence and it was a touching moment to hear the huge audience join in singing the song.

Some highlights of previous homecoming shows were shown on the two screens. The audience applauded when the late Vestal Goodman was showing singing from a past homecoming concert.

David Phelps was featured on He is Alive and when he hit those high notes, with his tenor voice it had a huge impact on the audience. He stood out among all the singers, but they all sang well, when they were being featured.

The Gaither classic The King is Coming was sung near the end of the show and it reached a crescendo on the last verse when Michael English started the last verse:

I can hear the chariots rumble, I can see the marching throng

The flurry of God’s trumpet spells the end of sin and wrong

Regal robes are now unfolding, heaven’s grandstand now in place

Heaven’s choir is now assembled, starts to sing Amazing Grace

Then the whole group sang the chorus as it reached an even higher crescendo, as they finished the song.

It was a great night for southern gospel fans, but also a good night for those who like contemporary music.

Gaither Vocal Band

The first configuration of the Gaither Vocal Band when it was formed in 1981, with Steve Green, Gary McSpadden, Lee Young and Bill Gaither.

There have been a total of 16 configurations in the 32 years of the Gaither Vocal Band.

Three of the four current members of the group, excluding Bill Gaither have left the group for solo careers, but have all returned and the current configuration started in 2009.


Timeline For Current Members

Michael English – Was a member of the group from 1985-1994 and returned in 2009, for a total of 15 years with the group.

Mark Lowry – First joined the group in 1988 and remained with the group through 2001, then returned in 2009 for a total of 19 years with the Gaither Vocal Band.

Wes Hampton – Joined the group in 2005 and has been with the group for nine consecutive years.

David Phelps – First stint with the Gaither Vocal Band was from 1997-2005 and rejoined the group in 2009, for a total of 14 years with the group.


All four singers are powerhouse vocalists on their own, but magic happens when they combine their voices, as they had letter-perfect harmony last night.

It was a long show, but still wish it had been longer, because this was a night to remember.








Bill Gaither Homecoming Shows Rejuvenated, Started Careers

Bill and Gloria Gaither who celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, will also have birthdays next month with Gloria having her 70th birthday on March 4 and Bill observing his 76th birthday on March 28. They were part of the Bill Gaither Trio and they collaborated on writing many well-known songs, in both the contemporary and southern gospel genres including He Touched Me, Because He Lives, The King is Coming and too many other songs to mention them all. Bill and 17 other singers have sung with the Gaither Vocal Band over the years. It was after a Gaither Vocal Band recording session in 1991 that some of the southern gospel greats, who had been recording an album got together to sing as a group and  it was recorded on a video camera.


Videos Released Yearly Since 1991 It would be the first of many homecoming videos, with some being homecoming reunions and some being concerts across the country and also abroad. There were at least two videos released every year starting in 1992. The concerts were very successful as Pollstar which reported more ticket sales for the homecoming concerts, than for such well-known singers as Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and Rod Stewart.


Southern Gospel, Contemporary Singers Benefited One of the benefits of the video series was that singers like Howard and Vestal Goodman, Jake Hess, J.D. Sumner, Cathedral Quartet, James Blackwood and Ben and Brock Speer, became known to a whole new generation of fans and the exposure had to help in record sales and concert bookings. However, Gaither didn’t just feature the southern gospel greats of the past. He also started the careers of many contemporary singers and groups who were seen in the videos.


Gospel Greats Dying Over The Years As the years went by homecoming fans begin to notice singers in past videos missing, since they had passed on. This list is of some of the more prominent singers and musicians who have died since the video series started in alphabetical order by first name.

Anthony Burger – Died on February 22, 2006 at the age of 44. He was playing “Hear My Song, Lord” on a Gaither cruise, when he collapsed and died 45 minutes later after CPR efforts failed. Bob Cain – Died on August 30, 2000 at the age of 61. Appeared in 10 of the Gaither videos.

Brock Speer – Died on May 29, 1999 at the age of 78. I can still remember on one video, that it was announced that Brock Speer had died and the rest of the Speer Family sang together knowing that Brock had just died. It was a very emotional moment to say the least.

Danny Gaither – Died April 6, 2001 at the age of 62 dying of lymphoma cancer. He had battled the disease for five years and I will never forget him visiting during a filming and the singers singing When God Is So Near. I think that was his last appearance on the video series before his death. Bill Gaither later paid tribute to his brother, as it showed Danny over the years, as O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.

Doris Akers – Died July 26, 1995 of spinal cancer at the age of 72. She was most well-known for writing Sweet, Sweet, Spirit.

Eva Mae LeFevre – Died on May 18, 2009 at the age of 91. She was part of the LeFevres who started the Gospel Singing Caravan in the 60’s televised on Sunday mornings.

George Younce – Died April 11, 2005 at the age of 75. He had both heart trouble and was undergoing kidney dialysis. He is remembered for his Should You Go First recitation which he recited, while Beyond the Sunset was being played.

Glen Payne – Died on October 15, 1999 at the age of 72 from cancer. I will never forget him singing from a hospital bed in a television hook-up as he appeared at the 1999 National Quartet Convention. He sang I Won’t Have To Cross Jordan Alone and he would die the next month, but he touched a lot of hearts that night he sang from the hospital.

Hovie Lister – Died December 28, 2001 at the age of 75. He formed the Statesman Quartet in 1948 and his enthusiastic style of singing and playing the piano was a big part of the success of the quartet.

Howard Goodman – Died November 30, 2002 at the age of 81. I can still see him playing Lifeboat on Gospel Singing Jubilee as he pounded the keyboard and raising his hands high in the air before hitting the keys.

J.D. Sumner – Died November 16, 1998 at the age of 73 three days before his 74th birthday. He had one of the lowest bass voices in southern gospel history, if not the lowest and once hit a note so low it was two notes lower than the last key on the keyboard. He was with the Blackwood Brothers and sang with Elvis Presley in concerts as part of J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet.  He was also a songwriter having written the southern gospel classic The Old Country Church.

 Jack Toney – Died April 15, 2004 at the age of 73 after a massive heart attack. He was a member of the Statesman Quartet.

Jake Hess – Died January 4, 2004 at the age of 76. He had many health problems over the years, but appeared on 38 of the Gaither videos. He was not only known for being a member of the Statesman Quartet, but also for forming the Imperials who backed Elvis Presley on his concert tours. He was a big part of the success of the Gaither videos.

James Blackwood – Died February 3, 2002 at the age of 82 from a stroke. He sang with Blackwood Brothers for many years. The highlight of his Gaither video appearances to me, was when he sang the second verse ofSheltered in the Arms of God.Saw James sing many times in person over the years and his vocals will never be forgotten.

Jessy Dixon – Died December 26, 2011 at the age of 73 after battling cancer for two years. He appeared in 45 Gaither videos, which was more than any other one performer, except for Bill Gaither himself. My favorite song to hear him sing was Wait Till You See My Brand New Home. His energetic and soulful singing was the reason he was asked to appear on so many of the videos, because he had a likeability factor, that was off the charts.

Rex Nelon – Died on January 24, 2000 at the age of 68,  while on tour with the Gaither homecoming series. He appeared in the videos as a member of the Nelons, for whom he sang bass and was also the emcee. Roger Bennett – Died on March 17, 2007 at the age of 48 from leukemia. He had leukemia for the last 12 years of his life and the cancer treatments caused him to have some different forms of cancer. He is best known for being the pianist for the Cathedrals. Then he sang as lead singer during the farewell tour of the Cathedrals, following the death of Glen Payne.

Rosie Rozell – Died February 28, 1995 at the age of 56. He only appeared in the Gaither videos in 1995, the same year he died, but he was such a major part of southern gospel music, that he needed to be included in this list. He will never be forgotten for his rendition of Oh What A Savior while singing with the Statesman.

Vestal Goodman – Died December 27, 2003 at the age of 74 from influenza. Her husband Howard had preceded her in death by only 13 months having died in November of 2002.  Vestal was a favorite of the homecoming fans and she was as good on her last homecoming video as she was on her first.  Who can forget seeing Vestal holding her trademark handkerchief, while singing with so much emotion? Surprisingly she appeared in 38 homecoming videos but her husband Howard only appeared in 17. I remember well the many times they sat together on the front row, but apparently didn’t notice there were so many videos, in which Howard never made an appearance.

Wally Varner – Died on December 28, 2004 from myelofibrosis at the age of 78. He didn’t appear in many of the videos, but he made a lasting impression on the other homecoming friends and the viewers when he played Goodbye World Goodbye, on the piano a song tailor-made to showcase his keyboard wizardry and that is exactly what he did.

The list of singers appearing in the Gaither videos at the Wikipedia website  is not all-inclusive as I notice that Jimmy Jones who died in 2006 is not included in the list. I can recall him reciting a poem in one of the videos, but not sure what the name of it was. There are other names not on the list like Jay Parrack who sang with Gold City on at least one video, in which he sang In Time, On Time, Everytime. The Gaither homecoming video series has been a source of spiritual encouragement for those who are shut-in. They can watch one of the videos and forget for an hour-and-a-half that they are shut-ins while enjoying the videos. This list shows which singers have appeared in at least 30 of the Gaither homecoming videos:

Ben Speer 35

David Phelps 30

Gaither Vocal Band 53

Guy Penrod 37

The Isaacs 37

Ivan Parker 31

Jake Hess 38

Jeff and Sheri Easter 30

Jessy Dixon 45

Joy Gardner 40

Mark Lowry 35

Reggie Smith 30

Stephen Hill 30

Terry Blackwood 31

Vestal Goodman 38

Wesley Pritchard 36


Southern gospel fans, artists, promoters, record companies all owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Gaither. I can testify that I personally have been touched by the videos. Then the videos have caused me to buy the albums of the singers shown on the videos  and see the concerts of the singers shown on the videos. This has been a tremendous undertaking on the part of Bill Gaither and his associates. I am sure it isn’t easy to choose who will appear on a particular video. Some well-known artists and groups have never been in the videos. I have never seen the Dixie Echoes in one of the videos. I would have thought they would be shown on at least one of the videos, knowing they are a huge part of the heritage of southern gospel’s earlier days. It has to be a challenge for Bill Gaither to work in new singers, as the older singers are dying. Ben Speer is one of the few of the old-timers remaining. The main thing is to say to Bill Gaither….Thanks for the memories and keep the memories coming in the future.         

Life and Death of Hank Williams Sr.

Hank Williams Sr. 1923-1953

Hank Williams was born as Hiram King Williams on September 17, 1923 in Mount Olive, Alabama. He changed his name to Hank, since it sounded more like a good name, for a country music singer.

Lillie Williams, his mother would have to raise him, when his father Elonzo was sent to the VA Hospital in Pineville, Louisiana  with a brain aneurysm, where he remained for eight years.

Hank would begin playing the guitar at 8, then first appeared on radio at the age of 13. By the time he was 14 he had formed a band called the Drifting Cowboys.

Roy Acuff once told Williams the dangers of using alcohol, saying “You have a million dollar voice, but a 10 cent brain”.

Began Abusing Alcohol During World War II

World War II would find him working in a Mobile, Alabama shipyard and singing in Montgomery, Alabama. He started abusing alcohol, due to having a congenital spinal disorder, which caused extreme back pain. He would never be able to curb his drinking habit.

It was in 1943 when he met his future wife, Audrey Sheppard.

He was only 23 in 1946, when he signed a songwriting contract with the Acuff-Rose songwriting company. He first hit was Move It On Over recorded on the new MGM record label in 1947. The Grand Ole Opry, which had refused to sign him in 1946 would later sign him in 1949 and he would debut on the Grand Ole Opry stage on June 11,1949, with six encores that night.

Lovesick Blues Was Breakthrough Hit

His big break came in 1949 at the age of 26 when he recorded the 27-year-old song Lovesick Blues, after he had joined the Louisiana Hayride and later would join the Grand Ole Opry.

Williams didn’t know how to read or notate music, yet still had eleven No.1 songs, between 1948 and 1953. Tony Bennett would sing one of his songs, Cold, Cold Heart. 

He would begin recording religious songs, as Luke the Drifter, in case the songs would not be well received.

Williams Family
Audrey, Jett, Hank Jr., Hank Sr.

Divorces Audrey Williams

The back pain of Williams got worse, after Williams fell in a hunting accident. He was now taking morphine and drinking alcohol, because of the pain. His wife Audrey would divorce him in June of 1952, but he would marry Billie Jean Jones, only four months later in October of 1952.

Billie Jean Jones
Billie Jean Jones, daughter of Bossier City Police Chief. She widowed Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Horton.

Two months earlier in August of 1952, Williams was fired by the Grand Ole Opry for habitual drunkenness. He was now not showing up for performances or not singing well, if he did show up.

Health Worsens

Williams was beginning to have heart problems in late 1952. He may have made a critical mistake by contacting a fake doctor who had no real credentials as a doctor as indicated by this paragraph from his Wikipedia biography:


He met Horace Raphol “Toby” Marshall in Oklahoma City, who claimed to be a doctor. Marshall had been previously convicted for forgery, and had been paroled and released from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1951. Among other fake titles he claimed to be a Doctor of Science. He purchased the DSC title for $35 from the Chicago School of Applied Science, in the diploma, he requested that the DSC was spelled out as “Doctor of Science and Psychology”. Under the name of Dr. C. W. Lemon he prescribed Williams with amphetaminesSeconalchloral hydrate, and morphine.[52] 


It would be interesting to know what a real doctor thought, about this cocktail mix of drugs and if these drugs could have sped up the end of his life.

Death Comes In The Morning of January 1, 1953

Hank Williams was supposed to appear in a concert at Charleston, West Virginia on Dec. 31, 1952, but because of an ice storm in Nashville, Tennessee, he was unable to make it there on time. His driver, Charles Carr called ahead to notify management of the auditorium, that they would not be able to make it to Charleston, because of the bad driving conditions.

However, Carr was instructed to drive Williams to Canton, Ohio for a concert on New Year’s Day of 1953. When they arrived in Knoxville, Carr summoned a doctor to the Andrew Johnson Hotel. The doctor injected Williams with two shots of Vitamin B-12, which included some morphine.

Carr proceeded to drive Williams to Bristol, Virginia and asked Williams if wanted something to eat.  Williams told him no, which were probably his last words. Carr then drove on to Oak Hill, West Virginia to refuel, when he realized Williams was dead and notified the local police chief.

The following paragraph describes what the doctor found during the autopsy and what occurred at the Canton, Ohio venue,when the audience was informed that Williams had died en route to Canton.


Dr. Ivan Malinin performed the autopsy at the Tyree Funeral House. Malinin found hemorrhages in the heart and neck and pronounced the cause of death as “insufficiency of the right ventricle of the heart.”[59] That evening, when the announcer at Canton announced Williams’s death to the gathered crowd, they started laughing, thinking that it was just another excuse. After Hawkshaw Hawkins and other performers started singing “I Saw the Light” as a tribute to Williams, the crowd, now realizing that he was indeed dead, sang along.[60] 




I will never forget the scene in the Your Cheatin’ Heart movie when the audience, was told that Hank had died, then everyone starts singing I Saw The Light. One of the most special moments in any movie ever.


Honky tonk hero Hank Williams died in his sleep in the back seat of this 1952 Cadillac on Jan. 1, 1953. The car, along with clothing he was wearing when he died, costumes, instruments, gold records and other music memorabilia, is at Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery.
Hank Williams died in the backseat of this 1952 Cadillac.


His funeral on January 4, 1953 attracted more people, than to any other funeral in the history of Alabama, up to that time. Estimates range as low as 15,000 and high as 25,000 that filed by his silver coffin.

This is a small portion of the funeral service for Hank Williams on January 4, 1952.

It was ironic that one of his best-known hits, Your Cheatin’ Heart hadn’t been released prior to his death, but it would remain No.1 on the country charts for six weeks.

This is the announcement made on WCKY radio telling of the death of Hank Williams, followed by Hank singing I Am Bound For The Promised Land.

Left Musical Legacy

Hank Williams may have only recorded music from 1947-1952, but he left a  lasting imprint among country music fans and will always be remembered by the fans who enjoyed his music in the past. His music will continue to be passed on to future generations, as even today his music is still being sung.

He recorded a lot of gospel songs, as well as country hits. These are just some of his songs:

If this song I Dreamed About Mama Last Night doesn’t touch the heart of anyone that has lost their mama, something is seriously wrong.

This song Be Careful of Stones That You Throw will make us think twice before we throw stones at others.

Hank Williams may have died 58 years ago at the age of 29. Hank would be 87 if he was still living today. He may not have lived long on this earth, but he brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people through his musical legacy.

He only lived through the terms of four American presidents in his 29 years. We know Hank Williams had his faults, like the rest of us, but as he passed on his music to future generations, we will also pass on his music to those who have never heard his music in the coming years. Thank you Hank for reminding us to see the same light, you saw when you sang I Saw The Light.









Prohibition: Died At the Age of 13 in 1933

The pledge signed by many children and adults to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages.


Frances Willard died on February 17, 1898, which was 22 years before the 18th amendment, also known as the Volstead Act went into effect in 1920.

She had a firsthand knowledge of the effects of alcohol, when her brother became an alcoholic in the 1860’s. Willard would be one of the founders of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1874 and then became the president of the worldwide WCTU in 1888.

While concentrating mostly on her fight against the use of alcohol, Willard also became active in the fight against the international drug trading.

Her life came to an end at the age of 58 due to being an influenza victim. However, she had laid the groundwork for both the 18th amendment, which would prohibit the use of alcohol in the United States and the 19th Amendment which also was known as the Women’s Suffrage amendment.

Prohibition Becomes Law

Congress passed the Volstead Act (18th Amendment) on October 28, 1919, over-riding the veto of President Woodrow Wilson. 36 of the 50 states had ratified the 18th Amendment and went into effect on January 17, 1920.

While prohibition was a good idea, it was almost impossible to enforce with 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasies, in New York City in 1925. A speakeasy could be closed in one location, then would pop up in another location, within days of last place being closed.

The amendment was not only not being obeyed, but the U.S. government lost millions of dollars in tax revenue, while the bootleggers were keeping all the money for themselves and the speakeasy owners and patrons also avoided paying any tax.

Al Capone's power was at its heights during Prohibition with him drawing $60 million in alcohol sales in 1927 and bribing politicians with his profits to keep his machine going.

Organized crime saw that Prohibition would be a huge moneymaker for them and would deliver the alcohol and take payments, upon delivery of that alcohol, unless other arrangements had been made, prior to the delivery.

Gangsters like Al Capone saw a chance to take their cut from the illicit alcohol sales. Capone raked in $60 million in alcohol sales in 1927.

Prohibition Turns Citizens Into Criminals

The same citizens that patronize legal bars, now flocked to speakeasies to drink their alcohol, which turned them into criminals. The magnitude of lawbreakers was too much for law enforcement to contend with. Women started drinking in larger numbers, than ever before.

These speakeasy patrons from the Prohibition era don't look too concerned about being raided by law enforcement officials.

We have seen videos of the Roaring 20’s, showing women dancing the Charleston and other dance of that era. Problem is that almost all of those women were violating the 18th amendment, but in the PBS series Prohibition, by Ken Burns, these women didn’t seem to be worried about being caught by law enforcement agencies.

Why Prohibition Didn’t Work

The main reason is that Americans who wanted to drink, found ways to purchase alcohol, whether it be from an individual selling from their home, from a speakeasy where alcohol was readily available and some resorted to making their own alcohol through the moonshining process.

Moonshine stills being destroyed by law enforcement officials.

The failure to prevent organized crime, from becoming involved in sale of bootleg alcohol, may have been one of the major reasons, that bootlegging operations were so successful, despite the bootleggers, sometimes only being neighbors supplying moonshine to their neighbors in rural America.

Joseph Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy and the patriarch of the Kennedy family, has been rumored for years to have gotten rich in the bootlegging industry. Frank Costello of the Mafia even testified that Joseph and him had been partners in the bootlegging industry. However, no concrete evidence of Kennedy being involved in bootlegging, has never been made public.

Law enforcement officials could only pick and choose which speakeasies to close and what moonshine stills to destroy, but the problem was that there were thousands of criminals, violating the 18th amendment and there was not enough jails and prisons, to house all the violators.

Prohibition ended when it was evident that there were millions of Americans, who were going willing to risk, although not a serious risk in most cases, going to jail, rather than stop drinking.

75 Bible References Regarding Drinking

The 75 Bible references from the Signal Press in Evanston, Illinois clearly show that God’s laws prohibit drinking. Here are just a few of them from the tract:

1) Genesis 9:20-26 – Noah became drunk; the result was immorality and family trouble.

3) Leviticus 10:9-11 – God commanded priests not to drink so that they could tell the difference between the holy and the unholy.

6) Deuteronomy 29:5-6 – God gave no grape juice to Israel nor did they have intoxicating drink in the wilderness.

10) 1 Samuel 25:32-38 – Nabal died after a drunken spree.

11) 2 Samuel 11:13 – By getting Uriah drunk, David hoped to cover his sin.

12) 2 Samuel 13:28-29 – Amnon was drunk when he was killed.

13) 1 Kings 16:8-10 – The king was drinking himself into drunkenness when he was assassinated

14) 1 Kings 20:12-21 – Ben-Hadad and 32 other kings were drinking when they were attacked and defeated by the Israelites.

17) Proverbs 4:17 – Alcoholic drink is called the wine of violence.

18) Proverbs 20:1 – Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging.

20) Proverbs 23:21 – Drunkenness causes poverty.

21) Proverbs 23:29-30 – Drinking causes woe, sorrow, fighting, babbling, wounds without cause and red eyes.

22) Proverbs 23:31 – God instructs not to look at intoxicating drinks.

23) Proverbs 23:32 – Alcoholic drinks bite like a serpent, sting like an adder.

24) Proverbs 23:33 – Alcohol causes the drinker to have strange and adulterous thoughts, produces wilfulness, and prevents reformation.

There are too many to list them all, but the entire list can be found at:




Nostalgic Memories From the Past

These are just some of my memories of the good old days:

When the  ice man brought ice to place in your icebox.

When milkmen brought your milk to the house with cream at the top of the bottles.

When attic fans were the only way of getting any air in a house.

When we would walk on the Murray Street Bridge and see the Red River below, when there were missing slats.

When we were hot and didn’t think about it being hot because it was all we knew since nobody had air conditioners then.

When television shows didn’t come on  till 3:30 PM.  Howdy Doody and Pinky Lee started the telecast day on KALB-TV in Alexandria, Louisiana in the 50’s.

When we listened to old time radio shows like Dragnet and Breakfast Club on the radio, while my mom listened to her soap operas like Just Plain Bill, Stella Dallas, Lorenzo Jones and Guiding Light.

When people would go to local appliance store at night and watch television through the display window at Jimmie Walker’s Appliances on Main Street in Pineville.

When we would come home from school and watch our cowboy heroes in action.

When nativity scenes could be seen in public places before ACLU raised such a fuss, that you can’t find one in a mall today.

When stores like Penneys, Sears and Montgomery Ward were located in free standing stores, before the advent of the shopping centers and malls.

When kids would trick or treat until 10PM at night, filling grocery bags full of candy, with no special Halloween bags.

When families went to drive-in movies together, while teenagers would sneak a extra kid in the trunk, to avoid paying for them.

When theatergoers would throw tomatoes at the movie screen if they were upset with a bad movie.

When Larry McHale of KALB – TV was advertising cigarettes and started coughing, but regrouped and said “Just thinking of those other brands makes me cough.”

When eating TV dinners were more popular than fast food.

When McDonald’s had 15 cent hamburgers.

When you could get a haircut for less than a dollar.

When it cost a dime to see a movie.

When it cost a dime for a school lunch in 1950 at Pineville Elementary in Pineville, Louisiana.

When kids collected baseball cards and put them in bicycle spokes.

When families would go on picnics at the city park, letting the kids play on the playground equipment.

When going to stores we would see white and colored water fountains. One black man tried both kinds and said they tasted the same.

When we watched No Time For Sergeants three times in a row at the movie theater. (One of the funniest movies ever, with Don Knotts being a dexterity expert, that became discombobulated by Andy Griffith’s character.)

When we used to drink Hawaiian Punch and Delaware Punch.

When we used to pay a nickel for a 6 ounce coke out of a machine. Now they charge over a $1.50 for a 20 ounce coke, when in the old days a 24 ounce coke would cost 20 cents.

When we walked a mile to school everyday for the entire 12 years of elementary and high school.

When there was no middle school back in the 50’s.

When Gov. Earl K. Long of Louisiana gave free chickens to voters during a gubneratorial election.

When going fishing meant taking a cane pole and not a expensive rod and reel.

When I bought a $6.50 Nokona baseball glove for $6.00 when the hardware store owner found out I didn’t have enough money to pay the full price.

When we celebrated Christmas by running around with sparklers.

When we would see the miniature church on the city square in Alexandria every Christmas.

When Christmas music was played downtown during the Christmas season.

When we used to play marbles in school.

When playing with a yo-yo was cool.

When hula hoops were the hot fad.

When high school kids rode bikes to school instead of driving cars.

When familes went to church together.

When families actually ate dinner together at a table, instead of in front of the television.

When kids made money by delivering newspapers on bicycle.

When we drank grapefruit juice at breakfast even though we didn’t like it.

When we ate Wheat Chex at breakfast even though we didn’t like it.

When we used to get excited about another school year starting.

When we went to special Christmas Eve services on a cold night in December and watching Christmas movies on television when we got home.

When we had a train set over our bed as a kid.

When we took a trip in 1957 and saw the Howard Johnson restaurants with the orange roofs.

When we got together as a family to hear mother read from the Bible.

When we used to listen to records on the record player.

When homemade ice cream was better than any ice cream bought in a store.

When pizza was delivered to the house the first time.

When mom and pop stores went out of business because of Wal-Mart.

When there used to be neighborhood groceries scattered around in residential neighborhoods.

Yes, those truly were the good old days.