Monday, January 5, 2009

Southern Gospel Music

I worked for several years in the James "Sloppy" Floyd twin towers across the street from the State Capitol in Atlanta. My office was in the east tower a few floors above the Corrections Department. For many years Hove Lister, the piano player in the video above served the Georgia Department of Corrections in some capacity and was often seen in the building cafeteria. He was an elderly gentleman, who walked casually along and usually sat alone when he ate.

Most of the people around him had no idea that they were sitting near a man, who in the 1950's and 60's was a superstar in the field of what is now known as Southern Gospel Music. The Statesmen Quartet and others like them played to thousands in stadiums, arenas, and theaters across the country. Like their counterparts in country and rock, they toured the country in buses singing day after day, night after night for their fans.

The concerts were not religious events in terms of heavy proselytising and worshipping. The audience didn't wave hands and fall out in a swooning religious fervor. They came to enjoy the music and watch their favorites perform. It was, simply put, a concert. The 1950's Statemen TV show intro above makes no mention of religion. I expect that in today's world they would be much maligned by the "war on" people for leaving God out. In fact, some of these individuals weren't necessarily the most religious themselves. Were many alive today, they might secretly tell you of some of their indiscretions. I expect they had their temptations, much like today's groups and some caved in.

I attended these kinds of concerts a few times as a child. I particularly remember seeing The Chuckwagon Gang at the Forsyth County Courthouse, in Cumming, GA and the LeFevre Trio at a gymnasium in Fannin County, GA. Both were ticketed venues and were standing room only. My mother was a fan of Eva Mae LeFevre, who still lives today.

These groups usually put on great shows. There was comedy and lively action. They showed off their talents with fast tempo songs, slow melodic hymns and of course the obligatory bass solos. Hovie Lister was a big showman, who liked to show off his piano talents as well as his high tenor voice, often switching between stand up singing and his piano in the middle of a song, as does in the following video:

Alas, these days are over now. Bill Gaither has done much to preserve the memory of these people, but they have slowly passed away. Jake Hess, the lead soloist of the Statesmen in these videos passed away this past year in his hometown of Columbus, GA. Hovie is gone also. Eva Mae still lives, but few are still around. I grew up listening to this kind of music, and I have a few cd's, including a great Statesmen cd that I bought at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame a few years ago. It is just one great genre of music that I take great pride in having been exposed to and to which I continue to listen.


Dirk said...

I grew up with Southern Gospel music myself. Awesome you got to see the Chuck Wagon Gang! They are one of my father's favorite groups. The pastor of the church I grew up in knew the Inspirations & they came down often. Wouldn't trade that for anything!

My wife & I won free tickets from a radio station in Ellijay & got to go to the Gaither Homecoming in Columbus. Wow!

Your pic at the top - beautiful! Looks like it was taken from Brasstown Bald. I never get tired of sights like that!

Happy New Year!


Georgia Mountain Man said...

Dirk, you are right on the money with the photo at top. It was taken from the tower at BB.

That Baptist Ain't Right said...

I grew up on Southern Gospel but am not really a fan. I still like the harmonies. One of the former tenor singer with Gold City, Brian Free, used to live in Paulding County & we played pee wee football together for a couple of years.

Give me some Avalon now & I'm happy.