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Creekside Gospel Music Convention

Ozark Gospel Music Convention 2014

Written by Staff on August 12, 2014 – 8:14 am -

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The Abundance Quartet of Branson

By Joshua Heston – Special to SGN Scoops

“Precious memories how they linger / How they ever flood my soul / In the stillness, of the midnight / Precious sacred scenes unfold.” — J.B.F. Wright, 1925

Branson, MO —Traditional gospel music and Ozark Mountain culture go together mighty well. From brush arbor singing schools to pine-enshrouded churches where country folks sang from well-worn hymnals every Sunday morning, the sweet sounds of gospel music form an emotional basis for many of us; reminders of childhood, dinners on the ground, exciting tent revivals, and for some, simple evening singings as the family would gather together and let their voices ring.

But times change. People change. The world, it seems, simply picked up its pace and recordings, radio, TV, internet, and job and family responsibilities removed the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. The chance to leave an industrious world outside — even for just a few hours — was lost. Tattered hymnbooks were replaced by projection screens and four-part harmony swapped for an endless stream of praise and worship songs. Families didn’t gather around a piano anymore and besides, the music on the radio, then the entertainment on TV, then the library of digital music, was all more professional, more polished, and never required practice but simply the touch of a button.

The Williamsons of Wetumka, Oklahoma

The Williamsons of Wetumka, Oklahoma

Gone for most was the shape note singing, the tent revivals, and the conventions. Conventions? No, not Tupperware conventions. A generation or two ago, gospel music conventions, specifically quartet conventions, were commonplace. Small and large, these gatherings originated from 19th century songbook companies’ efforts to sell books. This was after the Civil War and the population was ready to embrace music that spoke of hope and peace.

Professional quartets traveled from church to church, then from convention to convention, stunning largely rural audiences with the now-trademark sounds of a powerful, rumbling bass, soaring tenor, lead and baritone vocals. As quartets polished their skills and styles, white Southern gospel music was born. With it, of course, came those singing conventions, the largest of which ultimately became the National Quartet Convention, an event that packed out the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis for many years. Here was the equivalent of a rock concert arena. Thousands of fans pouring into the venue to see gospel music greats like J.D. Sumner, James Blackwood of the Blackwood Brothers, and more.

The Ascension Quartet of Lebanon, Missouri

The Ascension Quartet of Lebanon, Missouri

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years / Bright shining as the sun / We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise / Than when we’ve first begun.” — John Newton, Amazing Grace

Like many other elements of our rural population, Southern gospel conventions became fewer and farther between in the last generation. Now, the words “singing convention” are typically met with a bit of bewilderment. Southern gospel is still a small but powerful genre of music but many of the artists now travel from church to church, not from convention to convention.

The National Quartet Convention is still going strong, moving this year from Louisville to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but Southern gospel singing west of the Mississippi? Western region groups have struggled for years, honing their styles, their harmonies, their ministries, but laboring largely in the shadow of “top tier” groups with more convention affiliation in the east. Now, the efforts of Branson-based Jonathan Edwards (of Faith’s Journey), Donnie Williamson (of Wetumka, Oklahoma-based The Williamsons), Ava Kasich (Texas-born Beacon award winning soloist) and Rob Patz (of the Seattle-based SGN Scoops Digital gospel music magazine) teamed up to create a heartland Southern gospel convention here in Branson.

Jonathan Edwards holds a framed proclamation from the State of the Missouri, honoring The Lesters for 89 years of distinguished service in gospel music.

Jonathan Edwards holds a framed proclamation from the State of the Missouri, honoring The Lesters for 89 years of distinguished service in gospel music.

“For most of us who do gospel music, the goal is to see lives changed. But we can’t do that if we don’t have people to sing to. One of the goals of the convention is to expose more groups of the Midwest to an audience,” says Williamson. “That’s why we honored The Lesters during the first night of the convention. We want to highlight the quality of groups from this area.”

“Near the cross I’ll watch and wait / Hoping, trusting ever / Till I reach the golden strand / Just beyond the river.” — Fanny Crosby, Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross Read more »


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