In the early 1980s, I was working with the Singing Americans. As Ed Hill and I were working to fill some dates, Paul Belcher called the office to say he had heard good things and wanted to book the group.
“Whiter Than Snow” had just hit the top five on the music charts, and people were talking. As Paul and I talked, one date led to another. And as the story goes, the rest is history. That day a long-term friendship began with Paul Belcher Promotions.
Promoting gospel music comes easily to a man who has had a 45-year love affair with gospel music.
“Mom and Dad use to book artists in churches in Michigan,” Belcher said. “I went to an all-night singing in Detroit (with the) Blackwoods, Statesmen, Thrasher Brothers, and Speer Family in one package. I was hooked. I thought I would like to try this. I could not have done this without my mom. I wasn’t old enough to sign contracts.
“I started promoting gospel music in 1973. My first concert was in Detroit with the Hopper Brothers and Connie. I was 17 when I booked them the first time. This year makes our 45th year of promoting Southern gospel music concerts in a ticketed format.”
Belcher has been influenced by some of gospel music’s most noted icons.
“I go back a long way,” Belcher said. “When you have dealings with J.D. Sumner, James Blackwood, Hovie Lister, Brock Speer, Martin Cook, Howard and Vestal Goodman, Les Beasley, Wendy Bagwell, and Roy Carter … there’s history right there.”
Some of gospel music’s best men mentored and coached Belcher in concert promotions.
“Martin Cook of the Inspirations gave me sound advice about promoting the right artist and was always suggesting ideas,” Belcher said. “Claude Hopper (was) very business minded, always a friend, but never shy about giving me pointers. Promoter W.B. Nowlin from Fort Worth, Texas, I bought a half interest from him in the Battle of Songs in the 80s. He taught me about packaging the right artists together, who to use, and who to stay away from.”
Over the years, the art of promoting concerts has truly changed.
“I’ve seen tickets go from $2 to our current price of $25,” Belcher said. “I’ve seen styles of dress, stage presentations, and radio change. Advertising has gotten more difficult. I used to buy a few newspaper ads, but now it takes thousands of dollars to promote a concert. I used to get the auditorium for $300, now it takes $6000 to $12,000 to rent and pay all auditorium expenses. In the 90s, we were booking 50 dates a year. Now, I promote concerts numbering 8-12 annually.
Today, I promote Chattanooga (Tenn.) and Knoxville (Tenn).”
When you talk with Belcher, you are quick to learn how he is using his abilities to make the largest impact.
“God has given everyone a talent,” Belcher said. “He did not give me a singing voice or a teacher’s talent, and didn’t call me to preach, but He did give me the talent to minister through promoting Southern gospel music. It’s all I’ve ever done.”
There are some moments from the last 45 years that stand out to Belcher.
“I guess it was in Fort Worth, Texas,” Belcher said. “We had a concert with the Cathedrals, Talleys, Singing Americans and Masters Five, sold out a 4,000-seat auditorium and rented the building behind the auditorium and put 700 people in there. We shuttled the artists back and forth to the two auditoriums.
“I still have checks and contracts of those concerts that were signed, which are my treasures.”
The greatest of all memories would be how the concerts have touched people.
“I have had people come up to me and say that they are in gospel music, because they attended our concerts over the years,” Belcher said. “If I can help somebody along the way, then my living is not in vain. That is what matters most.”
Paul and his wife, Helen, share the same heart.
“We had a lady that always bought one ticket for all Chattanooga concerts and always came alone,” Helen Belcher said. “She called me two days before a concert asking if I had one more ticket next to her. Low and behold, I had the seat next to her open. She was bringing her unsaved husband that never went to church.
“He came to the concert. She got up next morning to go to church, and he said he wanted to go. He said he couldn’t get the concert out if his mind. Anyway, he went, got saved, and that Tuesday, he fell over dead … gives me goosebumps every time I think of it. Now, that’s why we promote concerts.”
Paul Belcher is still promoting, holding down a full-time job, and keeping up with a 100-acre farm. His goal is simple for any concert … to be a spiritual uplift for those that attend.
The anchor to Belcher’s life starts with his faith.
“I’ve lost it a few times backstage (laughs),” Belcher said. “But seriously, I was raised in a Christian home and accepted Christ as a young boy. I don’t know any other lifestyle than living for the Lord and being in church.”
The other pillar of his gospel music promotions is his family.
“I have been married to Helen for 40 years and have two children and three grandkids,” Belcher said. “If it wasn’t for my wife’s support, I couldn’t have made it this long promoting. She’s my soulmate … and takes out the garbage.”
Paul Belcher has had a love affair with gospel music that started in his teenage years. The joy he receives from a successful event is only exceeded by the encouragement received by the audience. When you attend a Belcher concert, you get to sample a little of Belcher’s lifetime love affair with gospel music. Find
out more here.
by Charlie Griffin
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in March 2018
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