The name Goodman is synonymous with Southern Gospel Music. This legendary group will forever be remembered for their timeless classics, such as, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now” and “Who Am I.” While Howard, Vestal, Rusty, and Sam are now singing on Heaven’s shores, another generation of Goodmans has stepped up to continue the family’s musical legacy. Tanya Goodman Sykes, Michael Sykes, and Johnny Minick are singing songs in the key of happy. What was thought to be a one-time special performance at Johnny’s church, River of Life Assembly of God Church, in Smyrna, Tennessee, has now blossomed into a new ministry. Goodman Revival seeks to not only maintain the uniqueness of the Happy Goodman Family musical style, but to also preserve the purpose of ministry: to share the love of Jesus Christ every time God opens the door.
Sometimes, it is evident that God works in mysterious ways. Tanya says the formation of this new ministry was a complete surprise, yet a tremendous blessing. She discussed their decision to move back to Tennessee: “When we first moved back here, we were staying with Johnny and Sherry while we were looking for a house. One Sunday, I sang, ‘Who Am I?’ Just different things, and Johnny would play, and he and Michael would sing harmonies. Then one Sunday, we decided to sing, ‘Until You’ve Known the Love of God.’ We worked it up on Saturday night and we did it on Sunday. At that time, they were posting the services online and putting stuff on YouTube. I saw it on YouTube and it had like 10 or 15,000 hits. We were just shocked. A few months went by and a promoter called us. He said, ‘I want to know about how I can get Johnny, Tanya, and Michael to come and sing.’ We said, ‘We don’t have a group.’”
According to Tanya, the promoter wanted to schedule the group for a reminiscing night of Gospel Music, featuring Tanya, Johnny, and Michael, along with the Rambos and Hinsons. Tanya said they decided it would be fun, but they had to learn more songs to sing, since they had only prepared a couple for church. She said someone got very excited about their limited performances and gave them the money to make a record. Soon the Gaithers wanted them to do a video and as they say, they rest is history. That’s how Goodman Revival was born.
Goodman Revival has, of course, a strong musical influence from the original Happy Goodman Family. As the daughter of Rusty Goodman, Tanya shares her father’s heart for ministry. So do Johnny and Michael. Tanya added, “My dad was a stickler for a good song. A lyric was really important to him and it was also really important that the melody marry that lyric and really represent what that lyric was about, so we all are very picky about songs. One of the things that Michael, Johnny, and I learned by example from my family is that you just need to use the gift that God put in you.”
The Goodmans garnered widespread popularity, but it was primarily due to their unique approach to Southern Gospel Music. “When the Goodman Family came on the scene, they were very different from what was really popular at that time,” said Tanya. “The quartets had a very polished, proper sound. The Goodmans were very reckless, and sang with great abandon, almost a revival meeting style. It was very different, but that’s who they were. They were very true to themselves. My dad always encouraged me to be true to who you are. Because that’s who God made you to be, that’s who He had in mind when He was mapping out the plan for your life. We really try to do that.”
Their debut project, Songs in the Key of Happy, embodies the Goodman style through songs such as, “This is Just What Heaven Means to Me,” “I Hold a Clear Title to a Mansion,” and “Look for Me.” It is through these songs that Tanya, Michael, and Johnny convey their purpose for ministry. They chose the songs carefully, ensuring that each one would tell a story or strike a chord with someone who hears it, just as each song has been meaningful in their own lives. Tanya shared, “When we started listening to songs that we might want to do, we were listening to actual vinyl. Johnny would put the needle down and we’d listen to a bit of this one and go, Nah. Then he’d put the needle down on the next one and someone would say, yeah, put that on the list. A lot of times, one of us had a story about what that song meant to us, or a certain time when that song was sung. We tried to pick songs that really meant something to us because all of those songs are so much of who we are. I grew up listening to that music. Johnny grew up listening to that music and he and I were both involved in singing and traveling with the family since teenage years. Michael came to work for my dad when he was 23. We’ve been influenced by their legacy in many ways. We want to bring that kind of passion, enthusiasm and authenticity to our music that I feel like they did.”
Sometimes, we don’t realize greatness, even though we may be standing right next to it. Tanya said she first realized the magnitude of the impact the Happy Goodman Family ministry when they were invited to sing for a Billy Graham crusade. She recalled, “When I turned 16, I started traveling with them. Granted, I was traveling all over the country with them and we performed with an orchestra and every seat would be filled. People were being moved by that music and people were coming up and telling me how much my family meant to them. But I don’t think that I really realized it because I had grown up in that world. I was surrounded by all of these people; Dottie Rambo, the Florida Boys, the Cathedrals, the Rex Nelon Singers, and the LeFevres.
“They say, what’s normal is what’s normal to you. I don’t think I really realized the impact of it, but after I traveled with my family for a while, we were invited to sing at a Billy Graham Crusade. I think that was very huge for me because people have always looked at Billy Graham as America’s Pastor, and he is an icon of the faith in the United States. He is so revered, that my family would be so honored to step on his platform, and sing a few songs, that was very humbling, but it also made me realize that the impact of the message my family was singing about and the way that they presented it was a pretty big thing. I felt like that was such a huge honor and responsibility. It was humbling, but also I think it helped me realize at that time how widespread what my family was doing was becoming. The magnitude of it, that it was much bigger than us.”
For the majority of us, we could only imagine what it was like growing up Goodman. So what was it like spending time with a father like Rusty, along with Uncles Howard and Sam, and of course, Aunt Vestal? Tanya reminisced, “It was great. For the most part, my family was just country people. They enjoyed having a picnic, getting in an aluminum fishing boat with a motor on the backend, or sitting on the bank with a cane pole. We spent a lot of time at the lake fishing. My aunts, they weren’t squeamish about putting a worm on the hook. I was a little bit of a tomboy, I liked to climb trees and I liked to read books. My family liked to laugh a lot. We liked to play jokes on one another. Vestal, she was a rascal; she was one of those people who would hide in the doorway. She’d stand there 30 minutes just to jump out and scare you. My dad had a motorcycle for a while and he loved that. Sometimes, I would ride with him and if the concert was close, I remember one time we rode it to Louisville. That was fun.
“We were just regular folks. My dad was a tinkerer. He mowed his own yard, he washed his own car, and he put a split rail fence out at our house. He enjoyed working with his hands and doing stuff around the house. It was just a regular, old school family. We would always get together at Christmas. We would get together at Vestal and Howard’s house. Everybody would bring something and Vestal would do a lot of cooking and we would bring a dish or two or three. We would cram into one room, and open presents, and it was really great, back in Kentucky.”
Having grown up with a close-knit family, it’s easy to understand why Tanya continues to be close with her own family. She considers motherhood a calling on her life and feels blessed to be a mom. Tanya shared, “Probably the best day of my life is when I became a mom. My girls are grown, one of them is married, the other one’s engaged, but they’re still my babies and I still have a soft spot for them. That was the greatest day, when I realized that here’s this little person that we are bringing into the world and they’re going to go out into the future without us and someday their lives will touch people in this world. It was a real, monumental moment in my life.
“When I was younger, we were traveling quite a bit and the children were really small. The older they got, the more that I thought I should stay home because they needed me. That was my first calling. The older they got, it seems like I would travel less and less. Eventually, I came off the road entirely. I loved traveling and singing. But I don’t have any regrets. My kids, they’re my first ministry, and I’m glad that I stayed home to raise them. Everyone’s different, that’s no criticism of someone who is doing things different. That’s just what God put it in my heart.”
Everyone has a role model, someone they look to for advice, a helping hand, a constant support. For Tanya, this person was her dad. She said, “He taught me a lot. He had very high standards for himself. He worked very hard on anything that he did. He had a great work ethic and he expected me to have one as well. He would tell me, ‘When you’re up there singing, don’t be lazy, open your mouth all the way, stand up straight, and if you mess up a word or a note, just keep right on going. Don’t draw attention to yourself.’ He said, ‘It’s important to hit the note and get it on pitch, get the melody on pitch.’ Because teenage singers want to do every lick in the book, even if it’s poorly executed, he said, ‘don’t do all of those curly Q’s and all of that foolishness. You sing that song and you get the note right and you make sure that people understand the words you are saying because those words are important. And if there’s any room left to put a curly Q in it, then you worry about that last.’ I learned a lot from him. He was my greatest influence.”
“Two other people were great influences on me,” Tanya continued. “One was George Younce. George was my buddy, when I was down or discouraged, or just needed a grandpa to talk to. I never knew either of my grandfathers. They both passed away before I was born. I know George wasn’t that much older than my dad, but he kind of had a grandfatherly way about him. He would sit and talk to me and listen to me and encourage me. I appreciate that. Another person who is a very maternal figure to me is Connie Hopper. She’s such a Godly, kind and nurturing person. She sets the bar very high for other females in our business. She’s one of a kind, a real treasure. She has a quiet beauty and dignity that I really admire.”
In the footsteps of her musical mentors, Tanya shares the following advice to new young artists. She stated emphatically, “You need to be prepared to work very hard. It’s not all about, ‘I’ve got some songs in my pocket and I’m going to make this hot record and set the world on fire.’ Use your talent where you are. If there’s something there that the world needs to hear, God will make room for your gift. He’s got a plan. Take every opportunity to serve and give back, going to sing for somebody in a nursing home, a little gathering, or your church homecoming, something that may not seem very glamorous. That’s where you learn how to be vulnerable up there on that platform and how to hear God’s voice and follow His leading, and to be something meaningful for Him.”
During the interview, Tanya opened her heart concerning the most difficult time of her life, the loss of her father, Rusty Goodman. She shared, “He was ill for a while and when he passed away, he had been gone from us for a little while already. He was just such a strong person and he was always young for his age. If he decided he wanted to lose a few pounds, he went out and bought a bike and started biking, when he was like 48. Now, people do that all of the time, but back then, people didn’t really do that. People would pick on him and say he was silly, like a little kid, but he was bigger than life, young at heart, and he was such a bold figure and he was so strong. When he got frail and was slipping away, that was really hard to watch. It was hard to experience the loss of him a little at a time.”
Even in the valleys of life, Tanya has grounded her trust in the Lord. She said that many songs have been a great encouragement to her during these difficult times, including “You Are for Me.” She stated, “When I was going through a really dark time, I would put that song on my mp3 player with my ear buds in and lie in my bed at night and listen to it over and over and just remember that God is for us. He created us in His likeness and He has a plan for us and He hasn’t forgotten us or left us. Another song that’s been really meaningful to me is the Carol Cymbala song, ‘He’s Been Faithful.’ One of the things I love so much about that song is when it says, ‘when my heart looked away, the many times I could not pray, even then You were faithful to me.’ There are times when we don’t even know what to pray. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know what to say. It sounds cliché, but He’s as close as the mention of His name. All we have to do is call on Jesus and He is right there. He’s ever-present and He is faithful, even when we forget that He’s faithful.”
God is always faithful in every aspect of our lives. As one of Tanya’s favorite scriptures says, “‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you’” (Isaiah 43:1-2 NKJV). Tanya added, “Just realizing that God loves us so much that we are His very own, His precious treasures, that has really encouraged me.”
Goodman Revival is on a musical journey. God is guiding each and every footstep along the way. With their rich musical heritage and God’s leading, they will certainly garner success as they sing songs of praise to Jesus Christ and share their stories of faith and trusting the Lord, even when life gets a little rocky. They are not afraid of what the future holds, because they know the Lord will walk beside them, through every note sung and every mile traveled. Tanya, Michael, and Johnny strive to encourage everyone they meet through song. Just like the Happy Goodmans, Goodman Revival surely wouldn’t take nothing for their journey now. For their journey together has just begun!
Visit Goodman Revival at www.goodmanrevival.com and on www.goodmanrevival.comFacebook to keep up with their travels, concert dates, projects, and more.
By Jennifer Campbell
First published by SGN Scoops magazine in June 2015. For current issues visit the SGNScoops main pagemain page.