Southern gospel music may be more widely known in the south, but the southern states don’t exactly have a corner on that part of the music market. Gospel music is alive and well in the Great Lakes regions of Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.
Steeped in tradition and yet carving out an identity of their own, gospel music groups from the area are striving to carry on the legacy of those who have gone before them, all the while competing with the contemporary Christian music that overwhelms much of the area.
Michael Bailey, a soloist from Taylor, Mich., became enamored with gospel music as a young boy after hearing some iconic groups such as the Imperials and the Cathedrals. Although shy as a child, Bailey decided to heed God’s call on his life to share the message through gospel music, and has overcome that fear of being in front of people.
Walter Williams, from the West Michigan area of Battle Creek, also fell in love with the music at a young age as a musician. At the age of six, he started learning the accordion and then moved on to the piano, the saxophone, as well as other instruments.
For Williams, however, life hasn’t been all roses. He states, “My life took a sharp detour down the prodigal road. I’m glad that I found out that Jesus saves; even in the darkest of places. I’m grateful to be able to share my testimony how God never ever gives up on us.
“For me, Southern gospel music seems to really get at the root of this Christian journey and brings you to the cross. I am happy and humbled by the opportunity to share God’s message that brings us from guilt to grace.”
Some of the artists in the Great Lakes region have a family legacy in gospel music. Betty and Bobby Jones met in their youth group at church, and after suffering from two stress-related strokes and becoming unable to speak or move her right arm, Betty realized that the only thing that mattered was what she was able to accomplish for the Lord. She made a promise to God that if he would let her live and restore her voice, she would follow his call. The Bobby Jones Family hasn’t looked back.
The Morse family from Ohio travels and sings with seven of their nine children. What they anticipated being a one-time concert has turned into a traveling ministry for the family. Heidi Morse commented, “When God has a plan, he works and we simply follow. What a true honor to share Jesus as a family; to train our children to serve Christ with all their heart. There is nothing like it.”
Where the Morse family seemingly stumbled into a family ministry, Mark and Andrea Forester from Michigan began their ministry the day after they returned from their honeymoon in June of 2000. They now sing with their two boys, Trevor and Tyler, and are expecting to be in 21 states in 2019. In 2018 concerts alone, 252 people professed Jesus Christ as their Savior.
The Great Lakes region Southern gospel artists do not limit themselves to just the northern region, however. Many of these artists have appeared in several states, singing at not just churches, but also at prisons, fairs, and senior living facilities.
Jim Quales, owner of 4One Quartet from Reed City, Mich., states that in 2018 they did over 240 dates, of which 85 were in a senior living facility. “We feel strongly about making sure we sing to these dear people. We are thrilled to spread the gospel in many different outlets, and find that we try to draw the people in with may styles and songs to share Jesus in a real way,” Quales commented.
Southern gospel music may have some competition in the north, but it is definitely alive and well. You can catch some of these artists, including Diamond Award winner Gloryway Quartet from Ohio, at Creekside Gospel Music Convention October 27 – 31, 2019, in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., sharing their passion for the music.
Southern gospel music artists in the north are honoring their call. They are embracing the unique vision God has given them. These artists are leaving their legacy in the Great Lakes region.
By Kristen Stanton
Kristen Stanton is a regular contributor to SGNScoops Magazine.