Our Music is Our Heritage!
There are those who debate how southern gospel music got started. Some historians say came from melodic chants by Monks, handed down through the centuries. And was transformed by a mix of black gospel, church choirs and rag-tag musicians. Some music critics say it is known as a southern tradition spawned out of spirituals and country or mountain music. It does make for good debate and speculation.
When James Vaughn started a quartet in 1910 to sell song books for James D Vaughn Music Publishing Co, no one had an idea what was yet to come. Southern gospel is sometimes called “quartet music” by most fans because it was an all-male, tenor-lead-baritone-bass quartet make-up. Early quartets were typically a-cappella or accompanied by piano or a single guitar, and in some cases a banjo and fiddle was added for a blue grass flair, more so in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Appalachians. Over time, full bands were added to touring groups and even later, pre-recorded accompaniments (soundtracks) were introduced.
Early gospel artists such as The Speer Family, The Stamps Quartet, The Blackwood Family, and The LeFevre Trio achieved wide popularity through their recordings and radio performances in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. On October 20, 1927, The Stamps Quartet recorded its early hit “Give the World a Smile” for RCA Victor, which become the Quartet’s theme song. The Stamps Quartet was heard on the radio throughout Texas and the South. In the 1950’s with the advent of television, those radio music masters rose to even more prominence. The Chuck Wagon Gang, Harvesters, Arthur Smith and Crossroads Quartet, Songfellows and a hand full of other groups really began their ascension to popularity via expanded TV, radio and sponsorships.
National Quartet Convention, Nashville, TN
There are staple groups who are considered pioneers in southern gospel music for a series of “firsts.” The Blackwood Brothers, with James Blackwood and J.D. Sumner became the first group to travel in a Bus, which is on display at the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Sumner also was instrumental in creating the National Quartet Convention, an annual music festival where many groups perform for a week. The Speer Family was known for bringing blended groups to mainstream popularity where both Male and Female performers toured together.
The best known group of the 1950s and 1960s was Statesmen Quartet, which set the trend for broad appeal of the all male quartets that would develop years later. The Statesmen were known for their showmanship and introduction of Jazz, ragtime, and even some early rock and roll elements into their music and the their stage appearance with trendy suits and wide audience appeal and were known for their signature song, “Happy Rhythm” (Rockin and a’Rollin). The Statesmen became the fore-runner to the Masters Five, a group in the 1980’s which heralded the many of the icons of gospel music, Hovie Lister (Statesmen), Jake Hess (Statesmen/ Imperials), James Blackwood (Blackwood Brothers), Rosie Rozell (Statesmen/ Searchers) and JD Sumner (Blackwoods/ Stamps Quartet). This group received unmatched acclaim as the quartet rejuvenated young and old alike. In this eight year spann, eighteen recordings were released to clamoring fans.
Some will say southern gospel music is more inclusive than many music forums. Within southern gospel the listener will find shades of bluegrass, country and even contemporary music. There are quartets, trios, male and mixed groups with countless soloists in the mix. But the artist remains true to the ideals of what makes it southern gospel. The message, arrangement, values and moral compass are still driving forces carried thorough, making history even today.
There are true happenings in gospel music that are legendary. Ideas that started in the backstage areas of a concert in Memphis, Nashville, or Atlanta. Conversations that happened on a TV stage in Charlotte, Nashville, Atlanta, and Dallas or in many cities. Before the “on air” light flipped on most high powered AM radio stations through the south, Midwest and west. Nowadays those happenings start in a chat room session or in-box message on the internet.
Yes, times are changing some in gospel music. Social media, internet, radio, television and print media venues are expanding the fan base of southern gospel music. It is no longer a southern thing. There are global fans that purchase cds, pay for podcasts, videos, buy T-shirts and tons of memorabilia. Photos are instantly shared nowadays.
The growth of social media and the instant connection has spawned a gathering that is unique and garners global attention. The Facebook group, WE LOVE OUR SOUTHERN GOSPEL MUSIC HISTORY has taken the industry by surprise and storm. This Facebook Community burst onto the scene and boasts a growing membership of over 36,000 gospel music enthusiasts, participating daily in the banter and re-living southern gospel music history.
Artists have found long-time friends once again. Fans have connected with their idols. The energy, love and passion for southern gospel music is as vibrant and exciting as the history proclaims.
Pictured left to right: John Crenshaw, Hannah Kennedy, Ann Downing, and Harold Timmons.
The group is the brain child of Harold Timmons, Ann Downing, John Crenshaw and Hannah Kennedy. What started as a Facebook in-box chat literally turned into an unparalleled phenomenon. Fans from across Americas and Europe follow the banter of stories, music, videos, photos and friendly debates on the music foundations of southern gospel music.
The want for more has set the stage for the annual social media convention.
March 21-22, 2016 is the WLOSGMH Convention is making music on the Nashville stage once more. This annual gathering boasts a unique mixture of music, sharing, shopping and friendship that is unmatched in gospel music.
The convention is being hosted at the Holiday Inn Airport in Nashville, TN. Special attendance packages including accommodations are available now through event commencement. The activities include Monday night banquet, Evening concert, Tuesday Lunch, six hours of QA, videos, sing-alongs, more music, funny stories, memorabilia and shopping of collectibles, periodicals, records and other artifacts.
Music talent includes WLOSGMH Convention host quartet the Pine Ridge Boys, Blackwood Brothers, Sheltons, Dove Brothers, Jeff Stice, Ann Downing, Collectors Quartet, Charlie Griffin, WLOSGMH Admins, Rita Robinson-Spillers plus a few surprise quests over the two day event.
The convention starts with a star-studded dinner concert with dining music by the piano artistry of Rita Robinson-Spillers. The evening concert features classic gospel music from artists that are continuing a rich legacy, still today. Each of the artists tours, records and shares of their talents across America. One of the headliner events is a special reunion concert of the Downings, which continues to be the talk of convention go-ers.
THE BLACKWOOD BROTHERS
The Blackwood Brothers Quartet was formed in 1934 with brothers Roy, Doyle, James and Roy’s son, R.W. In the late 50s Roy and Doyle retired from traveling and in 1954 R.W. was killed in a tragic airplane crash. However the quartet with James, as the quartets’ leader and spokesman, established a new group of singers who would go on to take Gospel music to new heights as they traveled and sang in all fifty of the United States, every Canadian province as well as cities in Great Britain, Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
James Blackwood passed in 2002, but his sons, Jimmy (James Jr.) and Billy continued the 80-year tradition. Recently Jimmy retired after singing for 49 years and younger brother, Billy now carries on the quartet which has the distinction of being the best-known name in Gospel Music history! With Billy, Butch Owens (bass), Michael Helwig (tenor) and Wayne (lead) continue to delight audiences across the gospel music spectrum.
THE PINE RIDGE BOYS
Gospel music legends, The Stamps, Blackwoods and countless others laid the foundation for southern gospel music, quartet style. Yes, there have been many groups that have shared their talents over the years. And sadly time runs its course and many of the groups are no more. Yet today, the Pine Ridge Boys are carrying on a rich 53 year tradition that started with the likes of Jim Stewart, brothers Darius and Wayne Shuford, Charlie Burke, Miles Cooper, Laddie Cain, Jack Henderson, Reese McKinney, Joel Duncan, Ned Wilder, Farrell Henson, Ray Dean Reese, Charles Abee, Everette Greene and Eldridge Fox. Yes those men and others were part of the Pine Ridge Boys history.
Today the Pine Ridge Boys mantle has been passed on to a different generation of men. It is today’s Pine Ridge Boys configuration that is drawing acclaim for their rich quartet harmonies. Larry Stewart (formerly with the Singing Americans), Wayne Shuford (original PRB member and with the Trav’lers Qt), Ivory Luke and Duane Rizzo have polished the Pine Ridge Boys sound with the timeless songs and innovative music arrangements that captivate audiences young and old alike.
Fact: Change is inevitable and time moves on. Some traditions withstand the tests of time. Different and new generations assume the leadership into the future. Now today, when you hear and see the Pine Ridge Boys you will enjoy a group steeped in a solid tradition of southern gospel music. Even more so, you will hear a group that is renewed in commitment and continues to stage gospel music rich in full quartet harmonies. Music arrangements that causes you clap your hands, pat your feet and nod your head with approval are commonplace at a Pine Ridge concert.
Yes, the Pine Ridge Boys tradition is alive and well. Today’s generation of Pine Ridge Boys is singing a new chapter of quartet gospel music to the approval of the gospel music fans of any age. Once you attend a concert, you will truly know why, “the Pine Ridge Boys are loving southern gospel music.” You will quickly learn the music and message is the feature of their exciting concerts.
The Pine Ridge Boys serve as the host quartet for the convention and are an integral part of the concert production each day.
The New Dove Brothers
In 1998 a quartet was formed that took the Southern Gospel industry by storm. Bringing to the stage an excitement and a style that had not been seen since the glory days of gospel music.
Now that McCray Dove, Tony Peace and Wesley Smith have joined together to form the New Dove Brothers it looks like history is repeating itself. McCray and Tony are known as two of the most exciting performers in the world of southern gospel music. Wesley Smith ties it all together with his smooth high tenor voice.
The New Dove Brothers are committed to the cause of Christ and to keeping that classic southern gospel style and sound. With songs like Get Away Jordan and Didn’t It Rain you can’t help but to clap your hands and tap your feet and when The New Dove Brothers begin to sing the great hymns of the church your heart will be reminded why these songs are timeless. If you love harmony and high energy then you don’t want to miss this New Dove Brothers concert.
If ever a family truly exemplified great harmony that would be the Sheltons. They first came to popularity in the 60’s and 70’s by recording the ever popular song, JESUS IS COMING SOON. The Shelton recording was held as the Inspirations recorded and released the song after hearing the Sheltons version. Later the Oak Ridge Boys recorded it and the rest is history for that song.
Original members Sandra Shelton Martin and George Shelton, Jr are carrying on the tradition. Both were born and raised in Pickens, South Carolina. They got their start singing with their Dad and the family group. Junior also sang tenor for the Senators in the mid-1970s. Most recently from 2013-2015, Junior Shelton sang tenor with the Dixie Echoes.
Over the last few years the group, Sandra Shelton Martin, Frankie Shelton and Rob Shelton have rekindled the love for the Shelton Family harmony. Jr Shelton joins the group on special concerts to round out the original family sound.
The Southern Gospel group, the Downings, were a mixed quartet founded by the husband and wife team of Paul Downing and Ann Downing. Other founding members were Greg Gordon, Sue Dodge (Sue Chenault), and pianist Dickie Mathews.
The group went through several personnel changes throughout the early to mid 1970s, and eventually disbanded in 1977. The group released 18 albums in 8 years. Ann and Paul were voted favorite female singer and favorite bass singer respectively in 1973 in the Singing News Fan Awards. Paul and Ann were in the process of trying to reform the Downings when Paul passed away in 1992.
Today Ann Downing continues a prosperous solo ministry with concerts and seminars. Raised on a cotton farm in rural Mississippi, Ann grew up dreaming of the day she’d sing Gospel music all over the world. Right out of high school she began to realize that dream by securing a position with the legendary Speer Family, later marrying the man of her dreams and co-founding a group that helped shape the face of Gospel music we have today. She won the industry’s highest honor—the Dove Award—for Female Vocalist within a year of co-founding the Downings and went on to be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Her Gospel music career spanning almost fifty years, Ann has been lauded with various awards and accolades; however, she’s quick to tell you that she’s like you in many ways. Fading success? She’s been there! Crumbling marriage or financial ruin? She’s been there, too! Lost a spouse or experienced a devastating trauma in your family? Ann can relate!
Jeff Stice, affectionately known as “Mr. Music Man” is having an incredible musical journey and has reached pinnacles of great success in The Gospel Music World. His love for the piano started at the age of 6. His mother played and every time she did, he would lie under the piano and listen. When she would finish, he would get on the stool, place his hands on the keys and begin to pick out the melody of some of the songs he had heard her play. At the age of 8 he began taking lessons and it was recognized early on that he had “an ear” for music. Jeff’s parents began to take him to Gospel Concerts where he immediately fell in love with “The Piano Players”. As he began to grow older his love for Gospel Quartet Music began to grow as well. At the age of 15 he began playing for his father’s quartet, winning high school talent shows along the way. After Jeff graduated from high school he went on to major in Piano Performance at Western Kentucky University.
Jeff Stice was the pianist for Triumphant Quartet. He began with the Monitors Quartet in the early 1980’s. Jeff then went on to the Blackwood Brothers in the mid 1980s, then worked for a while with the Nelons and then played piano for Perfect Heart from 1990-1998. In 1999 he joined the Kingdom Heirs. Three years later he left to become one of the founding members of Triumphant Quartet, where he remained until May, 2014. Jeff has also written many Southern Gospel songs, received numerous Singing News Fan Awards, and recorded many solo albums. His humor, piano artistry and delivery is truly a crowd favorite on any concert stage or church event. His impressions of RAY CHARLES, FLOYD CRAMER, ROGER WILLIAMS and LIBERACE, to this day, are audience favorites.
Since a teenager, Charlie Griffin has been singing in church, quartets, and special events and on concert stages. The music was not always gospel. When you talk with him, you will quickly learn of his love for jazz, blues, country and even some pop. But it is his love of gospel music that impacts his audiences today. With his music, he also speaks in positive motivational seminars and sales conferences. He is a theology student at Liberty University. His Christian commitment is vibrant yet impactful in any setting.
Griffin is no stranger to gospel music and fans in the Carolinas. For 20 years, he was instrumental in the operation of the popular HALLELUJAH SUPPER CLUB in Newton, NC. He worked for the Singing Americans and managed/ sang with The Vanguards as well. Over the years, Charlie has toured, taught and promoted concerts, church sings, conducted rallies and festivals throughout the Southeast. Griffin records for Classic Artists Records and is songwriter with Three Associates Music, BMI.
As you listen to the melodies on his projects or in person, you hear and understand why gospel music is so endearing to him. “It is music with a positive message that impacts the listener even after the concert has ended.” Shares Griffin. Yes, the journey continues for someone who has been singing for 39 years. And by the signs, Charlie Griffin does not look like he is slowing down. The enthusiasm is still contagious for the music he shares. The message is still just as vibrant as the day he started. Yes, Charlie Griffin is still making music and enjoying what he does — SING…sharing the Good News! Griffin continues today with solo performances, teaching Positive Life Changing Seminars and touring extensively.
There are a few surprises that will happen with special guests, performers and fans. Many of gospel music’s most noted family members will be in attendance including many from the country music field.
Previous attendees included, Larry Strickland, Naomi Judd, Lou Wills Hildreth, Judy Nelon, Lem Kinslow, Michael Booth, Woody Wright, Reba Rambo, and Dony McGuire. In reality you just never know who will show up to tell a few of those ‘should’ve been there” stories.
THE COLLECTORS QUARTET
Gospel music is filled with collectors of the memorabilia. Those people are really keepers of the history in many ways. Their collections are priceless and yet in-depth. During the convention the Collectors Quartet will provide some antics and unique four part harmony that will inspire, elevate and just plain make you laugh with joy. John Crenshaw, Paul Conover, Harold Timmons, Brent Joiner and Dean Adkins will truly make it a concert to remember!
For more information or reservations visit
Holiday Inn Opryland-Airport RESERVATIONS – Rooms are available and at our discounted rate. Call 615-883-9770 ONLY M-F between 9-5 PM, and ask for sales group only or punch the option for sales. All sales people know of reservations for Face book Southern Gospel Group. The rate is $136.00 plus tax. For additional information or issues with late reservations or payment call Harold Timmons at 704-918-9919.
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