1985 was a great year for Southern Gospel quartet fans.

I’ve been reading and participating in online Southern Gospel discussion forums for 20 years now, so I have a bit of a grasp on which group line-ups fans remember most fondly. These aren’t necessarily my personal favorite line-ups for every group I’m about to list, but most fans seem to agree these were some of the very best.

It’s amazing how many of those memorable iterations of top groups co-existed for a just few months in 1985.

CathedralsFrom 1983 to 1986 and from 1988 to 1990, the Cathedrals line-up was: Danny Funderburk, Glen Payne, Mark Trammell, George Younce, and Roger Bennett. In 1985, you can be sure they sang “Somebody Touched Me” every night. They’d recorded it the previous year. This line-up was first created when Funderburk joined in 1983 and ended when Bennett left in 1986. When Bennett returned in 1988, the line-up was re-united until the departure of Funderburk in 1990. Trammell would leave later that same year.

Gold CityFrom 1985-1992, the Gold City line-up was: Brian Free, Ivan Parker, Mike LeFevre, Tim Riley and Garry Jones. This era began and ended with the arrival and departure of Mike LeFevre. In 1985, Gold City was already making waves on radio with hits like “I Think I’ll Read It Again” and “John Saw.” The same line-up would produce the mega-hit “Midnight Cry” three years later.

Singing AmericansIn 1985, the Singing Americans line-up was: Rick Strickland, Michael English, Ed Hill, Dwayne Burke and Milton Smith. This brief window of greatness existed from the time Smith arrived in 1985 until English departed later that same year. The group was riding high on the success of their hit song, “I Bowed On My Knees And Cried Holy,” from their 1984 live album. They followed that up in 1985 with their most critically acclaimed studio album, Black And White.

Of course, by the end of 1985, Michael English had joined the Gaither Vocal Band, so that was the one and only year you could have seen him sing with both groups.

Florida BoysFrom 1983 to 1986, the Florida Boys line-up included Terry Davis, Les Beasley, Glen Allred, Buddy Liles and Derrall Stewart. This combination produced the group’s biggest hit song ever, “When He Was On The Cross I Was On His Mind.” It was voted Song Of The Year at the Singing News Fan Awards in 1985. It’s also worth noting that when the Florida Boys retired in 2007 during the National Quartet Convention, this line-up from 1985 was the one they chose to highlight. Of course, they also featured the song.

NelonsFrom 1981 to 1990, the Nelons line-up included Karen Peck, Kelly Nelon, Jerry Thompson and Rex Nelon. Todd Nelon was in the vocal mix at times from 1982 to 1992 as well. What made this most-loved line-up of the Nelons stand out even more in 1985 and 1986 was the addition of pianist Stan Whitmire. Whitmire made such an impact that the Nelons won Favorite Band at the Singing News Fan Awards in 1985, beating out the Kingsmen who had received the award four years in a row from 1981-1984.

KingsmenSpeaking of the Kingsmen, 1985 did not feature the most-loved line-up of every group, of course, but it did feature the second (or possibly third) most-loved line-up for the Kingsmen Quartet. Members of the group that year included Garry Shepherd, Jim Hamill (with some songs featuring bass guitarist Arthur Rice singing lead), Ed Crawford, Ray Dean Reese and Anthony Burger. This version of the Kingsmen is the second or possibly third overall favorite behind the Ernie Phillips/Wayne Maynard line-up and/or the Johnny Parrack/Squire Parsons/Nick Bruno line-up from the late 1970s.

Masters VThe most-loved line-up of the Masters V ended in 1982 with the departure of Rosie Rozell, but the group still had a tremendous following in 1985 with Steve Warren, Jake Hess, James Blackwood, J D Sumner and Hovie Lister. I would argue that the group’s best vocal years were when they had Warren, though he didn’t bring the nostalgia factor that Rozell offered. I don’t say that to diminish Rozell who was a tremendous tenor in years past, but was obviously not the singer he used to be during his time with the Masters V.

SpeersSimilarly, I would not argue that 1985 featured the best-loved line-up of the Speer Family, but they did accomplish something rather unique in 1985. They made a concept video for their song “City Coming Down,” which was a novelty for a Southern Gospel group during the MTV era. It remains a favorite among Southern Gospel historians.

DMB BandWith the growth of Contemporary Christian Music, one long-time Southern Gospel group chose to re-brand in 1985. The Dixie Melody Boys became the DMB Band. This experiment did not stick. They returned to a traditional Southern quartet format in 1988, but the new sounds sure did make the musical landscape of 1985 more interesting.

Many long-time Southern Gospel fans would love to see another resurgence of the styles made popular during the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s. I’d gladly settle for one more year like 1985.

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David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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  1. Reply December 31, 14:58 #1 Chris Garcia


    Thank you for the great memories of some of the finest compositions of top gospel groups. Not only do I agree with you, but the memories also have me entering 2016 with extra warm and positive feelings.

  2. Reply December 31, 19:38 #2 John Crenshaw (@john_crenshawjr)

    Hard to believe these online discussion forums have been going on for 20 years! Great article. Happy new year!

  3. Reply January 01, 15:54 #3 Tad Kirkland

    I totally agree. I would add the Talleys and Hemphills were putting out some great music during this era. Major SG labels were dominating SG music at this point.
    Things were headed down in quality by the end of the 80s and 90s with the rise of a particular newer label whose MO was to put out cheaper 8 song recordings.
    I’d say the quality has returned but there is an overabundance of “artists” these days.

    • Reply January 01, 16:16 David Bruce Murray Author

      The production quality is there, for sure, and I hear a lot of good songs. Sadly, though, there’s rarely any such thing as a true hit song any more. The industry runs songs up and down the charts too fast. There are too too many “pretty good” artists getting equal attention for any truly GREAT artists to emerge.

      I don’t even see people discussing it with most of the current groups. Do passionate fans argue over which version of Ernie Haase & Signature Sound has been the best line-up so far? Maybe so, but I’ve missed those discussions. Is there any weeping and gnashing of teeth when a particular group member leaves a popular group? I’m almost always more curious to see what the group will sound like after the next member joins than I am sad that anyone left…even when I think a group had a combination that was really clicking.

      • Reply January 02, 10:55 Jackie

        In regards to a lack of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” when artists leave a group, I will say that discussions in general are lacking on all subjects because posters are often put down for their opinions by those who disagree. Civil discussions and tolerance for different opinions are mostly extinct. Forums are going the way of the dodo bird. Too bad because I used to enjoy the discussions but now when/if I do post it is with great trepidation.

        • Reply January 04, 07:36 Tad Kirkland

          I wonder if the lack of huge hit songs are the songs aren’t as memorable or the lack of discernment of DJs/easy manipulation by radio promoters.
          When I tried to think of some songs today that might be comparable to When He Was On The Cross or Champion Of Love, I thought of Sometimes It Takes A Mountain. If it had been a single by Gold City in 1985, it likely would have been #1 for several months. But it did not reach #1 in 2015 for even one month because songs like a song about a device to take someone to another time which was at best late 90s CCM spent time at #1.
          It’s 2016 and the most revered SG chart is still posted in print form 2 months after the chart is determined. Reform in SG charting is definitely needed and this has been discussed in venues such as this for years.

          • January 06, 22:30 David Bruce Murray Author

            Singing News does have a Top 10 weekly chart that you can receive by email which is only delayed by a little more than a week. The one I received today reflects airplay for December 20-26, for example.

            Also, Singing News posts the monthly Top 80 chart online several weeks before people receive the magazine. I’m not sure what else they could do to improve the timeliness of the chart in print form short of sending the magazines out the door for next day delivery as soon as they’re printed, which obviously isn’t practical with a $25 subscription.

            One thing I wish they would do is indicate the dates of the airplay period they are reporting on the Top 80 in the magazine. If they can do it with the weekly Top 10 they send out by email, they could do that in the magazine’s Top 80 as well. That would give people a clearer idea of what they’re really seeing.

  4. Reply January 01, 16:59 #4 William Boen

    I tend to dis-agree on the dmb band. I would call it a more country sound than contemporary Christian. I also think those 2 or 3 albums were their best.

    • Reply January 01, 17:28 David Bruce Murray Author

      DMB Band was definitely Country.

      I only mentioned the growth of Contemporary Christian, because that’s what started squeezing traditional Southern Gospel out of the limelight.

      Many groups felt the pressure to change to something other than traditional SG in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Imperials successfully made the transition to Contemporary Christian, while the Oak Ridge Boys had already made the shift to mainstream Country. The Blue Ridge Quartet attempted a shift to Country as well, but like the DMB Band experiment, it didn’t really work out.

  5. Reply February 11, 09:01 #5 Reggie Brann

    I have a Blue Ridge country single called “Give Me One More Chance” on a 45rpm record. Does anyone remember if they released anything else?

    I remember BR came by Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA and the Oak Ridge Boys invited them on stage. I cannot recall if Blue Ridge (and that is what they called themselves at that point) sang a song by themselves or sang a tune with the ORB.

    1985 was a good year in SGM. I have everyone of the albums pictured, except the Masters V project……. 80’s were good …… good albums, good concerts, loads of good groups in addition to the ones noted (big Hinsons fan here) with bands !!!

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