A Research Project: How Recent Were the Good Ol’ Days?

A Research Project: How Recent Were the Good Ol’ Days?

How long has it been since the good ol’ days?

This is almost impossible to quantify, so let’s ask a more specific question. Now and in the past, how close are Southern Gospel’s leading groups to their own good ol’ days? How close are they to the era that everyone speaks to most fondly?

No such question can be fully objectively quantified. But this is at least closer to a question that has an answer.

So for this research project, here’s how we’ll approach this question. We will determine this year’s leading groups from the 2018 Singing News Fan Award Finalists in several leading categories (Favorite Artist, Traditional Quartet, Mixed Group, Trio).

For comparison, we’ll look at finalists in similar categories from preceding decades:

  • 2018: Favorite Artist, Traditional Quartet, Mixed Group, Trio
  • 2008: Favorite Artist of the Year, Mixed Group, Male Quartet, Trio
  • 1998: Traditional Male Quartet, Mixed Quartet, Trio
  • [1988: Regrettably, I do not have a top 5 list for 1988]
  • 1978: Favorite Gospel Singing Group, Group of Mr. Gospel Singer, Group of Queen of Gospel Music

We will ask several questions:

  • At the year of the nomination, how many years has it been since (or until) the group’s classic lineup?
  • How many years has it been since (or until) the group’s signature song(s)?
  • What percent of the groups have had their classic lineup within the last five years (or have it in their future)?
  • What percent of the groups have had their signature song within the last five years or the last ten years (or have yet to record it)?

No one methodology is adequate on its own. But in the aggregate, we can find general trends.

Years since classic lineup and signature song

Chart: How many years since a group's signature song?

The raw data for these charts can be found in an appendix at the end.

Years since a group’s classic lineup:

  • 1978: 0.43 years average since classic lineup
  • 1998: 1 year average since classic lineup
  • 2008: 2.53 years average since classic lineup (see note below)
  • 2018: 4.83 years average since classic lineup

Years since a group’s signature song:

  • 1978: 2.1 years until signature song
  • 1998: 2.57 years since signature song
  • 2008: 6.57 years since signature song
  • 2018: 14.83 years since most recent signature song

This methodology is the simplest, but it also has some weaknesses. Most notably, it can be heavily biased by one outlier. In 2008, it was an average of 2.53 years since a group’s classic lineup. But this number was heavily biased by the Inspirations’ number; if they alone were removed from the list, then it would have been an average of 0.64 years.

So let’s look at this same data in several other ways.

Groups with five or fewer years since classic lineup

Chart of groups with five or fewer years since classic lineup

Listed by year:

  • 1978: Groups with five or fewer years since their classic lineup: 6/7
  • 1998: Groups with five or fewer years since their classic lineup: 14/15
  • 2008: Groups with five or fewer years since their classic lineup: 13/15
  • 2018: Groups with five or fewer years since their classic lineup: 11/15

This alone doesn’t tell us much, because Southern Gospel group lineups are often stable for decades. So we turn to signature songs.

Groups with five (or ten) or fewer years since signature song(s)

Chart: Groups with five (or ten) or fewer years since signature song(s)

Groups with five or fewer years since their signature song:

  • 1978: 7/9 groups
  • 1998: 8/14 groups
  • 2008: 9/14 groups
  • 2018: 1/15 groups

Groups with ten or fewer years since their signature song:

  • 1978: 9/9 groups
  • 1998: 10/14 groups
  • 2008: 12/14 groups
  • 2018: 4/15 groups

Conclusion

The good ol’ days for Southern Gospel’s leading groups do seem to be a little farther in the rear view mirror than usual.

But by many metrics, this gap is not as large as a casual observer might have guessed. Why is this?

Perhaps it has to do with the very nature of good ol’ days. They are, by nature, something that must be past, something that must be remembered.

Perhaps it also has to do with the selection criteria. When we think of topics like this, we’re likely to think of our genre’s current legacy groups—The Inspirations, Gold City, Blackwood Brothers, The Kingsmen, and the like. But none of these are among the 2018 nominees.

But if we go back to the eras when these groups were at their peak—for many of these, the late ’70s and early ’80s—there was another generation of legacy groups then who were past their peak—the Statesmen and Blackwood Brothers, and some of the other groups who dominated the stage in the ’50s and ’60s.

So these numbers, which by definition focus on the currently popular groups, paint a different picture than a data set more focused on the length of the tail end of a legacy group’s career.

There is one other interesting aspect. And perhaps this, more than anywhere else, is where the data ultimately points us. There are certainly groups at their peak right now; the Collingsworth Family is the most unanimously acclaimed example to come to mind. Others are rising, with peak years likely future (e.g., 11th Hour, Tribute Quartet, Old Paths). And there’s also a new generation of incredible talent coming up in groups like High Road, the Mylon Hayes Family, the Taylors, and the Erwins.

It is unfair to blame the fans for not giving the new generation a chance. The fans vote among the groups they know. Rather, the industry is relying more heavily than before on its legacy groups. This is almost impossible to quantify, without detailed access to booking venue histories or radio station playlists from decades past. But fans tend to vote for groups they hear regularly, both recorded and in person. And the data suggests that they’re hearing more of the legacy groups than the rising groups. This has always been the case to some extent; it’s just true to a larger extent now.

What kind of future will Southern Gospel have? That depends on whether the future receives enough of a chance to thrive.

Appendix: Raw Data

2018

Years since classic lineup

  • Booth Brothers: -4
  • Brian Free & Assurance: -11
  • Collingsworth Family: 0
  • Ernie Haase & Signature Sound: -11
  • Greater Vision: -1
  • Hoppers: 0
  • Isaacs: 0
  • Jim Brady Trio: 0 (n/a, no consensus)
  • Karen Peck & New River: -9
  • Kingdom Heirs: -4
  • Mark Trammell Quartet: -4
  • Perrys: -10
  • Tribute Quartet: 0
  • Triumphant Quartet: -4
  • Whisnants: 0

Years since signature song

  • Booth Brothers: -13
  • Brian Free & Assurance: -13
  • Collingsworth Family: -13
  • Ernie Haase & Signature Sound: -11
  • Greater Vision: -19
  • Hoppers: -15
  • Isaacs: -16
  • Jim Brady Trio: n/a
  • Karen Peck & New River: -18
  • Kingdom Heirs: -9
  • Mark Trammell Quartet: -10
  • Perrys: -9
  • Tribute Quartet: -6
  • Triumphant Quartet: -11
  • Whisnants: -15

2008

Years since classic lineup

  • Booth Brothers: 0
  • Collingsworth Family: 0
  • Ernie Haase & Signature Sound: -1
  • Gaither Vocal Band: -7
  • Greater Vision: :0
  • Hoppers: 0
  • Inspirations: -29
  • Isaacs: 0
  • Jeff & Sheri Easter: 0
  • Legacy Five: -1
  • Mark Trammell Trio:
  • McKameys: 0
  • Perrys: 0
  • Talley Trio: 0
  • Triumphant Quartet: 0

Years since signature song

  • Booth Brothers: -3
  • Collingsworth Family: -3
  • Ernie Haase & Signature Sound: -1
  • Gaither Vocal Band: -9
  • Greater Vision: -9
  • Hoppers: -5
  • Inspirations: -33
  • Isaacs: -6
  • Jeff & Sheri Easter: n/a, no consensus
  • Legacy Five: -2
  • Mark Trammell Trio: 0
  • McKameys: -20
  • Perrys: +1
  • Talley Trio: -1
  • Triumphant Quartet: -1

1998

Years since classic lineup

  • Bishops: 0
  • Brian Free & Assurance: +3
  • Cathedrals: 0
  • Crabb Family: +1
  • Gaither Vocal Band: 0
  • Gold City: 0
  • Greater Vision: 0
  • Hoppers: 0
  • Isaacs: 0
  • Kingsmen: -15
  • Martins: 0
  • McKameys: 0
  • Nelons: -8
  • Perrys: +4
  • Ruppes: 0

Years since signature song

  • Bishops: -9
  • Brian Free & Assurance: +7
  • Cathedrals: -11
  • Crabb Family: +1
  • Gaither Vocal Band: +1
  • Gold City: -11
  • Greater Vision: +1
  • Hoppers: +5
  • Isaacs: +4
  • Kingsmen: -17
  • Martins: n/a (no clear consensus)
  • McKameys: -10
  • Nelons: -15
  • Perrys: +11
  • Ruppes: -3

1978

Years since classic lineup

  • Blackwood Brothers: -14
  • Dixie Echoes: n/a – no consensus
  • Evie Tornquist: n/a – soloist
  • Florida Boys: n/a – no consensus
  • Happy Goodmans: 0
  • Hinsons: 0
  • Hopper Brothers & Connie: +11
  • Inspirations: 0
  • Kingsmen: 0
  • Nelons: 0

Years since signature song

  • Blackwood Brothers: -1
  • Dixie Echoes: n/a – no consensus
  • Evie Tornquist: +1
  • Florida Boys: +6
  • Happy Goodmans: -10
  • Hinsons: -7
  • Hopper Brothers & Connie: +25
  • Inspirations: -3
  • Kingsmen: +3
  • Nelons: +5

Classic lineup(s) for groups nominated in 1978, 1998, 2008, and 2018

  • Bishops – 1984-2001, with Ken, Kenny, and Mark Bishop
  • Blackwood Brothers – 1952-54, with Bill Shaw, James and R.W. Blackwood, Bill Lyles, and Jack Marshall, and 1954-64, with Bill Shaw, James and Cecil Blackwood, J.D. Sumner, and Jack Marshall and (after 1958) Wally Varner on piano
  • Booth Brothers – 2002-14, with Michael and Ronnie Booth and Jim Brady
  • Brian Free & Assurance – 2001-07, with Brian Free, Bill Shivers, Craig Singletary and later Derrick Selph, and Bill Lawrence and later Keith Plott
  • Cathedrals – 1981-1999; each of the lineups (except the brief Kurt Young lineup) have substantial portions of the fanbase advocating them as the greatest ever, so I’ll avoid the controversy of picking one
  • Collingsworth Family – 2000-present, with Phil Sr., Kim, Brooklyn, Courtney, Phil Jr., and Olivia Collingsworth
  • Crabb Family – ca. 1999-ca. 2002, with Gerald, Kathy, Jason, Adam, Aaron, Kelly, and Terah Crabb
  • Dixie Echoes – n/a: No consensus on a classic lineup
  • Ernie Haase & Signature Sound – 2003-07: Ernie Haase, Ryan Seaton, Doug Anderson, Tim Duncan, Roy Webb
  • Evie Tornquist – n/a; Evie was a soloist
  • Florida Boys – n/a; no real consensus on which lineup was the classic
  • Gaither Vocal Band – 1997-2001, with David Phelps, Guy Penrod, Mark Lowry, and Bill Gaither
  • Gold City – 1985-92, with Brian Free, Ivan Parker, Mike LeFevre, Tim Riley, and Garry Jones, and 1996-2002, with (vocalists) Jay Parrack, Jonathan Wilburn, Mark Trammell, and Tim Riley
  • Greater Vision – 1995-2008: Jason Waldroup, Gerald Wolfe, Rodney Griffin, and 2010-2017: Chris Allman, Gerald Wolfe, Rodney Griffin
  • Happy Goodmans – 1963-80, Vestal, Howard, Sam, and Rusty Goodman, with assorted fifth vocalists and musicians
  • Hinsons – 1974-79: Chris Hawkins Freeman, and Kenny, Larry, and Ronny Hinson
  • Hoppers – 1989-today: Kim, Dean, Connie, and Claude Hopper, with assorted fifth vocalists and musicians
  • Inspirations – 1966-69: Archie Watkins, Ronnie Hutchins, Jack Laws, Troy Burns, Martin Cook and 1974-79: Archie Watkins, Troy Burns, Eddie Dietz, Mike Holcomb, Martin Cook
  • Isaacs – 1998-present: Lily, Ben, Sonya, and Becky Isaacs, with assorted fifth vocalists and musicians
  • Jeff & Sheri Easter – 1995-2008: Jeff and Sheri Easter and Charlotte Ritchie
  • Jim Brady Trio – n/a: No consensus on a classic lineup
  • Karen Peck & New River – 1999-2003:  Karen Peck Gooch, Susan Peck Jackson, and John Darin Rowsey and 2005-09: Karen Peck Gooch, Susan Peck Jackson, and Devin McGlamery
  • Kingdom Heirs – 2002-14: Arthur Rice, Steve French, Jeff Chapman, and either Jodi Hosterman, Billy Hodges, or Jerry Martin on tenor
  • Kingsmen – 1973-77: Johnny Parrack, Jim Hamill or Squire Parsons, Eldridge Fox, Ray Dean Reese, Nick Bruno, and other band members, and 1979-83: Ernie Phillips, Jim Hamill, Wayne Maynard, Ray Dean Reese, Anthony Burger, and other band members
  • Legacy Five – 1999-2007: Scott Fowler, Scott Howard, Glenn Dustin, Roger Bennett, and several tenors, Josh Cobb, Tony Jarman, and Frank Seamans
  • Mark Trammell Trio/Quartet – 2010-14: Joel Wood or Dustin Black on tenor, Dustin Sweatman or Nick Trammell on lead, Mark Trammell, Pat Barker
  • Martins – ca. 1987-2002 and 2011-today: Joyce, Judy, and Jonathan Martin
  • McKameys – 1971-today: Ruben and Peg Bean, Connie Fortner, and either Carol Woodard or Sheryl Farris
  • Nelons – 1977-81: Janet Paschal, Kelly and Rex Nelon, Rodney Swain and 1982-90: Kelly and Rex Nelon, Karen Peck, Jerry Thompson, and Todd Nelon
  • Perrys – 2004-2008 (losoely), with Libbi Perry Stuffle, Tracy Stuffle, Matthew Holt, and Joseph Habedank; with a variety of lead/baritone singers, it’s not entirely clear that one particular lineup was the classic version
  • Ruppes – ca. 1990-ca. 2002, with Brenda, Valerie, and Kim
  • Talley Trio/Talleys – 1983-93, with Kirk, Roger, and Debra Talley, or 1995-2011 and 2013-current with Roger, Debra, and Lauren Talley
  • Tribute Quartet – 2011-present, with Riley Harrison Clark, Gary Casto, Josh Singletary, and Anthony Davis
  • Triumphant Quartet – 2002-14, with David Sutton, Clayton Inman, Scott Inman, Eric Bennett, and Jeff Stice
  • Whisnants – 2001-current, with Jeff and Susan Whisnant and Aaron Hise

Signature Song(s) for groups nominated in 1978, 1998, 2008, and 2018

  • Bishops – Lazarus Come Forth (1989)
  • Blackwood Brothers – Learning to Lean (1976)
  • Booth Brothers – Still Feelin’ Fine (2001), He Saw It All (2005)
  • Brian Free & Assurance – For God So Loved (1996), Long as I Got King Jesus (2005)
  • Cathedrals – Step Into the Water (1982), We Shall See Jesus (1983), Champion of Love (1987)
  • Collingsworth Family – How Great Thou Art (2005)
  • Crabb Family – Through the Fire (1999)
  • Dixie Echoes – n/a – no consensus on a signature song
  • Ernie Haase & Signature Sound – Stand By Me (2003), Get Away Jordan (2007)
  • Evie Tornquist – Come On, Ring Those Bells (1979)
  • Florida Boys – When He Was On The Cross (1984)
  • Gaither Vocal Band – Let Freedom Ring (1999) (most of the group’s other signature songs were carried over from the Bill Gaither Trio repertoire)
  • Gold City – Midnight Cry (1987)
  • Greater Vision – My Name is Lazarus (1999)
  • Happy Goodmans – I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now (1964), Who Am I (1966), Had it Not Been (1968)
  • Hinsons – The Lighthouse (1971)
  • Hoppers – Shoutin’ Time (1997), Jerusalem (2003)
  • Inspirations – Touring That City (1974), Jesus is Mine (1975)
  • Isaacs – He Ain’t Never Done Me Nothin’ But Good (2002)
  • Jeff & Sheri Easter – n/a – no consensus on a signature song
  • Jim Brady Trio – n/a – no clear consensus on a signature song
  • Karen Peck & New River – Four Days Late (2000)
  • Kingdom Heirs – I Know I’m Going There (2004), What We Needed (2007), He Locked the Gates (2009)
  • Kingsmen – Is That the Old Ship of Zion (1977), Excuses (1981)
  • Legacy Five – I Stand Redeemed (1999), I’ve Been Changed (2006)
  • Mark Trammell Trio/Quartet – no clear consensus yet, but I’ll go with Loving the Lamb (2008)
  • Martins – n/a – no clear consensus on a signature song
  • McKameys – God on the Mountain (1988)
  • Nelons – We Shall Wear a Robe and Crown (1980), Oh For a Thousand Tongues (1983)
  • Perrys – I Rest My Case at the Cross (2001), I Wish I Coulda Been There (2003), If You Knew Him (2009)
  • Ruppes – Under His Wings (1995)
  • Talley Trio/Talleys – Hallelujah, Praise the Lamb (1989), The Broken Ones (2007)
  • Tribute Quartet – Good News from Jerusalem (2012)
  • Triumphant Quartet – The Old White Flag (2007)
  • Whisnants – Is Anything Too Hard for God (1999), Even in the Valley (2003)
Category History

Daniel J. Mount

Daniel J. Mount is a Christian author and songwriter. He lives in Black Mountain, NC.

MusicScribe Comments

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8 Comments

  1. Diana Brantley
    Reply September 25, 13:27 #1 Diana Brantley

    Wow, Daniel!! That’s a lot of data and, as usual, a very thorough examination/comparison of our history and the current players in the genre. Thanks for so much hard work!!!

  2. scottysearan
    Reply September 25, 13:52 #2 scottysearan

    I definitely agree with most of what you posted.

    The Only thing I believe I would add to your list is to with The Happy Goodmans.

    I take nothing away from the signature songs of their that you posted and they should be there.
    But How did “This Is what Heaven Means To Me” and “God Walks The Dark Hills” not make it into the mix.

    Did we not forget the Sego Brothers & Naomi with James, Naomi, W.R, & Lamar Sego with two signature songs and one a million seller: “Is My Lord Satisfied With Me/” and “Sorry I Never Knew You.”

    Wendy Bagwell & the Sunliters, besides the “The Rattlesnake Story” they had a signature song, “I Firmly Promise You.”

    Can anyone doubt “We’ve Got The Power” being Laverne Tripps Signature song.

    How about “I’ll See You In THe Rapture” Jerry Goff.

    Teddy Huffam & the Gems – “Gone”

    Charlese Johnson & The Revivers: “I Can’t Even Walk Without You Holding My Hand” & “Going To The Matting”

    Lamar Sego Family – “Hallelujah Square.”

    Did I mess up your list

    You did a good job. Just thought I would throw in a little more.

    God Bless you

    • Daniel J. Mount
      Reply September 25, 14:19 Daniel J. Mount Author

      Scotty, Thanks!

      I wasn’t just picking random groups or personal favorites. The groups featured above are the top 5 finalists for the leading categories in the Singing News Fan Awards in 1978, 1998, 2008, and 2018. Any group not mentioned there is only not mentioned there because they weren’t a top 5 nominee in those years.

      This was the best way I could think of to identify the groups most widely recognized as the leading groups in their own day.

  3. Tad Kirkland
    Reply September 25, 21:40 #3 Tad Kirkland

    Martins signature song: The Promise

    Jeff & Sheri’s: Roses Will Bloom Again & Praise His Name

    I’ve never heard the Collingsworth’s version of How Great Thou Art unless it’s a Kim piano solo?

    Since covers of classics are ok (Collingsworths), then the Booth Bros Look For Me At Jesus Feet has been just as significant for them as the other 2 mentioned. They seemed to have abandoned Still Feelin Fine for some reason in favor of Feelin Mighty Fine.

    • Daniel J. Mount
      Reply September 26, 08:18 Daniel J. Mount Author

      Martins and Jeff and Sheri: Yes, I’d say you’re right on both counts. For Jeff & Sheri in particular, I don’t know the nuances of their discography the way I do for most of the other groups discussed.

      Yes, “How Great Thou Art” is a piano solo for Kim. I was reluctant to list it here because I distinctly prefer to list signature songs for groups that are original to that group (see: Booth Brothers). But I couldn’t think of a song that’s been bigger for the Collingsworths than that one was, so with some reluctance, I listed it there. Hopefully the song that, at their retirement, we’ll recognize as their signature song is yet future, which would of course necessitate these numbers being adjusted some decades from now.

      • Brad
        Reply October 04, 12:39 Brad

        I have heard Phil Collingsworth say in concert that “Fear Not Tomorrow” is their most requested song. I would probably consider that their signature song.

        • Daniel J. Mount
          Reply October 04, 14:32 Daniel J. Mount Author

          I would agree that it is their best song yet. (That, and maybe their cover of “Burdens are Lifted at Calvary.) I happen to think they still have a better song in them; I think the song we’ll remember them by is still in their future.

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