Full-Time Singers In Part-Time Groups

Full-Time Singers In Part-Time Groups

30 years ago , Southern Gospel was pretty much defined by quartets and the occasional trio. If you wanted to see George Younce and Glen Payne on stage, you simply had to find out when the Cathedrals were going to be appearing close enough for you to travel and see them. Over the next couple of decades, Southern Gospel saw a steady increase in trios, soloists, and even some duo formats. In recent years, it’s becoming more difficult to categorize certain singers as soloists or group members.

Consider last Friday’s #NewsNuggets article where we listed several personnel changes, among them, Bob Sellers, who recently left the Kingsmen Quartet and has now landed with The Old Time Preachers Quartet. In the same article, we noted that Jody McBrayer of Cana’s Voice has announced his return to the group he left 12 years ago, Avalon. Avalon only plans to perform 10-15 dates in the coming year. McBrayer will do another 25 dates or so with Cana’s Voice. Both Sellers and McBrayer are full-time singers who split their time between concerts where they appear as soloists and concerts where they appear with a group (or in McBrayer’s case, groups).

Recently, I chatted with a member/owner of a top Southern Gospel group that plans to reduce the quantity of group appearances by 30-35% in 2019. Each group member will be adding solo appearances to their schedules, so chances are strong they’ll continue to be full-time singers, even though the group might reasonably be called part-time in the future. Another example is Steve Ladd, who sings tenor for the Old Paths Quartet. Until recently, they were a part-time group, and Ladd completed his schedule with solo dates.

Even if a group is full-time, you still might see a singer do an occasional solo performance (Lauren Talley) or sing in another format (Scott & Kasey Inman). Of course, with some full-time groups, you will never see members perform solo dates, because full-time groups that pay a salary year-round sometimes forbid any extra solo appearances. Several years ago, I attempted to book a singer for an appearance at the church where I am the music director.  I knew he routinely drove through our community on his way from his home to meet the group’s bus. It wasn’t possible, however, due to the groups “absolutely no solo dates” rule. While discussing this article, MusicScribe’s Kyle Boreing also informed me of a singer who lost his job after doing a solo appearance without first consulting the group owner.

It’s not a bad idea, though. Consider:

1. Fewer opportunities to see a group makes each event where they do appear more unique/exclusive. This is one way for a singer to work in the same region without wearing out their welcome.

2. Solo appearances allow individual singers to be seen in different settings. Most are pretty good at interacting with local singers and/or musicians. Crowds love that.

3. A singer who has already made a name for themselves in a popular group can generally pocket more after expenses when they appear as a soloist than they can when singing with a group.

4. Of course, for concert promoters, booking a soloist is cheaper than booking a group. You might be able to see a popular soloist at a smaller local venue where the group would never appear.

Reasons for choosing this route vary from group to group and singer to singer. Bill Gaither is never going to go back to doing 120+ events per year, and he obviously pays the members of the Gaither Vocal Band more than most groups can afford to pay. Still, when the GVB isn’t booked, you’ll often see individual members of the group maintaining their exposure as soloists or, in Adam Crabb’s case, doing the occasional reunion tour with the Crabb Family. This practice for GVB members dates back more than 25 years when Mark Lowry and Michael English maintained active solo careers at the same time they were still traveling with the GVB.

For Bob Sellers, it appears to be a matter of balancing the ability to be home for longer periods of time each week while still being able to scratch that itch of singing harmony. Rick Strickland has followed a similar path for the past few years, splitting his time between solo appearances and singing with the Songfellows. For Jody McBrayer, it’s an opportunity to rekindle his connection to Avalon fans who have missed seeing him for the past 12 years.

What are your thoughts as a fan? Does the opportunity to see a solo concert featuring someone who also sings with a group interest you, or would you be more likely to just wait to catch them the next time the entire group is singing nearby? How can we possibly complete a Singing New Fan Awards nomination ballot that requires singers to be “full-time” in some specific role when more and more singers are going to dual part-time status?

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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7 Comments

  1. Tim Dazey
    Reply September 04, 17:41 #1 Tim Dazey

    This will sound terrible but there’s only one soloist I world travel to or pay to see. I’m a dyed in the wool quartet guy. I will say though in don’t understand why an owner wouldn’t allow someone to book some solo dates if it didn’t interfere with the group or take dates away from the group. I keep hearing that there’s no money in quartet singing so letting someone do a solo gig would help them support their family. BTW, I would love be to know what southern gospel group member make on average. As I said, no ones getting rich in SG music so why do people do it for a living and some for a very long time. I’d be curious to know.

  2. scottysearan
    Reply September 05, 00:52 #2 scottysearan

    Southern Gospel Music is a business. Groups have to protect their interests. . I image if you got down to it you would find that many members of the groups are bivocational.
    Southern Gospel Music never has been an industry where you can get rich doing it.
    For most it is just making a living. There are various reasons that the people are involved in Southern Gospel Music.
    I would like to think that they sing foremost for the Ministry of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    But I am sure there are some who are on an Ego Trip.
    But I wonder how many who are there singing now and just coming on be singing as long as Ed O’Neal, Claude Hopper, Connie Hopper, Jeanette Cooke , Ray Dean Reese , Archie watkins, The Singing Echoes, Kelly Nelon Clarke, J. B. and Barbara Spencer, Bill Gaither. and Chris Freeman.
    I could name other, but considering how the groups change, How many will last for 50 years plus.
    The road is not going to get any easier.
    It may mean going back to basics..
    No matter how popular a group or a singer is they ought to remember the little churches that got them started
    Those little churches may mean more to you than you realize.
    One thing a smaller church will do to you, give you a psychological lift. It will be good to sing to a small packed house that a mega church only 20% full.

  3. Tigrfan
    Reply September 05, 07:38 #3 Tigrfan

    I pretty much agree with Tim, except I can’t think of a single soloist I would travel or pay to see (possible exception – Mark Lowry, but it’s for his comedy not his music). I understand they make money that way, but to me it’s not even southern gospel. It’s especially bad when they use recorded accompaniment.

  4. Kyle Boreing
    Reply September 05, 12:32 #4 Kyle Boreing

    It will be interesting to see how the Singing News Awards addresses this change (if at all). Are there any similar restrictions/guidelines for NQC main stage performances?

    I can understand the risk of allowing group members to book solo dates. Let’s say Group A is rather conservative, they have a conservative audience, and the group owner goes out of their way to ensure that the group is represented in a certain way (or branding, as we call it in the marketing world). Group A lets Singer 1 do a solo concert in Chattanooga a few weeks before Group A is scheduled to be in the same area. Singer 1 does a more progressive solo set. If audiences are aware that Singer 1 is a member of Group A, then Singer 1 may have just damaged the conservative reputation of Group A, leading to a lower turnout at the concert.

    Or, let’s remove the branding issue and just look at exposure. If Ivan Parker booked a solo date ahead of a Gold City concert in the late 80’s and proceeded to sing “Midnight Cry,” “When I Get Carried Away,” and other GC hits, then some of that audience may have felt like they already saw the show, so why go see GC (at a higher price)?

    If the singer has a separately-known solo repertoire, then it would be a different story (as was the case with singers like Michael English), but for group members to go sing solo dates and do primarily songs they are known for with a group DOES hurt the brand by cutting into the market share of the group.

    Another issue that can arise related to material – what if the soloist’s songs get better response than the group’s? Should the group work them into the show? Should the soloist get a dedicated solo feature? Will the soloist become the “star” of the group?

    I think, if SG had more live musicians, the issue wouldn’t be as blatant, as a soloist could create new arrangements of the same songs, but for part-time soloists who only travel with tracks, they either need to spend the money on new tracks or use the same ones the group uses, again creating a “seen it once, seen it all” atmosphere.

    • Darrell
      Reply September 06, 21:31 Darrell

      The live musicians thing is a good point. I think having a live band could be part of the reason why Jason Crabb is so popular. I would rather go hear him than a sub par quartet singing with tracks. Shoot, even a soloist who accompanies himself on the guitar or piano is better than just soundtracks. :-)

    • David Bruce Murray
      Reply September 06, 22:15 David Bruce Murray Author

      There are no restrictions on NQC performances. They have occasionally featured part-time artists on the main stage in the past when the name recognition was big enough…Goodman Revival comes to mind.

      Regarding soloists doing group material, I don’t really see it as a major issue as long as they are doing smaller dates. When we had Lauren Talley at my church last year, for example, she sang several Talleys hits along with some of her solo material. If the Talleys had been booked in our area a few months later, I believe her solo appearance in the same area would have helped rather than hurt their crowd.

  5. Chris G.
    Reply September 05, 16:15 #5 Chris G.

    I agree 100% with Tim’s comment, and related to what Tigrfan wrote, the only soloist I actually have paid to see was Mark Lowry. His comedy was the main attraction.

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