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

by Daniel J. Mount | September 25, 2018 12:00 PM

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:

We will ask several questions:

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:

Years since a group’s 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:

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:

Groups with ten or fewer years since their signature song:

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

Years since signature song

2008

Years since classic lineup

Years since signature song

1998

Years since classic lineup

Years since signature song

1978

Years since classic lineup

Years since signature song

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

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

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