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?