100-Year Traditions: Speer Family

by | May 29, 2021 | History

The original Speer Quartet was formed on February 27, 1921 by George Thomas Speer, his wife Lena Brock Speer, his youngest sister Pearl Speer Claborn and his brother-in-law Logan Claborn. George Thomas was a gospel songwriter, teacher, and farmer. As time went by, he and Lena would come to be known by fans and family alike as Dad and Mom Speer.

Speer Family – early 1920s
Lena Speer, George Thomas Speer, Pearl Claborn, Logan Claborn

The Claborns retired from the Speer Family Quartet around 1925. At that point, Mom and Dad performed as a duet with featured solos by their children Brock and Rosa Nell. When Mary Tom and Ben came along, they followed the same tradition. Some photos exist of Ben standing on a chair when he sang so the audience could see him better.

Speer Family – mid-1930s

Like many groups of that time, the Speer Family was associated with songbook companies; they first worked for Vaughan in the mid-1930s to early 1940s, and then for Stamps-Baxter in the 1940s. They also began to sing on radio station WSFA in Montgomery, Alabama.

All of the Speer children learned to play instruments. Rosa Nell and later, Ben, played piano. In 1948, Brock met Faye Ihrig and they were soon married. Faye joined the group to share alto singing duties with Mom, but she was soon back off the road as her children were born.

Speer Family – mid 1950s
with Joyce Black, the first non-family member to join the group

By 1955, Rosa Nell and Mary Tom had left the group. Joyce Black was hired to play piano and sing soprano. For the next 25 years, every soprano hired by the Speer Family also played piano. A few years later, the group looked outside the family for a tenor singer, first hiring Shaun Nielsen, then Jerry Redd for a few months, and Charles Yates for about three years. In 1966, they hired Harold Lane. Lane would become a fixture with the group for the next 21 year.

As Dad Speer’s health began to decline in the early 1960s, Mom stayed off the road to be with him and Faye Speer returned to the group. Dad Speer passed away in 1966 and Mom followed him in 1967. Brock later stated that they considered retiring the group at that time, but they were encouraged by their peers to continue.

Faye continued to sing until Jeanne Johnson joined the group to sing alto around 1968. Jeanne would remain with the group until 1976 when she was replaced by Vicki Clayton Harvell. Faye returned returned in 1977 replacing Harvell.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Speer Family was seen across the nation on the Gospel Singing Jubilee television program. They also sang on the New Gospel Singing Caravan show, a successor to the original Gospel Singing Caravan program that featured just the Speers and the LeFevres.

When the Singing News magazine began tracking airplay in the early 1970s, the Speers were regulars on the chart. They scored their first number one song in 1979 with “What Sins Are You Talking About.” It held the top position for six months from March through August. Ten years later, they again reached number one with “Saved To The Uttermost” in 1989 followed by “He’s Still In The Fire” in 1990.

In 1985, the Speers released a concept video for their song “City Coming Down.” The video began with the group (Brock, Ben, Faye, Harold Land and soprano Caroline Traylor) on the bus discussing a unique concert experience before flashing back to the performance. Rosa Nell, Mary Tom, and members of the Singing Americans can be seen as actors in the audience.

Brock & Faye Speer
From the concept video “City Coming Down” in the mid-1980s

After 75 years, the Speer Family reduced their touring schedule. At the National Quartet Convention in 1998, they announced their retirement from gospel singing. Their peers presented roses to the group in honor of their years of service to the gospel music industry.

Dad, Mom and Brock Speer were inducted into the SGMA Hall Of Fame in 1997. Ben was inducted the following year. Brock passed away in 1999.

The group kept their regular booth each year at the National Quartet Convention for several years beyond their official retirement. Ben, Faye, Mary Tom, and Rosa Nell made occasional appearances together sometimes joined on stage by other former members of the group.

New Speer Revival
Former Speer Family group members Marc Speer and Karen Apple launched a group called New Speer Revival in the early 2000s. They sang for a couple of years before disbanding.

New Speer Revival – early 2000s

New Speer Family
In early 2018, Brian Speer (son of Brock and Faye Speer) and his wife Allison Durham Speer announced the formation of the New Speer Family. Joining Brian and Allison in the new group were Mike Allen and Ben Waites.

New Speer Family – 2018

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Speer Family.

Other current artists connected to the Speer family tree include soloist Ann (Sanders) Downing who got her start singing soprano with the Speer Family before forming The Downings with her husband Paul in 1969; soloist Sue (Chenault) Dodge whose career was boosted in the 1990s by her frequent appearances on the Gaither Homecoming videos; and pianist/producer Tim Parton who played piano for the Speer Family in the early 1990s.

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David Bruce Murray

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.


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