The Cathedral Quartet is among the most well-loved and respected gospel groups in history. There isn’t a quartet singer today who isn’t familiar with the rich history of the Cathedrals, and you would be hard pressed to find many fans who don’t own at least SOMETHING from the Cathedrals’ recording catalog. That’s why it’s rather sad that many of their albums haven’t appeared on streaming platforms in recent years.
That is, until a few weeks ago, when several Cathedrals catalog titles started showing up on digital and streaming services. These include titles from their Homeland Records releases along with a few Word/Canaan releases . The record company releasing these is Curb/Word (Curb Records now owns the Word Records catalog). That Curb/Word is releasing the Canaan titles is not surprising as Canaan was a division of Word, so they should have full access to those titles. What IS surprising, however, is that Curb is also releasing several Homeland Records releases; namely I’ve Just Started Living, 25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, and Climbing Higher and Higher.
Then, in an email newsletter this week, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound announced that Climbing Higher & Higher (which was Haase’s debut with the Cathedrals in 1990) was being released on June 30th as part of the StowTown Records Vault Series (which has released other Cathedrals catalog titles in the past). StowTown is distributed by Sony, which is a competitor to Curb/Word. That means that two versions of the same album will be available at the same time from two different record companies (neither of whom, to the best of my knowledge, had anything to do with the album’s original release).
Adding to the confusion is who actually owns the various Cathedrals recording masters in the first place.
Some are fairly easy to figure out. Curb/Word is the current rights holder to Canaan Records, so anything the Cathedrals recorded at Canaan should be available to Curb to release at their leisure. The Cathedrals’ “table projects” were released on their own Eternal Records, which was owned outright by the group, and therefore should be fair game to the family to release (namely, Ernie Haase, who is also George Younce’s son-in-law, and his StowTown Records, which has already released at least one Eternal Records album via the aforementioned Vault Series). The Benson titles are currently under the Sony umbrella, and they have in fact released Symphony of Praise to digital outlets.
The murky waters seem to come from Homeland Records, and really even before then, dating back to the early 1980’s, when the group signed with Bill Traylor’s label, RiverSong Records. That label was originally distributed by CBS/Columbia, but that didn’t last long, as the label was later distributed by Zondervan Publishing before finally landing a deal with the Benson Company. By 1987, RiverSong was fully a Benson label, and to my knowledge, Traylor was no longer involved. The assumption (especially based on the compilations being released by Benson) was that Benson had absorbed the ownership of the Cathedrals’ RiverSong albums.
However, after leaving RiverSong/Benson, Traylor started a new label, Homeland Records, and quickly re-signed the Cathedrals to his new label. He also started reissuing some of the Cathedrals’ RiverSong titles (in an admittedly subpar quality, seemingly coming from multi-generational copies rather than master tapes). Homeland also released a few Canaan Records titles around the same time. Even the group’s then-current catalog seemingly bounced between Canaan and Homeland, with some titles being released on both labels. Did Traylor somehow retain ownership (or at least distribution rights) to the albums recorded under RiverSong before Benson became involved? Does Benson (which is now basically Sony) currently have ownership/distribution rights now that Homeland isn’t around?
As it stands now, there clearly is some confusion as to who owns the Homeland Records masters. Did the rights revert or get assigned to the respective artists (including the estates of Glen Payne & George Younce in the case of the Cathedrals)? If so, then that would explain how StowTown is able to release one of those titles. Homeland (which is now defunct) was run primarily by Bill Traylor, who has been involved in a leadership role in other record companies both before and since. Although the Homeland label is no longer operational, Traylor (or some other successor in interest) may still retain the ownership rights to those masters. If so, did that party lease those titles to Curb, who in turn released them to streaming? And if they owned those masters, how did StowTown gain access to one of them for their own release pretty much immediately after they were just put on streaming anyway?
On the flip side, if Traylor (or some other such party) does NOT currently own those masters (and they are indeed the property of the respective artists, or at the very least, a holding company of sorts), then how did Curb get access to the albums to release them? While Homeland may have been connected in some way to Canaan Records in the past, I don’t think it was ever anything beyond a leasing agreement, so Canaan shouldn’t have retained any ownership rights. Someone would’ve had to make a deal with Curb/Word to release those titles.
I guess we’ll see which title(s) stay on streamers and which ones disappear in the coming weeks. If you don’t have any of these titles, I might recommend taking the extra step of purchasing a digital copy while you can…