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Southern Gospel Music
Stylistic origins Sacred Harp music, shape note singing, hymns
Cultural origins Late 19th century white and Native Americans who practiced evangelical Christianity
Typical instruments Originally, no or few instruments were used; those used included the piano and (in some regions) banjo
Mainstream popularity Popularized through secular artists such as Elvis Presley and evangelists such as Billy Graham and Jimmy Swaggart
Bluegrass gospel - Country gospel
Fusion genres
Other topics
Gospel Music Association - Christian music - National Gospel Singing Convention - Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame

Southern Gospel music (sometimes marketed as Quartet music) is music that is written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as (in terms of the varying music styles) to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music. Southern Gospel is a form of Christian music and a subgenre of Gospel music.

Like other forms of music the creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of Southern Gospel varies according to culture and social context. It is composed and performed for many purposes, ranging from aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, or as an entertainment product for the marketplace. A common theme as with most Christian music is praise, worship or thanks to God and/or Christ.



The date of Southern Gospel's establishment as a distinct genre is generally considered to be 1910, the year the first professional quartet was formed for the purpose of selling songbooks for the James D. Vaughan Music Publishing Company. Nonetheless the style of the music itself had existed for at least 35 years prior although the traditional wisdom that Southern Gospel music was "invented" in the 1870s by circuit preacher Everett Beverly is spurious. The existence of the genre prior to 1910 is evident in the work of Charles Davis Tillman (1861-1943), who popularized "The Old Time Religion" and "Life's Railway to Heaven" and published 22 songbooks.[1]

Southern Gospel is sometimes called "quartet music" by fans because of the originally all-male, tenor-lead-baritone-bass quartet make-up. Early quartets were typically either a cappella or accompanied only by piano or guitar, and in some cases a piano and banjo. Over time, full bands were added and even later, pre-record accompaniments were introduced. A typical modern Southern Gospel group performs with pre-recorded tracks augmented by a piano player and possibly a few other musicians.

Some of the genre's roots can be found in the publishing work and "normal schools" of Aldine S. Kieffer and Ephraim Ruebush. Southern Gospel was promoted by traveling singing school teachers, quartets, and shape note music publishing companies such as the A. J. Showalter Company (1879) and the Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company. Over time, Southern Gospel came to be an eclectic musical form with groups singing black gospel-influenced songs, traditional hymns, a capella (jazz-style singing with no instruments) songs, country gospel, bluegrass, and "convention songs" (which were more difficult).

Convention songs typically have contrasting homophonic and contrapuntal sections. In the homophonic sections, the four parts sing the same words and rhythms. In the contrapuntal sections, each group member has a unique lyric and rhythm. These songs are called "convention songs" because various conventions were organized across the United States for the purpose of getting together regularly and singing songs in this style. Convention songs were employed by training centers like the Stamps-Baxter School Of Music as a way to teach quartet members how to concentrate on singing their own part. Examples of convention songs include "Heavenly Parade," "I'm Living In Canaan Now," "Give the World a Smile," and "Heaven's Jubilee."

In the first decades of the twentieth century, Southern Gospel drew much of its creative energy from the Holiness movement churches that arose throughout the south. Early gospel artists such as Smith's Sacred Singers, The Speer Family, The Stamps Quartet, The Blackwood Family, and The Lefevre Trio achieved wide popularity through their recordings and radio performances in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. On October 20, 1927, The Stamps Quartet recorded its early hit "Give The World A Smile" for Victor, which become the Quartet's theme song. The Stamps Quartet was heard on the radio throughout Texas and the South.

Others such as Homer Rodeheaver and the Cathedral Quartet became well-known through their association with popular evangelists such as Billy Sunday and Rex Humbard.

Representative Artists

Some of the best known Southern Gospel male quartets from various decades include the Blackwood Brothers, the Calvarymen, the Cathedral Quartet, Legacy Five, The Stamps Quartet, the Statesmen Quartet, the Imperials, Sunshine Boys Quartet, the Blue Ridge Quartet, Gold City, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, the Kingsmen Quartet, the Triumphant Quartet, The Kingdom Heirs, the Gaither Vocal Band, Mercy's Mark, Brian Free and Assurance, the Florida Boys, the The Inspirations, and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Although the genre is known for its all male quartets, trios and duos have been a vital element of Southern Gospel for most of the genre's history. In decades past to more modern groups like Jeff and Sheri Easter, The Lewis Family, The Easter Brothers, the McKamey's, the Perry Sisters, Greater Vision, the Crabb Family, the Isaacs, the Hoppers, and the Ruppes. Pioneer groups like the Speer Family, the Lesters, the Klaudt Indian Family, the Chuck Wagon Gang, The Happy Goodman Family, The Cook Family Singers the LeFevres, and Rambos paved the way for modern mixed quartets and family-based lineups.

The Lesters from St. Louis, Missouri, are an example of family heritage in the southern gospel field. The current Lesters are in their eighth decade of ministry, tracing family roots to the original Lesters founded by Harvey "Pop" Lester and his wife Opal in 1925. Pop Lester's son, Herschel Lester, continued the family ministry, followed by Herschel's son and daughter as well as current group members Brian Herschel Lester (lead) and Ginger Lester Pitchers (alto). The current group is completed by Brian Herschel Lester's son, Jonathan (baritone), and Ginger Pitchers' daughter, Jenny Pitchers Revelle (soprano), representing the fourth generation.

Other famous family groups from various decades include the Hinsons, the Perrys, the Jordanaires, the Boones, the Hoppers, the Talleys, the Martins, and the Bill Gaither Trio.

Unlike most forms of popular music where soloists (and/or soloists with background vocalists) generally outnumber vocally balanced groups, vocal groups thrive in Southern Gospel. But the genre also has a growing number of popular soloists. Many of these gained their initial popularity with a group before launching out on their own as soloists. Some of the most popular of these include Jimmie Davis (1899-2000), Squire Parsons, Ivan Parker, and Mark Bishop. Southern Gospel was an early influence on Patsy Cline, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Elvis Presley.

Articles on individual Southern Gospel artists can be found at Southern Gospel performers.

Gaither Homecoming Series

Traditional Southern Gospel music underwent a tremendous surge in popularity during the 1990s thanks to the efforts of Bill and Gloria Gaither and their Gaither Homecoming tours and videos, which began as a reunion of many of the best known and loved SGM individuals in 1991. Thanks in part to the Homecoming series, Southern Gospel music now has fans across the United States and in a number of foreign countries like Ireland and Australia.

Today's Southern Gospel

Although still primarily "old-timey quartet singing," Southern Gospel was evolving by the 1990s to include more soloists and duos. It was most popular in the Southeast and Southwest, but it had a nationwide audience. The music remained "more country than city, more down-home than pretentious"[2].

In 2005, The Radio Book, a broadcast yearbook published by M Street Publications, reported 285 radio stations in the USA with a primary format designation as "Southern Gospel," including 175 AM stations and 110 FM stations. In fact, "Southern Gospel" was the 9th most popular format for AM stations and the 21st most popular for FM. Southern Gospel radio promoters routinely service more than a thousand radio stations which play at least some Southern Gospel music each week. Recent years have also seen the advent of a number of internet-only Southern Gospel "radio" stations.

Two popular satellite stations that feature Southern Gospel are channel 34 on XM Satellite Radio and Channel 67 On Sirius Satellite Radio. Both play the same feed entitled, "Enlighten on SiriusXm". Enlighten plays Southern Gospel and has several featured programs which air weekly including Paul Heil's Gospel Greats and Bill Gaither's Homecoming Radio.[3]

Over the last decade, a newer version of Southern Gospel has grown in popularity. This style is called Progressive Southern Gospel and is characterized by a blend of traditional Southern Gospel, Bluegrass, modern country, contemporary Christian and pop music elements. Progressive Southern Gospel generally features artists who push their voices to produce a sound with an edge to it. The traditional style Southern Gospel singers employ a more Classical singing style.

Lyrically, most Progressive Southern Gospel songs are patterned after traditional Southern Gospel in that they maintain a clear evangelistic and/or testimonial slant. Southern Gospel purists view lyrical content and the underlying musical style as the key determining factors for applying the Southern Gospel label to a song.

Although there are some exceptions, most Southern Gospel songs would not be classified as Praise and Worship. Few Southern Gospel songs are sung "to" God as opposed to "about" God. On the other hand, Southern Gospel lyrics are typically overt in their Christian message unlike Contemporary Christian music(CCM) which sometimes has "double entendre" lyrics which could be interpreted as being about a devout love for God or an earthly love for a man or woman. Southern Gospel fans have been among the most vocal critics of such CCM songs particularly if they "cross over" and receive recognition through airplay on mainstream radio.[citation needed]

Southern Gospel Media

Becoming popular through songbooks, such as those published by R. E. Winsett of Dayton, Tennessee, Southern Gospel was and is one of the few genres to use recordings, radio, and television technologies from the very beginning for the advancements of promoting the genre.[4]

One of the longest running print magazines for Southern Gospel music has been the Singing News.[5] They started in the early 1970s supplying radio airplay charts and conducting annual fan based awards. They also supply popular topic forums for Southern Gospel fans to meet and discuss the genre. The move to internet services has brought along companies such as which has become a noted e-zine forum for Southern Gospel and has remained a supporter for the past twelve years. It too contains the music charts with forums and chat rooms available to the fans.[6]

Internet Radio has broadened the Southern Gospel Music fanbase by using computer technologies and continual streaming. Some of these media outlets are: Sunlite Radio which features many of the Southern Gospel programs likewise heard on traditional radio. This list includes The Gospel Greats with Paul Heil, which recently celebrated 25 years on the air, Southern Gospel USA, a weekly half hour countdown show hosted by Gary Wilson, Classic radio programs such as The Old Gospel Ship and Heaven's Jubilee with Jim Loudermilk.[7] Another online station is "The Gospel Station."[8]

See also

This article is a part in a series on
Gospel music
Category  • Musicians
See also:
Christianity: Portal  • Category
Christian music: Portal  • Category


  1. ^ Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame site on Tillman, New Georgia Encyclopedia Tillman page, and Cyberhymnal on Tillman.
  2. ^ Monte Mitchell, "Gospel Radio DJ Touches Fans' Hearts and Souls," The Charlotte Observer, August 8, 1993.
  3. ^ "EnLighten ... Southern Gospel Radio for all of North America!". Southern Gospel Radio. Retrieved 2009-06-15. "Enlightened featured on XM and Sirius radio" 
  4. ^ See, e.g., J. Bazzel Mull.
  5. ^ The Singing News. "Southern Gospel Music, News, Christian Concerts, Charts, Radio, Songs | The Southern Gospel Music Magazine |". Retrieved 2009-06-08. "The Singing News" 
  6. ^ " - Everything Southern Gospel". Retrieved 2009-06-08. "" 
  7. ^ Sunlite Radio. "Sunlite Radio - Internet Radio's Best Country Music, Gospel & Hymns". Retrieved 2009-06-08. "Sunlite Radio Media Outlet" 
  8. ^ The Gospel Station. "The Gospel Station, The Gospel Station". Retrieved 2009-06-08. "Media Outlet" 

Suggested reading

  • Beary , Shirley L. "The Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company: A Continuing Tradition, 1926–1976." D.M.A. dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1977.
  • Brobston, Stanley. “A Brief History of White Southern Gospel Music.” Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, 1977.
  • Downey, James C. “The Music of American Revivalism.” Ph.D. dissertation, Tulane University, 1968.
  • Collins, Mike and Gaither, Bill "Hold On: The Authorized Biography of the Greenes, America's Southern Gospel Trio" Woodland Press LLC, 2004. ISBN 0-9724867-6-3.
  • Eskew, Harry. “Shape-Note Hymnody in the Shenandoah Valley, 1816-60.” Ph.D. dissertation, Tulane University, 1966.
  • Fleming, Jo Lee. “James D. Vaughan, Music Publisher.” S.M.D. dissertation, Union Theological Seminary (Richmond, VA), 1972.
  • Goff, James R. Jr. "Close Harmony: A History Of Southern Gospel" University Of North Carolina Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8078-5346-1
  • Graves, Michael P. and Fillingim , David "More than Precious Memories: The Rhetoric of Southern Gospel Music" Mercer University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-86554-857-9.
  • Terrell, Bob "The Music Men: The Story of Professional Gospel Quartet Singing in America" B. Terrell, 1990. ISBN 1-878894-00-5.

External links




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