Those who know me well know one thing: I'm a HUGE Southern Gospel fan! Especially groups like The Booth Brothers, Greater Vision, Legacy Five, Tribute, the Collingsworth Family, the Talleys--well, I could go on (and on!), but I'll spare you the long list! In honor of the National Quartet Convention gearing up this week, I though I'd highlight this wonderful genre.
One of my all-time favorite hobbies is going to Southern Gospel concerts. I know what you're thinking: "You like to sit and listen to a bunch of people sing church songs for 2 hours? What fun." But it's true. I've attended dozens of concerts, and don't see a stopping point yet. In fact, I've made it a personal goal of mine to see as many groups as I can, while I can! If someone were to ask me why, I'd have to give several reasons.
For one, I am super impressed by talent. And I'm not talking about someone who's "pretty good", but has real, undeniable, mind-blowing, God-given talent. And simply put, you won't find more talented people than the ones I find here. In my opinion, many of these men and women could sing circles around a lot of the top-earning music-makers today. (Check out Lauren Talley singing "Lord, I Believe" and see what I mean!) And I've yet to hear harmony that sounds any sweeter. (Don't believe me? You've never heard the Booth Brothers do "In Christ Alone" have you?) And the music! Such gifted musicians! (Such as the late great Anthony Burger whose parents were told he would never be able to use his hands after a serious burn when he was a toddler!)
While on the subject of talent, I'd be remiss if I didn't address the songwriters. Songwriters like Bill and Gloria Gaither are renowned the world over for songs like "Because He Lives" and "He Touched Me." And Rodney Griffin, who has penned scores of award-winning songs, has been voted Singing News favorite songwriter for sixteen consecutive years! And songs such as Mark Lowry's "Mary, Did You Know?" have become huge hits for popular artists in rock, country, and pop as well as gospel.
So many songs, all so different in style, lyrics, and melody. And I find that for every situation that I may be facing, there is almost always a song to go with it. Like when I am especially discouraged, I find comfort in the Collingsworth Family's song "It Matters to the Master," or the Booth Brothers' "Every Cry is Heard." When I find myself reflecting back on all God has brought me through, I can sing along with Brian Free and Assurance when they sing "Say Amen." I am reminded of what I should be doing as a Christian by the Collingsworths' call to "Give a Little Love and Kindness" or Lauren Talley's "Go the Extra Mile." And if I've recently lost someone dear to me, I am comforted by Legacy Five's "Hello After Goodbye" or the Perry's "Celebrate Me Home." And when I get to thinking about Heaven, I love to hear Tribute sing "Homecoming Day." "The One I'm Dying For" (the Isaacs) remind me of Jesus' sacrificial love.
Yes, the songs-the message and the melody- certainly draw me to Southern Gospel music.
But I find that I genuinely like the people as well. These men and women are endearing and personable and entertaining. Each one brings something differing to the table: Josh Singletary's antics and bow ties; Lauren Talley's passion and sunny smile; Gerald Wolfe's experience and dedication. Yes, I know that while on stage and in public they are presenting their best front. (Who wouldn't?) But I've personally met many of the ones I've talked about. And while I don't pretend to be God and know the true state of anyone's heart, I feel that I'm a pretty good judge of character, and in my experience, these people are real. I've heard their testimonies, seen their tears, and witnessed their worship of their Savior. I've watched them stop to talk with their fans. (I was touched one evening watching Michael Booth crouching on one knee to share an unhurried conversation with a gentleman bound to a wheelchair.) I've seen them work their product tables themselves so they can meet their listeners. I have only ever found them to be gracious and friendly and genuine. They sacrifice time with their families to share the gospel and encourage God's people.
Now, lest anyone reading this feels that I'm putting these people on a pedestal, let me assure you that I'm not. I know that they're all human, with their own faults, wrinkles, and weaknesses. I can even go so far as to say that I don't agree with everything I've seen or heard from them. But that doesn't change how I feel about them. We're all different, with different perspectives, convictions, and opinions. And that's okay with me. We are all, imperfect though we may be, part of the family of God.
But I guess one of the main reasons I am such a follower of Southern Gospel is what it does for me personally. The songs, the people, the message they share night after night- they all work together to truly bless me. I am challenged, I am encouraged, I am blessed when I get to spend an evening with any one of these groups, and yes, I am entertained as well. And for a single person without a family to devote my time, energy, and heart to, that means a lot. And no, I'm not saying that to make you feel sorry for me. (Because I don't feel sorry for me!) But it's the truth. And I find that this music, whether in live concert or by cds, lifts me up. It gives me an outlet, and reminds me that there's more to life than what I currently have or don't have. Such as God's grace, His unending love for me, the sacrifice on the cross Jesus made for my salvation. And when current events start to make me feel small, insignificant, and fearful, it reminds me that there is still an army of Christians standing up for Jesus, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus in the best way they know how: in song.
To be honest, I could give another dozen reasons why I love it all, but I've rambled on long enough. If you've never experienced a night of this kind of music, I hope that something I said would compel you to give it a shot. Or maybe you're in a low point in your life and in need of some kind of assurance that God has not forgotten you. I would encourage you to try any of these songs or groups I've mentioned. It may not be the most "popular" (by the world's standards) brand of music, but I promise it will be one of the most meaningful.
So, from a single to all those Southern Gospel groups out there, I want to say, "Thank You." Thank you for your long nights, endless travel, physical weariness, and separation from family. Thank you for your songs, your smiles and your stories. And thank you for blessing me, when I so desperately needed it, with your example, your gift, your heart, and your message. I can't tell you what it all really means to me.
As they all prepare for their biggest week of the year, I pray for safe travels and that they receive even just a little of what they bring to me and so many others. And I hope that they have fun!
I've not, as of yet, been fortunate enough to attend a National Quartet Convention (it's on my bucket list, though!), but my sisters and I are planning on watching it through live streaming. And I have to say, it may not be the same as being there in person, but I am still looking forward to it! A whole week of my favorite groups and artists, a whole week of music!
So, until next time, may all of us-singles, gospel artists, fans, etc.-remember that we are always (in the words of another great gospel artist, Roger Bennett)...
In His Grip!
"O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation." Psalm 95:1