Bill Gaither has left his mark on American culture over the past half century, claiming a place not only on the Billboard charts, but also in The Baptist Hymnal, among others.
In its heyday, the Gaither Homecoming series dominated American music video sales and helped fill its performance venues.
He and his wife, Gloria, were named Christian Songwriters of the Century by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Their albums have sold in the tens of millions.
After decades of success, Bill Gaither remains a creative dynamo at 85, recording new music while reviving old standards.
He also travels the country with the Gaither Vocal Band; the group is expected to perform at Immanuel Baptist Church in October.
There will also be many other artists who will take the stage. Kevin Williams, Gene McDonald, Ladye Love Smith, Greg Ritchie, Matthew Holt and Kevin Moore are also expected to appear.
Gaither is not a Southern Baptist, although they would be happy to enroll him.
He made his debut, musically, in the Church of the Nazarene and was later associated with the Church of God of Anderson, Ind.
His melodies and lyrics would eventually be adopted by American Protestants of all stripes, as well as many Catholics.
âBill Gaither is a legend in Christian music. His name is synonymous with southern gospel and some of the great songs we have sung over the past 40 years,â said Jason Breland, pastor of the Emmanuel cult.
There are four Gaither hymns, by the Earl of Breland, in the Southern Baptist favorite Sunday songbook: “Because He Lives,” https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/sep/ 18 / singing-his-praise / “There’s just something about this name”, https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/sep/18/singing-his-praise/ “The King Is Coming “and” The Family of God “.
Many other songbooks, Breland said, would yield similar results.
Millions of Americans sang Gaither’s songs. Many of them know every note and remember the words of every chorus.
âHe’s written hundreds of songs that have been published and printed,â Breland said. “His writings and his music have had a worldwide impact.”
The Gaither Homecoming series introduced southern gospel legends to a new generation of Americans, capturing audiences by the millions.
“Bill Gaither,” Billboard Magazine wrote at the time, “did for gospel music what MTV did for rock.”
ATTRACTED TO THE BELT OF THE BIBLE
Gaither grew up in Hoosier State and continues to live in Alexandria, Indiana, a city of 5,149 people, about 80 km northeast of Indianapolis.
But he was drawn to the rhythms and rhymes of the Bible Belt early on.
The attraction, it turns out, was mutual.
âWe love Arkansas and for some reason they seem to love us so it’s always good to come back,â Gaither said.
While still in college, he formed the Gaither Trio with his younger brother, Danny, and younger sister, Mary Ann.
In Arkansas and elsewhere, southern gospel fans have greeted his music with enthusiasm.
He was 20, or so, the first time he was invited to Central Arkansas.
âWe started coming to Little Rock long before you were born,â Gaither told Democrat-Gazette religion editor Generation X. “We started coming to Little Rock in ’56, ’57, ’58.”
âAt that point we were getting a little bit of success and people out of state [of Indiana] called us, and Arkansas was one of them. Lots of great memories and lots of good friends in the Little Rock area, âhe said.
âWe originally came to old Bartonâ¦ Colosseum? Is it still there? He asked. (He is.)
Eventually, he would marry Gloria Lee Sickal, teaming up to write and sing some of the century’s most beloved gospel songs.
By the time the Gaither Homecoming series reached its peak, the Gaither had moved to the Alltel Arena (now Simmons Bank Arena) in North Little Rock.
‘FIT LIKE A GLOVE’
These days, Gaither continues to perform with the Gaither Vocal Band, joining forces with fellow vocalists Wes Hampton, Adam Crabb, Todd Suttles and Reggie Smith.
The Grammy-winning group has performed since the 1980s, although its members have evolved over the years.
“I probably played [with] 16 different people, “Gaither said.” I think all the singers we’ve had have been pretty good and pretty exceptional. “
The current group has incredible chemistry, he said.
âThis particular band is just amazing to me. They fit me like a glove,â he said after wrapping up a recording session in Nashville earlier this month.
” WE WILL BEGIN “
âWe were there all day today. And at the end of the day we kissed and said ‘Hey, I’ll see you tomorrow,'” he said. “Yesterday we did songs, and tomorrow we will sing. We won’t have done almost everything but we will start.”
Gaither has lost count of the precise number of albums he has made. Dozens, at least. The music stays loud and the work is always enjoyable, he said.
Asked about the difference between performing in a church and in a cavernous sports arena, Gaither said religious executives do more than just hang in there.
âNowadays, some of these new shrines are better equipped than the [venues.] They have so much great technical stuff. … I am sometimes amazed, “he said.
In a lot of places, “it used to be benches and now it’s individual seats. The video equipment they have is just really good,” he said.
“It’s more intimate [setting] than a colosseum, âhe said.
In a sports arena, “it’s fun and I like it and we’ve done a ton of it. But I’ll be honest with you, there’s less stress in the church because everyone is so close and it’s just a more intimate situation, I think, “he said.
MORE THAT UNITS US
When asked what he wanted his audience to leave with, Gaither replied, “Hope. Optimism.”
âIt’s no secret that the culture is pretty divided these days. I think we’ve always been a unifying factor. I’m not sure who said it first, [but] there are more things that unite us than things that divide us. I believe so, âhe said.
The retreat is not part of Gaither’s repertoire.
âI have often been asked a question: ‘Why do you always do this? And it’s very simple, and Little Rock is one of the reasons. I fell in love with this style of music, which mainly came from Southland, Dallas … Atlanta … Little Rock. I mean, these people were making that kind of music long before we got into Indiana. “
On the farm where he grew up, the waves made him discover southern gospel.
âI heard it on the radio and I loved the four part harmony, and I loved the musical style and I loved the vocals. And I’m not the only one,â he said. he declares. “Elvis Presley grew up in this area and fell in love with the same kind of [music.]”
The Tupelo, Mississippi native, who grew up in the Assemblies of God, recognized the Indiana native’s talents early on and recorded a Gaither composition, “He Touched Me,” half a century ago.
Southern gospel sounds are sensational, but lyrics matter too, Gaither noted.
âI just believe in the message. I just believe that Christ can still make a difference in a family, I think he can still make a difference in a lifetime,â he said.
RESTORE THE SOUL
Positive music, Gaither believes, not only restores the soul, but also renews the spirit.
âAt my age, I look at people who get older, and I think people who age with a faith, they just age better. There isn’t that much bitterness and cynicism,â he said. .
After listening to southern gospel music for almost three quarters of a century, Gaither is still in love with the genre.
âYou never take it out of your system,â he said.
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Gaither vocal group
When: 6 p.m. on October 2
Where: Emmanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock
Tickets: General admission tickets $ 30; persons aged 60 and over $ 27.
Ticket information is available at tinyurl.com/3t3swt4w.