By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com
We are back after a crazy month that barely gave us time to breathe!
We’ve been quiet at KentuckySings.com for the month of May due to taking on some freelance work for three different publications. Add in my youngest daughter’s final month of high school — where DID the time go? — I’ve been away from the site more than I wanted. With KentuckySings.com being a labor of love, an unscheduled lull might happen occasionally.
However, I did make two concerts in May and conducted interviews for stories scheduled to appear in another publication in the next two months. Those two interviews might have done as much for my understanding of why gospel music stays vibrant despite warnings that it’s a dying form of music.
“They’ve been saying that for 50 years,” Kingsmen baritone Alan Kendall said on May 30 after a concert at Christiansburg Baptist Church near Bagdad, Ky. Kendall is one of many young artists who keep Southern Gospel popular. At Christiansburg, located more than 10 miles from the nearest incorporated town, the building was packed with about 200 people Thursday night.
At Sand Spring Baptist, located near Lawrenceburg, Ky., and where I see the most concerts, the 900-seat auditorium is not always full but the empty seats are usually limited to the outer sections of the facility, unless threatening weather keeps people home.
It’s almost amazing. What might be even more amazing is the number of groups or individuals singing. Not quite two years ago, I was talking with gospel great Mark Trammell about the changes in gospel music over his career. He mentioned that when he started in the 1970s, there were only a small number of “full-time” groups but now the number is over 1,000.
So much for lack of interest!
When I talked with The New Speer Family on May 16, the one thing that struck me was the group’s passion for preserving the Speer Family music. Brian, who had not sung on stage for 36 years, came up with the idea to form a quartet with the mission of preserving his family’s music. But the goal is more than the distinctive Speer sound.
As bass singer Mike Allen said, “Obviously the basic thought for me is that we can somehow, even remotely, can continue the Speer family name and do it justice. I mean they were so amazing that to even try to try to copy what they have done would be impossible. But to just bring back or continue that name and do it justice and do what they originally tried to do in the beginning and that was to spread the gospel.”
Ben Waites, also part of the The New Speer Family, said, “I hope to accomplish what they accomplished, such as spreading the kingdom and give the opportunity for people to know Christ as their personal savior.”
People are thirsting for that message and that’s what makes Southern Gospel, or any form of Christian music relevant today.
Thursday, I hung around for almost two hours after the concert, talking with members of The Kingsmen for a story tentatively scheduled to publish later this summer. (I will keep you updated on the story’s status.) I asked every member of the legendary group why the Kingsmen are still relevant after 63 years. It’s interesting to note that three of the group’s members are roughly half the age of the group itself, while bass singer Ray Dean Reese recently turned 80. He’s been traveling with the Kingsmen for 53 years, so he would seem to have a different perspective.
Yet every member of the group pointed to the songs themselves as the main reason. There might be other factors but the main reason The Kingsmen see behind their longevity is the message.
As Mr. Reese said during our interview, people want and need encouragement.
In a world where so much seems to be going wrong — as I type this, news is breaking that 11 people have been killed in a shooting in Virginia Beach — the message of the gospel is hope.
It might be in an old Speer standard like “He is Mine and I am His” or something like The Kingsmen’s latest, “Victory Shout.” It could be any of thousands of other songs reminding us that one of the messages of the New Testament is that God will win in the end.
Thank you, gospel singers, for reminding me every day.