Gaither, Bill (Contemporary Musicians)
Singer, songwriter, producer
Bill Gaither has produced over 100 Homecoming albums and tapes, and won numerous awards and honors, including three Grammy Awards. The Gaither Music Hour is on eight different cable networks and reaches 75 million viewers a year. In 2000 the American Society of Composers and Performers (ASCAP) named him and his wife, Gloria, as Gospel Songwriters of the Century. In 2002 they were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Gaither was born and raised in Alexandria, Indiana, where his family ran a small farm with corn, wheat, and a few cows. He took piano lessons, and enjoyed music from the Mills Brothers, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, and Andy Williams. He first heard gospel music in 1948, and admitted that it was the style of the music more than the message that interested him at first. He loved the Statesmen Quartet and the Dixie Four. As a child, he used to pretend he was a booking agent, scheduling and promoting concerts.
In the summer of 1953 he attended the Stamps School of Music in Dallas, Texas. He attended again in the summer of 1954, after graduating from high school. At the Stamps School he met Charlie Hodge, and they decided to form a gospel-singing group called the Path-finders, with Bill's brother, Danny, and a friend of Charlie's. The group sang at churches and fairs, often for just a free will offering. After eight months, they realized that they were not succeeding, and returned home. The memory of those hard times helped Gaither understand what it would take to be successful in the music business.
Gaither went to work at a supermarket, and also worked cutting meat at a butcher shop. He decided to enroll at Taylor University, but kept his job at the grocery store to pay for tuition. He transferred to Anderson College during his sophomore year, where he majored in English and minored in music, also directing the college volunteer choir. He started up the Gaither Trio with his brother Danny and his sister Mary Ann, and soon he was able to quit the supermarket and pay his tuition with the money earned performing with the trio. He got the supermarket to sponsor a daily radio broadcast of the trio's music, and soon they were getting many calls to perform.
Upon graduation from college, Gaither got a job teaching English at a junior high school in the Anderson school system, and continued his own education by getting a master's degree in guidance and counseling. The trio disbanded, and he started directing the choir at the local church. He didn't always find what he was looking for in church music, and decided to try writing some of his own. He wrote "I've Been to Calvary," and forwarded it to a friend with the Golden Keys. When the group performed it, he received a call from a publisher. He started writing more songs, and quickly decided to start his own publishing company.
In September of 1961 Gaither taught at Alexandria High School, where he met Gloria Sickal, who was teaching French. They became engaged the following summer and married on December 22, 1962. Gloria immediately started helping with the lyrics on songs. Very early on, Bill and Gloria decided to keep their own copyrights. Gaither decided to record the church choir in an album called The South Meridian Sings. It sold more than a thousand copies, so they used the proceeds for The South Meridian Sings, Volume 2.
Gaither wrote "He Touched Me" in 1963. Several singers, including Kate Sixth, Jimmy Durante, Kathryn Kuhlman, and Ben Speer picked up the song, and it would later be translated into dozens of languages around the world, and also be performed by The Imperials and by Elvis Presley. During this time the Gaither Trio resumed, this time with Bill, Gloria, and Mary Ann.
Whenever gospel groups would pass through nearby towns, the Gaithers would invite them to the house for dinner, and then would show them the songs they had written. In 1964 the Gaither Trio signed with the Benson Company and began recording in Nashville. Their first album was Sincerely. When God Seems So Near and I Am Free soon followed. During this time, the Gaither Trio members made some changes. Gloria dropped out when she had their first child, Suzanne, in 1964, and was replaced by Dann. She later returned to the group. Mary Ann got married. Bill and Gloria bought 15 acres of land in Alexandria and built a home, adding a daughter, Amy, and a son, Benjamin, to the family. Gaither received his first of many Dove Awards in 1969, this one for Songwriter of the Year. In 1974 he received a Dove Award for the Song of the Year, "Because He Lives," and for Songwriter of the Year.
In 1975 Gaither joined forces with Bob MacKenzie to form Paragon Associates, which was soon signing talented songwriters. Bill and Gloria decided to put together a non-denominational church hymnal with hymns, gospel songs, spirituals, and folk tunes, and Hymns for the Family of God became a best-selling hymnal. Soon the Gaither Trio albums were outselling everyone's expectations, and they switched from singing in churches to singing in auditoriums and civic centers.
The music business was finally making money, allowing Gaither to quit teaching. In 1976, after Danny left the Trio, Gary McSpadden joined them, and would remain until 1988. The Gaithers began to organize Praise Gatherings, which included music, speakers, and seminars, at the Indianapolis Convention Center, and they included other artists, both old and new.
In 1981, during a Gaither Trio concert, Bill and Gary and two backup singers for the band performed an impromptu gospel quartet performance. The performance was so successful that they developed the Gaither Vocal Band. Their first album was nominated for a Dove Award. A decade later Gaither struck another vein of gold. "I was 55 years of age," he recalled in the Saturday Evening Post, "and after enjoying a successful career writing and performing music for more than three decades, by 1991 the music world was about to pass me by." He decided to record a Southern gospel classic, gathering all his gospel friends and heroes in to join in on one of the songs. He included Hovie Lister of the Statesman Quartet; Glen Payne and George Younce of the Cathedrals; The Speer Family; Jake Hess, founder of the Imperials; and many others.
Gaither arranged for a photographer and a videographer to commemorate the experience. For three hours the group sang, and when Gaither reviewed the tape, he realized that he had something powerful. He had the tape edited, and submitted it to Star Song Communications. They showed it, and later replayed it, on the Family Channel as Homecoming, and were soon receiving numerous requests for copies.
In the fall of 1991 Gaither produced the video titled Homecoming Reunion. Since that time, more than one hundred videos have been produced. A portion of the proceeds from sales goes to the Gospel Music Trust Fund. In 1996 the Homecoming Concert Tour went on the road to perform in cities across America. In 2000, when the American Society of Authors, Composers, and Publishers (ASCAP) honored Bill and Gloria as the Gospel Songwriters for the Century, Donna Hilley, president of the Sony-Tree music publishing company, declared that "the Gaithers are to Christian music what the Beatles are to pop music," according to the Saturday Evening Post.
In 2002 Bill and Gloria Gaither were inducted into the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Bill Gaither co-wrote his biography, It's More than the Music, in 2003. The Gaithers have continued to live at their home in Alexandria, Indiana, and now have a conference center, gift shop, and gourmet coffee shop on the property.
With The Gaither Trio
Sincerely, Benson, 1964.
When God Seems So Near, Benson.
I Am Free, Benson.
Let's Just Praise the Lord, 1973.
Jesus, We Just Want to Thank You, 1975.
Pilgrim's Progress, 1976.
With The Gaither Vocal Band
Homecoming, Star Song, 1991.
A Few Good Men, Star Song, 1992.
Peace of the Rock, Star Song, 1993.
I Bowed on my Knees, Benson, 1994.
Testify, Gaither, 1994.
The Best of the Gaithers Live, Benson, 1994.
Can't Stop Talking About Him, Star Song, 1995.
Lovin' God and Lovin' Each Other, Chordant, 1997.
Back Home in Indiana, Chordant, 1997.
Joy to the World, Chordant, 1997.
Still the Greatest Story Ever Told, Chordant, 1998.
God is Good, Spring House, 1999.
Kennedy Center Homecoming, Spring House, 1999.
I Do Believe, Spring House, 2000.
Gaither Vocal Band, Volume 1, Benson, 2000.
Gaither Vocal Band, Volume 2, Benson, 2000.
Gaither Vocal Band and the Bill Gaither Trio, Macady, 2001.
Gaither, Bill, It's More Than the Music, WarnerFaith, 2003.
Booklist, October 1, 2003.
Christianity Today, April 2004.
Saturday Evening Post, July-August 1998; September-October 2003.
"Bill and Gloria Gaither," International Gospel Music Hall of Fame, http://www.igmhf.org (January 2, 2005).
"Bill Gaither," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 28, 2004).
"Bill Gaither," Gospel Music Awards, http://www.doveawards.com (January 1, 2005).
"Bill Gaither," Grammy Awards, http://www.grammy.com (January 2, 2005).
Gaithernet, (December 20, 2004).