Gaither Vocal Band (Contemporary Musicians)
Since the early 1990s the Gaither Vocal Band has been just one of several projects that has occupied the time of its members. The band's founder and namesake, Bill Gaither, was a well-known singer and songwriter for more than 20 years before establishing the group. Mark Lowry, a solo performer as a singer and comedian, released several videos and wrote children's books during his decade with the band. The other members of the group, Guy Penrod, David Phelps, and Jonathan Pierce, have also pursued solo careers while participating in the band's projects. De-spite the divided attentions of the group's members, the Gaither Vocal Band released more than one dozen albums in the 1990s, winning six Dove Awards and two Grammy Awards during the decade. The group's prolific output continued with the release of I Do Believe and a two-volume compilation of its work in 2000.
As a songwriter and performer with his wife, Gloria Gaither, and as a member of outfits such as the Cathedrals and the Homecoming Friends, Bill Gaither had won several Dove and Grammy awards before forming the Gaither Vocal Band with Mark Lowry in 1991. Born in 1936 in Alexandria, Indiana, about 75 miles north-west of Indianapolis, Gaither grew up in a family of gospel music fans. One of the most memorable experiences of his childhood was a trip the family took in 1949 to Nashville, Tennessee, where the Gaithers attended an all-night gospel concert at the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry. Gaither remained a fan of Southern gospel music from that time onward. While pursuing a degree in teaching, he put together the Bill Gaither Trio; after finishing his degree in 1959, however, Gaither got a job as a high school English teacher and temporarily left music behind.
After Bill's marriage to Gloria Sickal in 1962, the couple started to write gospel songs together. In a few years they realized that their musical pursuit had become a full-time career. As Gloria Gaither told Phil Callaway of Servant, "People wanted us to sing. I told Bill I wasn't a great singer and he said, 'I know you're not, but you talk on pitch.' I think God has a weird sense of humor sometimes. We began singing just to communicate our songs and we made our first albums in the hope that 'real' singers would pick them up. Never did we dream we would end up being artists over the long haul and we have never really taken that very seriously, even to this day." Through 2000 the Gaithers could claim an estimated 600 songwriting credits and had produced over 60 albums. They received the Dove Award for Gospel Songwriter of the Year in 1970, 1972, and from 1973-1977, along with a Dove Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. Bill Gaither also won Dove Awards for his performances with the Cathedrals and the Homecoming Friends.
In 1991 Bill and Gloria Gaither started a special concert series that featured respected Southern gospel artists. They intended to release a video and album from the project, but Bill Gaither's interest in the Homecoming Friends special turned into an artistic mission. As Gloria Gaither explained to Callaway in Servant, "Bill thought we should wind our careers down. He had done a few dates with the Gaither Vocal Band, but he thought, 'Before we quit, why not do a Southern-gospel flavored album?' Since this was going to be kind of his swan song, and because he had come to the Lord through Southern gospel music, Bill decided to bring in some of the people who had been meaningful to him as a boy No one could have planned this." Assembling a permanent lineup with vocalists Mark Lowry, Guy Penrod, David Phelps, and later on, Jonathan Pierce, the new Gaither Vocal Band released the album Homecoming in 1991. A critical hit, Homecoming won the Grammy Award for Best Southern Gospel Recording in 1991 and the Dove Award for the same category in 1992.
The Gaither Vocal Band was extremely productive over the next decade, releasing an average of more than one album per year; in 1994 alone, the group released I Bowed on My Knees, King Is Coming, and Little Is Much When God Is in It. Based on the group's profile and the Gaithers' continuing promotion of the genre, Southern gospel music encountered renewed popularity. In 1997 Gaither coauthored a book with Jerry Jenkins on the phenomenon, Homecoming: The Story of Southern Gospel Music, which brought a new generation of fans to the bluegrass-oriented sounds of southern gospel.
The Gaither Vocal Band picked up three Grammy nominations in the 1990s and added a second Grammy Award to its collection in 1999 for Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album for Kennedy Center Homecoming. At the Dove Awards the band was a perennial favorite, winning the award for Best Southern Gospel Record in 1994 for "Satisfied", in 1995 for "I Bowed on My Knees," and in 1999 for "I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Cavalry." In addition, in 1999 it earned Best Southern Gospel Album kudos for Still the Greatest Story Ever Told, the following year returning to pick up another award for Best Southern Gospel Album for its release God Is Good.
A prolific songwriter, Gaither does not stint on praise for others' work. He cited one track on God Is Good, "The Baptism of Jesse Taylor," penned by Dallas Frazier and Sanger "Whitey" Shafer, as one of his favorites. The song had initially been a hit in 1973 for country singer Johnny Russell, but Gaither found timeless meaning in its lyrics. "I think, for whatever reason, country writers can say gospel stuff in better language than the gospel writers. The gospel writers sometimes get too much verbiage," Gaither told Billboard. "The old country boy in that song says, 'From now on Nancy Taylor can proudly speak to neighbors.' You know what that means. She was embarrassed by his running around 'Now Jimmy's got a daddy and Jesse's got a family and Franklin County's got a lot more man.' What a line! That's not something that came from a gospel writer, I'm sorry to say. It tears up my guts when I hear it." In an interview with Daniel Hines for America's Seniors website, Gaither further explained his outlook on songwriting. "People are a combination of senses based on experience, emotion, and faith. The greatest song writer of all was David and all of his Psalms are based upon an actual experience that leads to praising God. Many of the songs today cut off the experience that makes the praise possible and needed. I hope that people don't forget the reason for the praise."
In addition to leading the Gaither Vocal Band, Bill Gaither has hosted the Gaither Gospel Hour on the Nashville Network. With his wife and their three children, he also operates the Gaither Music Company and the Gaither Recording Studios in his hometown of Alexandria, Indiana. The Gaithers also operate a Christian retreat center with a restaurant, bookstore, and conference rooms. Gaither Vocal Band cofounder Mark Lowry was almost as busy with his own solo career as a singer and comedian during his stint with the band. Lowry released several comedy videos in the 1990s and in 2000 a video of his concert at the Beacon Theater in New York City, Mark Lowry on Broadway, was a best-selling release on Billboard's video sales chart. Lowry also wrote a series of children's book based on the character of Piper the Hyper Mouse. Citing his full schedule and a need to take time off from performing, Lowry announced his departure from the Gaither Vocal Band in August 2001. As he told Billboard, "I had a meeting with Bill and Guy and David, and I told them what they meant to me. This is my family. I won't be a part of the Gaither Vocal Band anymore, but I'll still be part of the family."
Texas native Jonathan Pierce came on board as Lowry's replacement. As part of its ongoing hectic schedule of recording and touring, the band made an appearance at a celebration of gospel music held on Capitol Hill in February 2002. At the gathering Gaither poked fun at his own career longevity. He mentioned meeting a young fan not long before who asked him, "Bill Gaither? Are you still alive? You're in our hymnal at church. There's only dead people in that hymnal."
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.
King Is Coming, Benson, 1994.
Little Is Much When God Is in It, 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.
Billboard, February 5, 2000, p. 60; August 11, 2001, p. 16.
Servant, Winter 1998.
"Bill Gaither," Praise Gathering Music Group, http://www.praisegathering.com/billgloriagaither/ (April 17, 2002).
"Bill Gaither Brings Southern Gospel Home," A Closer Look, com, (April 17, 2002).
"Fans, Musicians and Industry Exec's Celebrate Gospel Music," Crosswalk.com, http://entertainment.crosswalk.com/partner/Article_Display_... (April 17, 2002).
Gaithemet, (April 17, 2002).
"Make a New Year's Resolution," America's Seniors, http://todaysseniorsnetwork.com/gaither_tour.htm (April 17, 2002).