Saving Southern Gospel


Southern gospel music has been my favorite genre of music since I was a young boy. The genre officially originated around the year 1910 but general historical evidence shows it may have been around in some capacity in the late 1880’s. It came to be known as quartet music due to the original make up of the industry being all male groups.

In the early twentieth century, with such groups as the Blackwood Brothers quartet, the Statesmen, the Speer family, the Stamps quartet and the Lefevre Trio, the genre absolutely exploded in popularity.

During the 1980’s the genre begin to see a decline in popularity. In the early 1990’s the genre saw a tremendous surge in popularity thanks in part to the efforts of Bill and Gloria Gaither and the Gaither Homecoming tour where former older favorites of the industry saw their careers revived.

In 2005, The Radio Book, a broadcast yearbook published by M Street Publications, reported 285 radio stations in the U.S. with a primary format designation as “southern gospel,” including 175 AM stations and 110 FM stations. In fact, southern gospel was the 9th most popular format for AM stations and the 21st most popular for FM. Southern gospel radio promoters routinely service more than a thousand radio stations which play at least some southern gospel music each week. Recent years have also seen the advent of a number of internet-only southern gospel “radio” stations. These numbers have since declined.

Most groups report numbers of attendees at their venues have dropped over the last 10 years. As the current baby boomer generation ages, with them goes a lot of fans of the industry. For the longevity of the industry and for its survival, on some level the groups will have to find an appeal to the younger music fans.

The surge during the 1980’s where anyone with a few thousand dollars could record a song and release it to southern gospel radio did much damage to the industry from a quality standpoint. This lack of quality failed to appeal to the members of generation X . Gone were the high quality only releases by legendary industry groups and the genre suffered as a result.

Many church’s recently have incorporated praise & worship music and eliminated their choirs. Many educational institutions have eliminated choir from their curriculum due to funding issues. Children today are growing up having no concept of harmony or how to sing or hear parts.

Southern gospel now stands at a crossroads where it must decide what steps to take to start attracting younger fans. A first step would be to stop fighting the need to update arrangements to a more modern sound. Just as the secular country industry faced a crossroads years back and had to adapt to preserve the genre, so must southern gospel now if it is to survive.

There will always be a place for traditional sounding groups and artists. But the time has come for the industry as a whole to stop shunning the artists who sing a more progressive and modern style of country gospel because they represent the best hope for the industry we love having a future.

Editors Note: Editorial articles are based upon the personal opinions of the staff writer who creates the article in question. Nothing posted here in our editorial section is intended to reflect negatively on any group or individual.  




4 thoughts on “Saving Southern Gospel

  1. Appreciate your editorial. I’d like to point out though that while country had sort of an old-school revival back in the 90s, recently it has been eclipsed by hip-hop, both in production techniques, and in writing and arranging. Country radio now sounds very much like hip-hop radio, in that they use drum machine loops, rap vocals, and computerized production, and all very extensively. Southern gospel has also begun using autotuned vocals and music-assembly production on computers. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with this (I own a studio, and we do it all the time; it is so much incredibly easier to record and edit music on the computer, and the tools available now would have been impossible 20 years ago; some of them are really almost magical in what they can do), but for southern gospel, it’s not my cup of tea. I personally like to hear a little bit of dissonance in the harmony sometimes; it makes it more real, more organic. The fact of the matter is that this is the way the world is going (we’ve been recording exclusively on computer now for at least ten years, and the consumer seems to be demanding this slick polished computer sound, whether we like it or not, and whether it’s high quality or not), and I guess we’re going to have to embrace it, or get out of the way.


  2. I don’t know how familiar you are with Mark209 but, they have been doing EXACTLY what you are suggesting for quite some time. They have a fan base that is cross-generational and a sound that appeals to young and old. I have attended their concerts and I have seen the fan response firsthand. They very much want to introduce Southern Gospel to a new generation and get young people excited about the genre and, most importantly, about Jesus. More groups need to realize that if they do not want Southern Gospel music to die out, they are going to have to be willing to change to meet people where they are and not just continue to sing to the older generation.


  3. YES! Any traditional music, any genre, is an art form, and we should treat it as such, preserving its high quality sound all the way. Contemporary audiences LOVE traditional gospel music, but too many of our staunch traditionalists spend their time criticizing contemporary music when the two could actually coexist quite well.


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