KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Admittedly, I’m not the stereotypical Southern gospel music fan. I don’t remember a time when an entire community gathered at the local church for an all-day singing and dinner on the ground. I never heard the Statesmen or the Blackwood Brothers sing live on the radio. But I appreciate the legacy of Southern gospel music all the same.
It’s been passed down from my grandparents’ and parents’ generation to mine. I’m one of a growing number of today’s generation who has recognized that Southern gospel music isn’t what it used to be — it’s even better. But it hasn’t lost its roots.
I grew up listening to Southern gospel music. My mother took my brother and me to gospel singings in churches and under big tents. One of my earliest memories is seeing the Happy Goodmans in concert, and for years afterward my mother and I listened to the album she bought that night. With Howard Goodman’s recent death, gospel music has lost an icon, but the groups of today are carrying on the tradition he helped start more than 60 years ago.
I think even if I didn’t have a heritage in Southern gospel music, I would love it today anyway. The lyrics, the harmony, the heart of the music all appeal to my spirit. I like a variety of styles — contemporary Christian, praise and worship and rock — but I always come back to Southern gospel. Not the twangy, cover-your-ears-and-cringe style, but the rich blend of voices in harmony in either an old-fashioned quartet song or a more modern gospel-contemporary arrangement.
I endure teasing from friends who say I listen to “blue hair” or “backwoods” music. I smile and laugh along, but secretly, I know they are the ones missing the blessing of gospel music. I’ll continue to go to singings, and I’ll continue to listen to my favorite groups. How could I not? Southern gospel music isn’t just Southern anymore. It truly is the gospel in song. It makes me laugh, cry and worship in a way that no other music does. That’s why I like gospel music.
Hamby is communications director at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., who also has written a monthly gospel music review column for five years.