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Gospel music’s Vestal Goodman dies at age 74

CELEBRATION, Fla. (BP)-Vestal Goodman, known as the “Queen of Gospel Music,” died Dec. 27 in Celebration, Fla., near Orlando while visiting family members during the Christmas holidays.

“She had been ill with the flu and turned worse last evening,” the Southern Gospel News reported Dec. 28. She was 74.

Goodman’s career in gospel music began as part of the popular Happy Goodman Family in the 1940s and, in recent years, she had become a fixture in the Bill Gaither “Homecoming” concerts and videos.

The winner of numerous Grammy and Dove awards also was known for her trademark beehive hairdo, full-length gowns and a white handkerchief she often waved while singing.

Her husband, Howard, and singing partner for more than 50 years, died in 2002 at the age of 81. Howard’s two brothers and former members of the Happy Goodman Family, Rusty and Sam Goodman, also preceded her in death.

“Besides being talented, she loved people and people loved her,” John Styll, president of the Gospel Music Association, told The Tennessean daily newspaper.

Styll added that “in her later years, she developed a kind of hipness — even in the contemporary [Christian music] crowd. She was bigger than her genre.”

“All the Happy Goodmans are together again,” a fan wrote on the Southern Gospel News website. “And they can really sing about heaven now. And Jesus probably got a front row seat for this event.”

“She was a spirit of optimism, a spirit of joy,” Gaither told The Tennessean. Even in life’s crises, “the glass was always half-full to Vestal.”

She is survived by her son and daughter, Rick and Vicki, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Goodman’s funeral will be Jan. 1 at Christ Church in Brentwood, Tenn., near Nashville.

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