GOGR Salutes Fallen Comrades

The Grand Ole Gospel Reunion is a one-of-a-kind event due to the fact that we never reassemble in the same way year after year.  Here we pay tribute to the legends of gospel music who have passed away since the 2007 GOGR.

Jerry Ritchie

Jerry Ritchie

Jerry Ritchie was an integral part in launching one of gospel music's most popular quartets of the last 30 years.  He was a charter member of Gold City upon its inception in the early 1980s, serving as their lead singer and emcee.  After some early group changes, the quartet quickly captured attention of gospel music fans with the lineup of Ritchie, Tim Riley, Garry Jones, Ken Trussell, and Bob Oliver with early hits such as "Under Control" and "Ezekial Saw De Wheel".  Their 1982 album, Gold City Quartet Live, is some of the quartet's finest work.

Upon the additions of Ivan Parker and Brian Free to the quartet, Ritchie moved from lead to baritone, appearing on many of the group's most popular hits including "In My Robe of White" and "John Saw".  Ritchie left the full-time quartet scene in 1985.  He was father of Greg Ritchie, husband of Charlotte Ritchie and former drummer for Jeff and Sheri Easter.

Jerry Ritchie fought a long battle with cancer before he passed away at his home in Mississippi on July 1.

 

Bill Flurry

Bill Flurry

Bill Flurry was not necessarily a household name in gospel music, but his efforts helped to keep southern gospel music alive in Atlanta, Georgia for another 20 years. In 1974, Bill and Marilyn Flurry opened the Joyful Noise Supper Club in Metro Atlanta, and it remained one of the most successful ventures of its kind until its closing in 1994. The Flurrys hosted over 5,000 shows, performing as both singers and master of ceremonies. Their performances ranged from southern gospel to love ballads to music from the Roaring Twenties. They also hosted supper clubs located in Floyd and Gwinnett County, Georgia, as well as Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Flurrys opened their venue to not only the most successful southern gospel performers of the day, but also hosted many of its forgotten legends with their "Old Timers Nights" and various other themed events. Legendary artists such as the Sunshine Boys, Eva Mae LeFevre, Governor Jimmie Davis, the Harmoneers, Homeland Harmony Quartet, Cotton and Jane Carrier, and Jimmy Jones & the Heralds performed there several times each year during the 1970s and 1980s, proving that the "old timers" could still pack the house.

Bill also was the author of several fine songs such as "Read the Book", "Oh What A Change In Me", and most notably "I'm Not the Man I Used to Be", which was recorded by the Cathedral Quartet and the Booth Brothers.

After the Joyful Noise closed its doors in 1994, The Flurrys performed across the southeast at clubs, retirement homes, churches, civic organizations, and high school reunions, averaging over 130 dates per year. Bill Flurry passed away on May 19, following a courageous battle with cancer.  He was 75.

 

Dottie Rambo

Dottie Rambo

From the first time she strummed her brother's guitar, Kentucky native Dottie Rambo aspired to sing and play music.  Born Joyce Reba Lutrell on March 2, 1934, Dottie Rambo developed a love for country music and began writing songs at an early age.  When she was saved at age 12, she dedicated her life to writing gospel music.  She began traveling as a teenager and soon formed the Gospel Echoes.  At age 16, she married Buck Rambo and gave birth to their daughter Reba a year later, yet it did nothing to stop her songwriting and performing.  She caught the attention of Governor Jimmie Davis, who invited her to come and perform for him at the Governor's Mansion.  Following her performance, Davis offered her more money than she had ever dreamed of to publish her songs.

The Gospel Echoes eventually changed their name to The Rambos, becoming one of the most sought-after groups of the 1960s and 70s.  The Rambos received numerous awards, including a Grammy for Best Gospel Album, and Billboard Magazine's Trendsetter of the Year award.  Beginning with her many appearances on the Gospel Singing Jubilee, Dottie made numerous appearances on television, appearing on CBN, TBN, PTL, The Nashville Network, GAC, PAX, and Women's Entertainment.

Dottie was the author of over 2500 songs.  Memorable compositions such as "Tears Will Never Stain The Streets Of That City", "He Looked Beyond My Faults", "If That Isn't Love", "We Shall Behold Him", and "Sheltered In The Arms of God" are a testament to the inspirational gift and dedication of Dottie Rambo.  

In 1999, she won a GMA Dove Award for “I Go To The Rock”, which Whitney Houston performed in the Hollywood film, The Preacher's Wife.  Dottie has been inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Kentucky Hall of Fame.  She was also recipient of ASCAP's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.  In 1994, the Christian Country Music Association named her Songwriter of the Century.

Dottie was killed in a weather-related bus accident near Springfield, Missouri on May 11.  She was 74.

 

Danny Koker

Danny Koker

Perhaps the word "underrated" would best describe Danny Koker and his numerous contributions to gospel music. Danny spent the early 1950s as pianist for the Weatherfords in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Danny, Earl and Lily Fern Weatherford, George Younce, and Les Roberson became very popular with their soft, intricate harmonies. Following his first tenure with the Weatherfords, Koker was a member of the Foggy River Boys, with Little David Young and Bill Crowe. The Foggy River Boys, although short-lived, were very exciting and entertaining, much due to the versatility and musicianship of Koker and Young. Often during their concerts, Koker and Young would switch piano playing duties during the middle of a song. Koker was also a member of the Dixie Four and the Marksmen, during different points in his career.

In 1961, Koker returned to the Weatherfords, who were now based in Akron, Ohio, at the Cathedral of Tomorrow with Rex Humbard. Koker joined Earl Weatherford, Armond Morales, Glen Payne, and James Hopkins … the latter being replaced at the tenor position by Bobby Clark soon after. When the Weatherfords left the Cathedral of Tomorrow, Koker, Payne, and Clark remained, forming the Cathedral Trio. In 1964, the trio expanded to the Cathedral Quartet when George Younce joined as bass singer.

Although not a household name at the time, the Cathedrals joined a long line of top quartets, eventually becoming one of gospel music’s most popular. Danny Koker not only accompanied the group on piano and sang baritone, but he also served as the quartet’s emcee and arranged their music, perhaps creating and defining the Cathedrals’ sound. The Cathedral Quartet with Strings and The Cathedral Quartet with Brass, two of the Cathedrals’ finest albums, serve as a testament to the musical vision of Danny Koker. Koker’s exit from the Cathedrals in 1969 marked his permanent retirement from gospel quartet music. He eventually moved to Las Vegas, where he owned a television station for many years.

In 1994, Danny, George, Glen, and Bobby reunited for the first time in over 25 years as the Original Cathedral Quartet at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, and their performance is one of the best-remembered in the reunion’s 20-year history. Each member of the group received the Living Legend Award for their many contributions in gospel music. Danny was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame as a member of the Cathedrals in 2000, and was a 2002 inductee into the Southern Gospel Piano Roll of Honor.

Danny Koker passed away on February 18, following a lengthy illness.

 

James Burleson

James Burleson

Although not a household name in gospel music, James Burleson was a great example of a life well-lived and full commitment to God.  During his teenage years, Burleson began singing with Hershel Foshee's Junior Melody Boys Quartet, a group which also featured young teenage bass singer, Gerald Williams.  By the mid 1950s, Burleson had become a full-fledged Melody Boy, joining Williams, Coolidge Faulkner, Jerry Venable, and Joe Roper.  Burleson's full-time gospel quartet career was brief, and he soon exited the Melody Boys and entered into church work.

Following his Melody Boys days, Burleson served as a music minister in numerous churches throughout the south.  Burleson continued singing gospel music with groups such as The Century Men and The Master Singers.  He and his wife Shirley formed Jericho Ministries, serving several small churches on a volunteer basis. 

In 1997, former Melody Boys Gerald Williams, James Burleson, Coolidge Faulkner, Rex Parnell, and legendary pianist Jack Taylor, reunited at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion for the first time in over 40 years, performing many of their classics.  Burleson, along with the rest of the Melody Boys, received the Living Legend Award in long overdue recognition of their work during the 1940s and 1950s.

Burleson passed away on January 5.  He was 75.

 

Big Jim Hamill

Big Jim Hamill

No doubt, Big Jim Hamill is a name that will forever be remembered among the true legends of gospel music.  Born on August 10, 1934, Jim was the son of Rev. James E. Hamill, for many years pastor of First Assembly of God in Memphis. 

He spent the early days of his career singing baritone with the Songfellows Quartet, which also featured future Blackwood Brothers baritone, Cecil Blackwood.  In the mid 1950s, Hamill joined the Weatherfords in Fort Wayne, IN.  This version of the group was one of the Weatherfords' finest, as it featured Hamill, Earl & Lily Fern Weatherford, George Younce, and Danny Koker.  Hamill performed with several of the top names in gospel music during the late 1950s and early 1960s, including the Watchmen, Foggy River Boys, Blue Ridge Quartet, the Rebels, and the Oak Ridge Boys.  By 1965, Hamill was back in Tampa, FL, with the Rebels Quartet, where he would remain for six years. 

Following the vacated positions by group veterans John Matthews, Horace Parish, and London Parris, Hamill came into his own as an emcee and stage leader, and the Rebels' stage presence flourished.  Hamill's wide-range and clear vocals were only rivaled by his sense of humor and antics on stage.  This evidently caught the attention of Kingsmen baritone and manager, Eldridge Fox, and in 1971, Hamill joined the Mighty Kingsmen as lead singer. 

Despite a brief tenure with the Senators Quartet in the mid 1970s, Hamill remained a staple of the group for 26 years.  Hamill's performances of songs such as "Love Lifted Me", "The Apple Tree Story", "I Owe It All to Him", "Meet Me At the Table", and "Excuses" became Kingsmen classics.  In addition to his superb singing and showmanship, Hamill's legacy also includes bringing some of gospel music's brightest young stars to the spotlight.

Following his retirement from the Kingsmen in 1997, Hamill performed as a soloist, and continued to appear at some of gospel music's largest concerts, often acting as an emcee. 

Among Hamill's many achievements were his five Favorite Lead Singer awards from the Singing News Fan Awards, where he was also twice voted Mr. Gospel Music by the fans.  Hamill was a 2004 inductee into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, a 1998 Living Legend Award recipient at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion.  Hamill and the Kingsmen also performed at the White House in the late 1970s.

Hamill died on November 29, following a period of declining health.  He was 73.

 

Fred Daniel

Fred Daniel

Fred Daniel was a true pioneer with a career covering practically all aspects of the entertainment world. After serving two years in the navy in World War II, Fred spent the early days of his career singing baritone with Covington, GA based quartet, The Happy Four, formed by lifelong friend Happy Edwards. When Happy left the quartet to join the Harmoneers in Knoxville, TN, Fred moved to the tenor spot. It was only a short time before Fred earned his big break from the Sunshine Boys in Atlanta in 1949. Fred left the Happy Four and began a 16-year tenure with one of the most versatile groups in the country.

During Fred's years with the Sunshine Boys, he appeared with the group in the Charles Starrett B-Western, Prairie Roundup. The Sunshine Boys not only pioneered in recording and in movies, but they also pioneered in radio, performing on WSB Barn Dance in Atlanta and WWVA Wheeling Jamboree in the late 40s and early 50s. While in Wheeling, The Sunshine Boys worked over 600 personal appearances in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Canada.  The group signed a contract with Langworth Transcription Agency in New York and recorded over 800 songs which were syndicated on over 600 radio stations all over the world.  In 1951, The Sunshine Boys recorded, along with Red Foley, the first gospel record to top a million in sales entitled, “Peace In The Valley”, which is still marketed today. 

The Sunshine Boys did five shows a week on ABC radio network for 6 years, sponsored by Minute Rice.  After a second stint on the Wheeling Jamboree, the Sunshine Boys performed at The Golden Nugget on the strip in Las Vegas.  Such accolades were due not only to their ability to sing spiritual quartet music with expertise, but also their versatility in performing country, western, pop, and jazz music as well. Fred's melodious and enthusiastic tenor voice was featured on Sunshine Boys hits such as "How Long Has It Been", "Satisfied", "Dig A Little Deeper", and "Remember Me".

Health concerns brought Fred back to the eastern states by 1965, where he joined the Blue Ridge Quartet in Spartanburg, SC. Some of the quartet's best years were with Fred, as his exciting style captured audiences on songs such as "I Wanna Go There" and "Somebody Touched Me".  The Blue Ridge Quartet TV show was syndicated on 37 stations from 1971 until 1977 when Fred decided he had traveled enough and accepted a managerial position with Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company from which he retired in 1991.  He continued to perform with the Sunshine Boys on a limited basis until his death.  He appeared at every Grand Ole Gospel Reunion through 2006. In his later years multiple health concerns plagued him, yet his voice endured and he never failed to bring a warm smile and personality to the stage. He was the consummate performer.

Fred was the recipient of the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion's Living Legend Award in 1995.  Along with the Sunshine Boys, Fred was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame, and received the Pioneer Gospel Award of the 23rd Annual Society of Entertainers. The Sunshine Boys were also honored in 1983 with a star in the Walkway of the Stars in Wheeling, West Virginia.  Fred and Eddie Wallace were co-recipients of the Dub Taylor Award, an award presented to performers in western movies. 

Fred Daniel passed away on November 6, following the death of his wife Hilda just a few weeks earlier. He was 82.

 

Alden Toney

Alden Toney

Alden Toney was one of gospel music's true legends and a classy performer from gospel music's golden age.  Toney burst upon the scene in 1949 when he joined the world famous Blackwood Brothers Quartet.  Toney remained with the group for two years, departing in early 1951.  Following his career with the Blackwood Brothers, Toney became the minister of music at the Gilead Baptist Church in Allen Park, MI.  While at Gilead, he, along with his brothers Jim, Kyer, and Bob, formed the Toney Brothers, a tradition that continues today over 50 years later.

Following his retirement from the group in the mid 1960s, Toney served as church business administrator at Gilead Baptist Church before moving to the Tampa, FL area in 1984 to serve as business administrator for one of the nation’s largest eye clinics, St. Luke’s Cataract and Laser Institute.  In his later years, Mr. Toney resurfaced on the gospel music scene, performing at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion and making several appearances on the Gaither Homecoming videos.  He also became a regular part of his daughter and son-in-law's weekly senior adult ministry, The Breakfast Club, and very active at his home church, Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, FL where his son Greg Toney is the Minister of Music.

Toney is remembered for his very pleasant tenor voice, and for his requested favorites "Wait Till You See Me In My New Home" and "Lead Me to That Rock".  Toney passed away October 21, following a period of declining health.  He was 86.

 

 

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