The Grand Ole Gospel Reunion is a one-of-a-kind event due to the fact that we never assemble in the same way year after year. Here we pay tribute to the legends and various contributors of gospel music who have passed away since the 2011 GOGR.
Gaines Lamar Sego was born on April 6, 1931, in Iron City, Georgia. Born to Walter and Lona Sego, he the fifth of six siblings. In 1946, Lamar joined his brothers James and WR, along with Charlie Norris, Jr. and Mrs. Norris Sr. to form the Sego Brothers Quartet. With the addition of James’s wife Naomi in 1959, the group changed its name to The Sego Brothers and Naomi. The Sego Brothers and Naomi became loved by thousands across the country, recording the first gospel record to sell a million copies with “Sorry I Never Knew You”.
Lamar married Betty Ann Rhodes on August 5, 1950. Lamar left the Segos in the mid 1960s, eventually forming the Lamar Sego Family. The Lamar Sego Family traveled across the United States and Canada to much acclaim, most notably performing on the Dove Awards and the Gospel Singing Jubilee.
Sego retired in the 1980s, but still had time to appear at various Sego reunion concerts, and the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion during the 1990s. Lamar Sego passed away on May 5, after a period of declining health. He was 81.
Rancil C. “RC” Taylor was born on August 6, 1934 in Berrien County, Georgia to Martin and Maliscia Taylor. Following a stint in the Air Force, Taylor spent his early gospel singing career performing with several popular quartets. He was the original bass singer for The Prophets Quartet, and during the early 1960s, he performed with The Georgians. Taylor is perhaps best remembered as the bass singer for the Sego Brothers and Naomi, following the departure of Lamar Sego. The lineup of Taylor, James & Naomi Sego, and W.R. Sego was seen many times on the Gospel Singing Jubilee.
Following his career with the Segos, Taylor worked as a truck driver Chaparral Boats. He was married to Elizabeth Hiers Taylor, with whom he had five children, 31 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren.
Taylor passed away on May 1 following a lengthy illness. He was 77.
Ray Sullivan was born in Johnston County, NC on June 29, 1935. He was a
graduate of Selma High School and Campbell University with a BA degree. He was a
retired Social Worker with the State of North Carolina and was employed by the
Division For The Blind. He also served faithfully in the United States Air
was known for his love of music. He was born with a musical gift and sang from
his youth in high school with young quartets including the Live Oak Quartet and
on through college in a touring choir from Campbell University. He wrote and
arranged numerous songs as well as using his tremendous voice with several
groups including the Serenaders Quartet, the Southmen Quartet and in later
years, The Social Security Boys.
was a great songwriter, having penned hits such as “Rainbow Avenue”,
“Healing”, “Shout It Out”, “He Shall Reign Forever”, and “Already
Ready”. “Rainbow Avenue”
reached the Top 10 in the Singing News charts in 1995, and was performed by the
Palmetto State Quartet on the Dove Awards that year.
Sullivan passed away on March 31. He
Jim Arneson was one of gospel music’s most influential promoters on the West Coast. He was born July 9, 1947, in Tacoma, Washington. He began promoting gospel music in the mid 1960s, and sang with the barbershop-styled Crossroads Quartet, which toured across Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia.
In his later years, Arneson sang with his son in the quartet, Crossroads New Revival, as well as with his family in the group, Arneson Family Revival. Concerts by groups such as the Cathedrals, Dixie Melody Boys, Hoppers, Florida Boys, Kingsmen, Gold City, and others thrived in the Northwestern states due to Arneson’s tireless promotion of gospel music.
Jim Arneson passed away in a car crash near Arlington, Washington on March 14. He was 64.
In 1939, J. Bazzel Mull first broadcast his sermons on North Carolinaradio stations, with his wife “Lady Mull” by his side, gaining a loyal following of listeners. In the early 1940s, they started their own radio shows on WROL and WNOX in Knoxville.
Rev Mull was fond of saying he “Was the head of the family, but we all know what turns the head …. The neck … and that was Lady Mull.” Elizabeth Mull is credited for being the eyes of the pair, as J. Bazzel was blinded at the age of eleven months when he accidentally fell into an open fireplace. Elizabeth Mull read the Bible daily to her husband, giving J. Bazzel an almost photographic memory of the Bible.
The success of the Mulls Singing Convention on radio, TV, and concert promotions was solely due to the unparalleled teamwork and cooperation that existed throughout their lives together. Every step and every action he took was directed by her loving arm to hold to. Even their TV program that has continued to run for 50+ years (the longest running, locally produced TV show in America ), was directed by the loving hand of “Lady Mull”. Letting the preacher know what camera to look to and how long to talk on-air. She was truly the force behind the legacy. He would frequently ask his wife to back up a statement he had just made about a sponsor by turning to her and asking, “Ain’t that right, Lady Mull?” To her answer “That’s right”. “Lady Mull” has been the devout picture of God’s intent of a marital spouse.
Mrs. Mull passed away peacefully in her sleep on January 9. She was 85.
Buford Abner's illustrious career has had such an impact on the entertainment world that it is impossible to sum it up even in numerous paragraphs. His contributions to the growth of gospel music are incalculable. James Buford Abner was born November 10, 1917 to Dave and Ovelia Abner in Lineville, Alabama. He was the child of sharecroppers, and like many children in that part of the country, he was raised in a Christian home with lots of singing present, and like so many of his childhood friends, was a part of singing school every summer and spent many a Sunday at all day singing and dinner on the ground events.
At age 15, Buford joined his brother Merle in the Pepperel Manufacturing Company Quartet in Columbus, Georgia. Both Abner boys stayed with that quartet until they left to join their Uncle Stacy in the Vaughn Four on WNOX radio in Knoxville, Tennessee. And by 1938, the Abner boys and Billy Carrier formed The Swanee River Boys. The new quartet used their smooth sound and musicianship to land a job at WDOD radio in Chattanooga, Tennessee where they became part of an entire network of radio stations in the South. Buford married Dorothy Jean Dalton in 1941, and had a daughter, Pamela, in 1943.
Also in 1941, The Swanee River Boys moved to Atlanta, where their program "The Little Country Church" was aired on 50,000 watt powerhouse WSB radio. Their smooth, rhythmic style and flair with black spirituals got them booked into black churches to sing, where they were quite a pleasant surprise to the congregations there, proving that music can be a bridge between black and white, young and old, and rich and poor alike. The Swanee River Boys didn't sing only gospel music. Like many of their contemporaries at that time, they also included popular, folk, and western songs in addition to their gospel quartet numbers and the black spirituals they so excelled at. In the early 1940s, it was estimated that about 52% of their songs were gospel or religious in orientation. They also mixed comedy routines in with their music, making them just as suitable for schools and civic organizations as for churches and concert appearances. They exemplified "family entertainment" at its best. Still, The Swanee River Boys loved their gospel music best, and with Buford's many original songs and innovative vocal arrangements, they were always a major force and influence on gospel quartets.
Despite the personnel changes common to most all vocal groups of long standing, The Swanee River Boys' sound never changed that much through the years. With Buford's popular compostions, his lead singing skill, and his winning manner along with his unique skill at vocal arranging, The Swanee River Boys were always loved and appreciated by gospel music audiences. Some of Buford's compositions include "I Ain't Got Time", "I've Got It(You Can Have It)", "I Get Happy", "He Lifted Me From Sin", "When I Move", and "Gloryland Boogie". His "I Have A Desire" was also a number one song on the gospel charts and was recorded by several quartets. The Swanee River Boys continued to sing through the 1960s, and Buford retired from traveling in 1970.
Buford never stopped singing, writing, or telling good stories. He began singing with his wife Dorothy and daughter Pamela. They recorded a CD of some of his songs when he was 85 years old. Buford's voice and the Abner family harmonies were pristine.
Buford received recognition for his talents from the University of Florida when he was presented with a copy of Stephen Foster's handwritten manuscript of the famous song "Way Down Upon The Suwanee River". He was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2002, and recipient of the Living Legend award at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 2003. The Swanee River Boys are in the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame as well.
Buford Abner passed away on November 19, following a bout with pneumonia. He was 94.
Jackie Wilburn will be remembered as the patriarch for one of gospel music's best-loved family groups during the 1990s, The Wilburns. Jackie and Elaine Wilburn were married in May 1959, and by the early 1970s, with three boys in tow, they began to hit the local singing trail as a family. In time, their career branched to other states, more recordings, as well as daughters-in-law being welcomed into the family.
The Wilburns would eventually welcome non-family members into the group, and as a result, the Wilburns launched some of southern gospel music's best known talents of the last two decades. Their hit songs included "Outside the Gate", "When Dust Shall Sing", "Resting Place", and others. The Wilburns legacy continues with Jackie's son Jonathan, and grandson Jordan, who currently travel as Wilburn and Wilburn
Jackie Wilburn passed away on November 18, while on vacation with his family in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. He was 74.
While rarely in the limelight of gospel music, Charlie Burke was truly a hero to the cause of spreading southern gospel music across America. Born Sept. 18, 1936, in Catawba County, he was the son of the late Elmer Preston Burke and the late Pinkie Turbyfill Burke. He was raised with a love for gospel music. From the time he was a child, he sang in church and was singing in a quartet by the age of 18.
In the 1950s, he was offered an opportunity to sing with The Rebels Quartet. Although this was something that he had always dreamed of, he turned the opportunity down. His conviction to be a devoted family man was stronger than his desire to sing, yet he gave constant hours of devotion and support to the industry over the next half century. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Quartet Convention and the Southern Gospel Music Association. He was an original member of the Pine Ridge Boys during the 1960s, and also performed with the Sons of Song during the 1980s. For over a decade, he owned and managed the Singing Americans, furthering the careers of Ivan Parker, Danny Funderburk, Michael English, Clayton Inman, David Sutton, and others. He is also credited for vitally helping the careers of groups such as the Dove Brothers, the Reggie Saddler Family, and the Whisnants. He, along with his son Michael, also owned the Tape Corporation of America.
His many business ventures blessed him with countless friends who cherished his vibrant personality and gift for story-telling. His generosity and love of people was best expressed through the ministry of Burke Mortuary, where he served as President. He was married to Carolyn Burke for 55 years. He was a 2004 recipient of the Living Legend Award at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, and a 2011 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Southern Gospel Music Guild, presented just days prior to his death at the National Quartet Convention.
One of the highlights of the 2011 Grand Ole Gospel Reunion was the Master's Music Men, featuring Burke, Phil Barker, Kirk Henry, and James Rainey. Unbeknowing to his friends and fans, this would be Burke's final performance on a gospel concert stage. Charlie Burke passed away on September 23, just 5 days following his 75th birthday.
Howard Hayes was born April 4, 1936 in Watauga County, North Carolina, the son of the late Joe and Harlena Cook Hayes. He remained active in gospel music for over 55 years, beginning his career with the Goodwill Quartet. He then joined his wife Lucy in forming The Hayes Family, one of gospel music's most loved family groups over the next 40-plus years.
In addition to his career with the Hayes Family, he was the chairman of the Watuga County Singing Convention, and hosted the Saturday edition of Radio Gospel Time on WATA Radio for 23 years. Hayes was an active member at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, teaching youth and ladies classes for many years.
Howard Hayes passed away on September 6, following a battle with cancer. He was 75.
Jessy Dixon was born in San Antonio, Texas, on March 12, 1938. He sang and played his first song at the age of five. He eventually moved to Chicago, where he was discovered by James Cleveland, one of the first artists to sing and record his compositions, "God Can Do Anything But Fail," and "My God Can Make A Way." The organizers of the Newport Jazz Festival invited him to perform his new song, "The Wicked Shall Cease Their Troubling," at New York's Radio City Music Hall in 1972. After the performance, Dixon and The Jessy Dixon Singers were requested to do four encores. Paul Simon (of Simon & Garfunkel fame), was in the audience and invited Dixon to share the stage with him as lead vocalist on NBC-TV's Saturday Night Live. Dixon's affiliation with Simon lasted eight years.
Dixon wrote songs for Amy Grant, Natalie Cole, Cher, Diana Ross, and others. During his career, he garnered seven Grammy nominations, five gold albums, and multiple Dove Award nominations. During the last 16 years of his life, Dixon was a popular fixture on the Gaither Homecomings, appearing on over 40 of Gaither's video productions.
Jessy Dixon passed away on September 26. He was 73.
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