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Cathedral Quartet

There is little doubt in the gospel music world that quite possibly the most influential gospel quartet during the last half of the 20th century was the Cathedral Quartet. George Younce and Glen Payne carried the torch for traditional quartet music through this group in a time that saw much change and diversity in the gospel field. Musical tastes were changing by this time, with the explosion of Contemporary Christian and Country-influenced gospel sounds. Precision and perfection in quartet music was being replaced by a style of singing that many experts have referred to as "three chords and a cloud of dust". In the ever-changing world of gospel music, the Cathedrals held strong to smooth quartet harmony.

The Cathedralsí origin can be traced back to 1963 when Glen Payne, Danny Koker, and Bobby Clark were singing with the Weatherfords, who were the headline group on Rex Humbardís Cathedral of Tomorrow in Akron, Ohio. Pressure had been mounting on Earl Weatherford to place the Weatherfords on Humbardís staff. Weatherford, however, longed to return to the road, and this he did. Payne, Koker, and Clark each opted to remain in Ohio where they had established roots. The future was uncertain, but Humbard suggested that the three men continue singing, and The Cathedral Trio was born.

Cathedral Trio - 1963
L-R: Glen Payne, Danny Koker, Bobby Clark

As with most beginning groups in those days, times were lean. Glen, now manager of the Cathedral Trio, struggled to secure dates for this unknown group. Somehow, the trio held their own and by early 1964, Rex Humbard tapped The Cathedral Trio to sing on his televised services. Near the end of 1964, Humbard suggested that the group hire a bass singer. George Younce vacated the bass position in the Blue Ridge Quartet and moved to Ohio, thereby changing the groupís name to The Cathedral Quartet.

The Original Cathedrals had a sound that was nothing short of magnificent. With Bobby Clarkís powerful, operatic tenor vocals, Danny Kokerís soulful piano skills and vocal style, Glen Payneís commanding text-book lead voice and stage presence, and George Younceís ever-developing enthusiastic bass voice, this group put together a combination that created every bit of the magic that the later, more popular vocal lineups the Cathedrals showcased. Danny Koker arranged and produced the Cathedralsí material and perhaps truly defined their unique sound and style. They pioneered the gospel field in numerous ways. In 1965, they were the first group to record albums with string and brass ensembles, in addition to being the first gospel quartet to tour and record in the Holy Land.

Cathedral Quartet - 1965
Clockwise From Left: Bobby Clark, Danny Koker,
George Younce, Glen Payne

Change is always an evident occurrence in any quartet and it was no different with The Cathedrals. 1968 saw the departure of Bobby Clark, soon followed by Danny Koker. The Cathedrals soon secured the able hands of tenor singer Mack Taunton and baritone and pianist George Amon Webster. It was also around this time that the group decided to leave Rex Humbard and hit the road like a normal quartet.

Following this move began a long struggle to establish a name outside of Rex Humbardís organization. Dates once again were scarce and the road life took its toll. George and Glen were often offered chances for greener pastures, but both remained committed to the quartet. George, in fact, turned down a job singing bass with the Blackwood Brothers in the early 1970s. However, the light at the end of the tunnel always seemed to be drawing nearer. Many great musicians passed through the doors of the Cathedralsí bus during the first half of the seventies. Among them were Lorne Matthews, Roy Tremble, Jim Garstang, Roger Horne, Bill Dykes, and Haskell Cooley.

Cathedral Quartet - 1970
Clockwise from Left: George Amon Webster,
Mack Taunton, Lorne Matthews, Glen Payne, 
George Younce

Despite low budgets and lackluster sales, the Cathedralsí recording output produced some wonderful music. Albums such as Everythingís Alright, I Saw the Light, A Little Bit of Everything, and Focus on Glen Payne were all fantastic albums and are rarely given their due recognition among the Cathedral classics. During the mid 1970s, the group released a wonderful tribute album to Albert E. Brumley.

Bobby Clark temporarily returned for a very brief period in 1973 and persuaded the group to move then-baritone singer Roy Tremble to the tenor slot. By 1974, the Cathedrals consisted of George and Glen anchoring the quartet at bass and lead, baritone George Amon Webster, tenor Roy Tremble, and piano player Haskel Cooley.

Cathedrals with Albert E. Brumley
Top: Glen Payne, George Younce, George Amon Webster, Bottom: Roy Tremble, Albert E. Brumley,
Haskell Cooley

With powerful songs such as "The Last Sunday," "He Loves Me," and "Statue of Liberty" now beginning to dominate the radio airwaves, The Cathedrals began to finally gain some overdue recognition. In 1977, George and Glen attended the Dove Awards program expecting nothing, yet the name Cathedrals was called four times that night, including awards for Album and Male Group of the Year. George and Glen credited their success to their wives, Clara and Van, for their love, prayers, and support through the years.

Pianist Lorne Matthews returned to the quartet in 1979. But as always, the winds of change were again blowing toward the Cathedralsí bus doors. George Amon Webster, Roy Tremble, and Lorne Matthews abruptly left the group to form their own trio, The Brothers, leaving a devastated George and Glen in uncertainty yet again. Fans and friends rallied in support and George and Glen decided to carry on, regrouping with baritone and pianist Steve Lee and tenor Kirk Talley. It wasnít long before they hired 20-year-old pianist extraordinaire Roger Bennett. The youth and excitement that these new members gave to the quartet seemingly brought a new birth to the Cathedrals.

Cathedral Quartet - 1981
Clockwise from Left: Roger Bennett, Mark Trammell, Glen Payne, Kirk Talley, George Younce

In 1980 Steve Lee was replaced by a young Mark Trammell, formerly with groups such as The Kingsmen, The Southmen, and The Senators. The Cathedrals only went higher in the field of gospel music, bringing many unique hit songs like "Roll Away Troubled River", "We Shall See Jesus," "Iím Gonna Live Forever", and "My Lord Will Send A Moses". In 1982, "Step Into the Water" reached #1 on the Singing News Charts and remained there for an amazing 9 months.

It seemed that The Cathedrals were really on a roll when Kirk Talley decided to leave to form The Talley Trio in 1983. Danny Funderburk, formerly of the Singing Americans, was secured to fill the tenor slot. A different type of tenor from his predecessors, Funderburk contributed to many of the Cathedralsí hits during the 1980s, particularly with "Somebody Touched Me," and "I Just Started Living".

When Roger Bennett accepted a position at a recording company in 1986, The Cathedrals jumpstarted the professional career of 21-year-old pianist and singer Gerald Wolfe. During Geraldís tenure with the Cathedrals, the group recorded one of their best-remembered albums, Symphony of Praise, with the London Symphony Orchestra. The following year, The Cathedrals received a Dove Award for the albumís powerhouse hit, "Champion of Love."

Cathedral Quartet - 1987
L-R:
Danny Funderburk, Glen Payne, Gerald Wolfe,
George Younce, Mark Trammell

When Gerald Wolfe left the group to embark on a solo ministry in 1989, Roger Bennett quickly returned to the piano bench, and the Cathedrals didnít miss a beat. Danny Funderburk soon left the group, eventually becoming tenor and manager for a popular new quartet, Perfect Heart. Danny was replaced by Kurt Young, but sadly, Youngís stay was short-lived. The Cathedrals soon found their tenor singer in Ernie Haase, a former member of the Squire Parsons Trio and the Dixie Melody Boys. Scott Fowler, a young vocalist and able musician, was selected to replace Mark Trammell in 1991 when Mark left to join old friend Gerald Wolfe and Greater Vision. While Funderburk and Trammellís talents were certainly difficult to follow, it wasnít long before Haase and Fowler captured the hearts of Cathedral fans.

In 1994, the Original Cathedrals with George, Glen, Danny, and Bobby, reunited at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion for the first time in over 25 years. It was as if the group had never parted ways. This performance continues to remain one of the highlights among all Grand Ole Gospel performances. George Younce was without doubt one of gospel musicís greatest emcees and storytellers, yet in a moment of pure class, he turned the microphone over to original emcee Danny Koker for part of their performance. Although Cathedral members past and present would later reunite for the publicized and recorded Cathedrals Reunion, the Grand Ole Gospel performance is the only documented video footage of George, Glen, Danny, and Bobby.

Cathedral Quartet - 1996
L-R:
Ernie Haase, Scott Fowler, Glen Payne, 
George Younce, Roger Bennett

The lineup of Payne, Younce, Bennett, Haase, and Fowler remained intact for almost a decade.  The Cathedralsí repertoire was widening and their audiences expanding. While they were moving into new territory with songs like "Jesus Saves" and "Jesus Has Risen", they were continuing to record some of their most solid traditional material ever with hits like "Oh Come Along," "Iíve Been with Jesus," and "Hard Trials Will Soon Be Over". In addition, the Cathedrals continued a long-standing tradition of singing many songs from the Stamps-Baxter catalog, a long-lost practice among quartets. They appeared on NBCís The Today Show, The Grand Ole Opry, Crook and Chase, and Nashville Now, as well as all of the Gaither Homecoming videos.

While the Cathedrals boasted some of gospel musicís finest young talents, George Younce and Glen Payne were always the focal point of the group. George, as mentioned earlier, was one of gospel musicís greatest emcees, and his bass singing talent seemed to know no end. Few bass singers can hold a Low C with such ease! In addition to his solid low notes, George was a master soloist. His performances of "Thanks to Calvary" and "Suppertime" are legendary. Glen Payne was the epitome of consistency and efficiency. His mentality of "do it right" remained the driving force behind the Cathedrals for 35 years. And needless to say, he rarely, if ever, had an off night in concert. His performance and technique were flawless.

While it seemed the Cathedrals were at the height of their career, George and Glen were beginning to feel the miles from the road. Each had been on the road nonstop for over 50 years and by the mid 1990s, the Cathedrals had cut their rigorous touring schedule by well over half. As The Cathedralsí 35th year approached, George and Glen announced that 1999 would be their last year, ending with a farewell concert in Akron, Ohio, the city where they had began their long career 35 years earlier.

Cathedral Quartet - 1995
L-R: George Younce, Ernie Haase, Roger Bennett,
Scott Fowler, Glen Payne

The Cathedralsí final year did not go nearly as planned, as much of the year was seemingly spent with one or the other of its two illustrious leaders sidelined by illness. Suffering extensive heart problems and kidney failure, George spent most of the first half of 1999 in and out of the hospital and was unable to make many of the groupís dates. Just as when George was scheduled for major heart surgery in 1987 and many times since, the groupís leadership fell heavily on Glen Payne. Before George could make a comfortable recovery, Glen himself soon received grave news. In August, a severely ailing Glen was diagnosed with liver cancer.

Although remarkably good health, strength, and stamina had allowed Glen to carry the group through its most difficult days, Glen entered the hospital, never to return to a gospel stage. Glenís last performance was given by phone from his hospital bed to the National Quartet Convention on September 17, 1999, in one of the most unforgettable live moments in gospel music history. On October 15, Glen Payne passed away at the age of 72.

Carrying a promise made to Glen, an ailing George and the Cathedrals pressed on for their remaining 2Ĺ months, with Roger Bennett doubling at piano and lead vocals. On December 18, 1999, The Cathedrals ended their 35-year career at Akron Baptist Temple before a sold-out crowd. Despite kidney and heart problems accompanied by pure exhaustion, dedicated quartet man George Younce mustered up the strength for a 2Ĺ-hour performance without an intermission for this grand finale.

Cathedral Quartet before Final Concert
L-R:
Ernie Haase, George Younce, 
Scott Fowler, Roger Bennett

George Younce entered permanent retirement, following a semi-regular schedule of solo performances and concerts with old comrade Jake Hess in the Old Friends Quartet. Unfortunately, as each year passed, this old quartet workhorse continued to weaken. One of Georgeís last concert appearances was before an ecstatic crowd at the National Quartet Convention on September 13, 2003. For the near 20,000 people in attendance that night, this marked yet another unforgettable stage moment in gospel music. George Younce passed away on April 11, 2005, the last of the dynamic duo that carried The Cathedral Quartet through 35 years of music, ministry, lean times, and phenomenal success.

Longtime Cathedral pianist Roger Bennett lost a decade-long battle with cancer on March 17, 2007.  Just this year, original Cathedral pianist and baritone, Danny Koker, passed away on February 18.

The retirement of the Cathedrals marked the end of an era in gospel quartet singing. It is easy to see that The Cathedral Quartet, through extremely hard work and perseverance that should be made an example of to all aspiring gospel singers, created a legacy that will never be forgotten. They delivered fresh ideas, yet remained committed to straightforward, traditional quartet music in times when tradition wasnít always the most popular direction. Their ministry-oriented approach helped them to reach new audiences across the world. The Cathedrals never needed overproduced music or vocals. They never needed the "bells and whistles" that often accompany many groupsí performances today. They simply stood flat-footed and sang the gospel in a style that was both familiar and refreshing. There is no doubt that throughout the last half of the 20th century, the sound of The Cathedrals preserved quartet music at its finest.


View more Photos of the Cathedrals Through the Years

 

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