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Charlie Waller, Thaí Grand Ole Gospel Man
Recently, the SGMA inducted several members into their hallowed halls. Iím sure weíll have an update on those festivities in the near future, but this month Iíd like to recognize a gentleman thatís done more to further the old days of gospel singing than anyone else in the past 25 years.
Itís a shame that we havenít honored this gentleman with an article up until now, but I plan to rectify that situation this month.
Charles Waller has worn many hats in the gospel music industry. Of course, most of us know him by his famous cowboy hat, but the other hats heís worn have stretched the careers of many gospel music artists and have furthered the history of gospel singing.
Born in the small rural town of Waynesboro, Mississippi, Charlie grew up listening to gospel music. He listened to the music of his heros on the radio and watched them sing on the television, never realizing that this would become his lifeís ambition.
Soon, Charlie found himself working for a local radio station programming gospel music. He also developed a love for black gospel music during these days, as local groups would come into his radio station to do a live program every week.
After he graduated from high school, Charlie was living in New Orleans and working for an evangelist as a song leader. Uncle Sam didnít care about this vocation, and soon Charlie found himself on his way to Vietnam. He spent fourteen months in active duty overseas during the Vietnam War. When he returned home, he landed right in the middle of the gospel music scene in New Orleans.
Charlie left for Vietnam as a disc jockey and returned home as a gospel music promoter. His first concert promotion was in 1971 and featured the Rambos. This was at the height of their popularity and made Charlieís first promotional effort a grand success! This was the first of very many successful Waller promotions.
My first recollection of Charlie Waller was his monthly article in the Singing News entitled "Gospel Trackdown." It was my favorite article in that publication, for Mr. Waller would bring us up to date on a former gospel music artist. Little did I know that this would translate into one of Charlieís greatest accomplishments: The Grand Ole Gospel Reunion.
Much has been written through the years about the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, so I wonít go into detail about it. Just let it be said that the first Grand Ole Gospel Reunion became a turning point in my life as well as the life of many forgotten gospel music artists. On that Saturday evening in 1988, the legends of gospel music assembled around those ancient RCA microphones and brought back memories of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Charlie Waller worked his magic through the stage and his legendary video collection to bring us back to a time in gospel music that had been long forgotten.
Charlie Waller has been on the cutting edge of technology in the gospel music world. A case in point was his diligence in producing some of the first gospel music videos when he convinced Hovie Lister to release footage of the Statesmen Quartet that was recorded for the Nabisco Company in the mid 1950s. These programs were the first gospel videos ever produced for television, and thanks to Charlie Waller, they became among the first gospel videos ever released to the general public.
Charlie remained busy promoting gospel music and producing the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion. He constantly brought "treats" to the GOGR faithful through his insights. Special guests such as Tammy Wynette have graced the GOGR stage, and gospel music has benefitted from Charlieís grand imagination.
In the mid-1990s, Charlie revived the publication "Gospel Singing World." This magazine was the industry standard in the 1950s. It was a sort of "Singing News" of its day. Through this printed medium, Charlie was able to incorporate the world of gospel music in the 1990s with the news from the 1950s. Again, his foresight gave the current fans of gospel music a look back at the way things were in the earlier days as a way to compare and contrast how the industry had changed.
Charlie began a program to honor the living legends in gospel music through the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion Living Legend Award. He then was instrumental in honoring the great keyboardists in the industry with the Piano Roll of Honor. In all of these accouterments, Charlie has sought to bring the honor to those who have earned it and away from himself.
The Southern Gospel Music Association is another of Wallerís ideas. The Gospel Music Association had strayed away from traditional gospel artists, and there was a need for something more to honor the industry. Charlie has always been able to sense what the industry needs and then put feet to his prayers.
The Gospel Music Hall of Fame opened in Dollywood in 1999. Charlie has always been an integral part of the Hall of Fame. A couple of years after the Hall opened, Charlie was asked to serve as the director of the Hall of Fame. Although he was overworked with his other endeavors, his love for the history of gospel music took over and he accepted the appointment.
The Hall of Fame doesnít have a large endowment fund to keep it afloat. Itís a day to day effort to keep the doors open. Through Charlieís fund-raising efforts, the Hall of Fame members now have lovely bronze plaques to honor them. Charlie has implemented several of his ideas to raise funds for the Hall of Fame. The most memorable is the infamous NQC dunking booth.
There is nothing that will stop Mr. Waller from bringing a great program to the people. A few years ago, Charlie was experiencing some enormous health concerns. However, he was more concerned for "the people" than for himself. I also remember a reunion several years ago when his dear Mother was on her death bed. You would have never known his heart was breaking as he provided leadership to the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion.
In recent years, Charlie has been able to live another of his dreams of being a singer as he resurrected the name "Florida Boys." Charlie is having a great time now singing, entertaining and sharing gospel music with those that love it.
Iím glad that Charlie finally allowed his name to be entered into the balloting for the SGMA Hall of Fame. Although he wouldnít want me to tell this, I know he turned down this nomination several times because he felt there were other deserving individuals that should be inducted before him. This is just his nature.
Itís been said that even if you only have a few close friends in your lifetime, then you are indeed a blessed man. I consider myself to be a blessed man, because I consider Charlie Waller to be a close friend. Although he may not want anyone to know it, despite the gruff exterior, the gentleman has a heart of gold. Iíve seen it demonstrated so many times to so many people including your author.
Charlie, Iím glad you have finally taken your rightful place in the SGMA Hall of Fame. We are all so very proud of you!
Bill Gaither with his hero, Charlie Waller
Charlie giving grief to dear friend, Eva Mae.
Late Nite Barefoot Jammin' with John Rulapaugh
Charlie at Let's Make A Deal with Bill Hefner and Jonathan Sawrie
Charlie in 1989 getting serious with the people.
Eddie, Chip, Buddy, and Charlie having fun around the microphone
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