GOGR Music History -
2005 SGMA Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Itís hard to believe that this is my one year anniversary writing these history lessons for the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion web site. In that time, much has happened to further the history of gospel music through the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion and the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. Foremost has been the appointments of Charlie Waller as the executive director of the Hall of Fame and Liz Autry as the associate director and curator of the Hall of Fame Museum. Charles and Liz did a superb job with the 2005 SGMA Induction Ceremonies held in Dollywood on October 13.

There was a great crowd at the park enjoying the festivities. The Back Porch Theater rang with the singing of the Travílers, Melody Boys Quartet, Greater Vision, Galloways, and Karen Peck and New River. The folks at Dollywood also provided a wonderful buffet for those attending the event.

Many gospel music legends were in attendance as well as a few people from the current gospel music industry. Personally, I was disappointed that there were not more current people from the gospel music circles attending this important event in the life of the history of gospel music. Where were yaíll? The history of gospel music is quite important in order to move us into the future. Itís my desire that those in the industry take this to heart and act accordingly. OK, Iím off my soap box now.

The ten individuals inducted at the evening ceremonies had a huge impact on the world of gospel music. Several of these legendary figures were on hand to personally accept their awards from the SGMA.

Robert S. Arnold was a noted teacher of gospel music and founder of the National Music Company of Coleman, Texas. He also founded and sang with the National Quartet for many years. Although Mr. Arnold wrote more than 400 songs, he is best known for the gospel music classic "No Tears in Heaven." Greater Vision, dressed in overhauls, performed that song in tribute to Mr. Arnold. Mrs. Martha Hamm accepted the award on the behalf of the late Mr. Arnold. Mrs. Hamm was Mr. Arnoldís personal pianist for many years.

Anna Gordon Davis was an original member of the Chuck Wagon Gang. Although her given name was Effie, the world of gospel music knew her by her stage name: "Anna." Mrs. Davis was beloved by the world of gospel music for her kind personality and her lovely alto voice that anchored the sound of the Chuck Wagon Gang for many years. After the death of her husband, Howard Gordon, Anna married former Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis and continued to sing gospel music with him until his death. The current Chuck Wagon Gang performed "Heavenís Really Gonna Shine" in tribute to Anna. Annaís granddaughter, Shaye Truax is a member of the current Chuck Wagon Gang, and they were joined on stage by her mother Vicki during their song. Accepting the award for the late Mrs. Davis were her children, Vicki and Skippy, and her granddaughter, Shaye.

Elmo Fagg spent nearly his entire career in gospel music singing lead with the Blue Ridge Quartet. The quartet was affiliated with the Stamps organization in the 1940s, but soon became an independent group and moved to Spartanburg, S.C. where it remained until the group retired. Elmo was never a flashy showman, but his voice was quite recognizable and always right on pitch. He was one of the finest emcees in gospel music. Several of his protegees including Jim Hamill and George Younce followed his lead and became excellent emcees in their own right. Elmo was instrumental in forming and promoting the Gospel Singing Caravan which brought gospel music to a large audience via syndicated television. The Travílers Quartet with Kenny Gates at the piano sang a song written by Elmo and Kenny, "Sinner Come Home," in tribute to the late Mr. Fagg. Kenny Gates, long time associate and friend, accepted the posthumous award for Elmo Fagg.

Gloria Gaither often finds herself in the shadows of her famous husband, but her abilities with the English language have made her one of the finest wordsmiths in gospel music. Her partnership with her husband Bill has provided the world of gospel and sacred music with a plethora of songs that are performed not only on the concert stage, but also from the congregations of most of the churches in the Christian world. Gloria was also a long time member of the Bill Gaither Trio, and has written several books about the Christian life. She is also a timeless motivational speaker. The Whisnants performed one of Gloriaís greatest recitations, "Thereís Something About That Name" in tribute to Mrs. Gaither. Mrs. Gaither flew in from a California Gaither Homecoming appearance to accept her award in person.

Rosa Nell Speer Powell, second child of G.T. and Lena (Dad and Mom) Speer, joined several other members of her famous family in the Hall of Fame. Rosa Nell is an excellent convention-style pianist. Her keyboard skills set a great foundation for the Speer Family during the 1940s. After her marriage in 1948, she retired from the Speer Family but continued to teach piano. In later years, she and her sister Mary Tom once again began traveling with the Speers on a limited basis allowing later generations of gospel music fans to experience her wonderful sense of humor and excellent piano techniques. Mrs. Powell was on hand to accept her award, and the Hayes Family sang the Speer classic, "Land of Perfect Day," in tribute to her.

Joe Roperís inclusion in the Hall of Fame is long overdue. Countless numbers of gospel musicians have been taught by Mr. Roper. A famous country music pianist, Floyd Cramer, was one of Roperís students. He has written many gospel music classics. Joe was the first pianist for the Blackwood Brothers, and spent many years as pianist and manager for the Melody Boys Quartet. Mr. Roper was instrumental in tutoring several other great quartets during their formative years including the Prophets and the Stamps. The Melody Boys Quartet performed one of Joeís songs, "Riding on the Glory Train" in recognition of their mentor. Former Melody Boy Jonathan Sawrie studied Mr. Roperís techniques for years and accompanied the quartet for their tribute. Accepting on the late Mr. Roperís behalf were his sister Vera Vaughn, and his long time friend and associate, Gerald Williams.

Bill Shaw was the tenor singer for the Blackwood Brothers for twenty-one years. This is a remarkable accomplishment, for the quartet was often known for "burning out" tenor singers. In addition to being one of the finest tenor singers in gospel music, he was also a formidable song writer, penning songs such as "Iím Thankful," "Because of the Love of the Lord for Me," and "My Lord Goes With Me." Also, who could forget little "Pablo?" Shaw joined the ranks of professional gospel music after singing with the All American Quartet for just a few months. The Dove Brothers performed a Bill Shaw classic, "Heís All That I Need," in acknowledgment of Mr. Shaw and his contributions to the world of gospel music. Bill was on hand to accept the award and thank the industry for his inclusion into the Hall of Fame.

Erman Slater sang with many of the great quartets of the 1930s and 1940s. He spent time with groups such as the Radioaires, Harmoneers, Sand Mountain Quartet, Lone Star Quartet, and the Dixie Four prior to joining the Rangers Quartet. He joined the Rangers Quartet just to fill in for his friend Walter Leverette, but became a member of the quartet when Mr. Leverette passed away. His life ended in a violent traffic collision while traveling with the Rangers Quartet. He possessed a beautiful voice, and loved to sing gospel music. His children accepted the award for their late father, and the Florida Boys sang the old Rangers Quartet classic "You Sho Do Need Him Now" in recognition of Mr. Slater.

Jack Toney was one of the finest lead singers in the history of gospel music. He spent time with several major quartets including the Joymakers Dixie Echoes, Prophets, Searchers, Masters V and Stamps, but he was most noted for the years he spent as lead singer for the Statesmen Quartet. Jack replaced Jake Hess when he retired from the Statesmen in 1963, and spent many years with the quartet. He brought class, dignity, and a golden voice to the quartet. Jack also wrote many songs in conjunction with his wife, Gail. Jackís last group was the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion Quartet and his last recording was "A Tribute to Mosie Lister" by that great quartet. Arthur Rice of the Kingdom Heirs did a marvelous job singing "Beyond the Gates" as we remembered Jack and his golden voice. His widow, Gail Toney, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband.

The final inductee into the 2005 Hall of Fame class is one of my favorite gospel singers, Eddie Wallace. Ed spent his entire career with the Sunshine Boys singing lead and playing the piano. His distinctive voice, classic gospel piano styles, and biting sense of humor always set the table for a Sunshine Boys performance. Ed has been a gospel singing pioneer on television, in the movies, and on radio. The Sunshine Boys were the first gospel group to perform regularly on the Las Vegas circuit. Ed and the Sunshine Boys have brought gospel singing to an audience that otherwise would have never heard the gospel in song. They were pioneers in the field of promotion of gospel singing. Their versatility and musical abilities propelled them to new heights both in and out of the gospel singing circuit. Another recent Hall of Fame inductee, Ed OíNeal and his Dixie Melody Boys performed the Sunshine Boys classic, "Dig a Little Deeper," in tribute to Mr. Wallace.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at some of the pioneers of gospel music. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to post them here or send me an email at john@grandolegospelreunion.com.

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