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CSI-Nashville “The Death of Southern Gospel Music”

The crime scene is set, the guns and knives are the invisible word of mouth. The credibility, fairness, respect, and integrity of many women and men that tirelessly fight for their songs continues to be organized and scrutinized. Why? Because the industry in its entirety has sold itself out. People are trying to hide behind the ministry card. Over 75% of Southern Gospel music is business. No matter what people say. Over the years gospel music has survived on a very thin and conservative foundation. It has been sold as a vision, not a genre. It has been represented with control, not knowledge. It has been held back, for some to hold on. It has been publicized, to capitalize. It has been choked out, so others can breath. You know the old saying ,"If you love something, let it go. If it comes back it loved you too." Gospel music needs to be let go. It needs to be set free. Forget the saying "Outside the box," that's what people say when they are trying to appear to have knowledge of the real world. Forget the box, forget the denominations, forget the hair, clothes, age, drums, forget all of your restrictions.

I was reading a comment somewhere on the web site where a lady was trying to find the sin in the Bible that she was infering against another mans character. Hey, I have an idea, instead of taking all that time to prove someone wrong, pray for them to do right. I really think people jump to conclusions way to often.

OK, lets stop for a minute and think about Southern Gospel music as a government. If wages were dropping, housing and demand was shrinking and jobs were being lost. Would we do the same things? Would we support the same leaders? Would we travel to the same place looking for work, when we have already been turned down? NO!! Wake up. Lets stop being afraid we may not get a spot at NQC, or we may miss making the charts, or booking agent XYZ may not take us, or we need to get signed by a major label. Come on people, think past singing one week in September, or having your name pasted on some chart, wanting a booking agent to sign you, when you cant book yourself or needing a label to invest in you when the last product you ordered is in the garage still boxed.

I think Southern Gospel music would be a lot better if-

  • The labels worked on marketing to fans not bookstores. Most of our labels depend on the bookstores to spread the word. We lack any print saturation or true marketing plans to launch new releases.
  • If radio stations demanded better quality compilations and music. 
  • If the artist would travel outside of their comfort zones, and try new territories. There are things more important than filling your date books. Who cares if you sing 22 dates a month for a total of 800 people. Wouldn't it be smarter to sing 5 dates for 6,000 people? Artists need to rework their plan. Go for quality dates not quantity. I would much rather be an artist that sang 5 times a month for a full house, than sing 22 times a month for the preacher, a homeless man and the guy that opened the church to let you in. And afterwards you take the preacher, homeless man and door opener out to eat. And guess what? You feel guilty the crowd was low and pay for everyone to eat. So, in the end you paid to sing.
  • If concert promoters would branch out and unite churches to support monthly singing and support their concerts. And fight to draw crowds. Some promoters book artist and expect the artist to draw the entire ticket. The artist needs the promoter as much as the promoter needs the artist.
  • If the industry would create a board or union to help draw people in, not one to help keep people out. We need guidelines built to advance the music, not preserve it. Southern Gospel doesn't need preserved. It needs marketed, educated and advanced.

A separate union needs formed to unite labels, producers, stations, artist, managers and churches. We need to respect one another's strengths and create a bond. We need to lock into a plan that we all adhere to.

I could go on and on. The facts are we're dying, falling and complaining. What we are not doing is changing, planning and uplifting. This format has followers. We have a huge potential. I hear all the time,"Man if I could do what Bill Gaither has done." You can!!  He had exposure, he tapped in a fan base outside of the Hallelujah Hillbilly Highway.

So many groups and artist are singing in circles, traveling the same highways, with their good old buddies, trying to keep it down-home and real. Oh come on, I hear the complaining and griping daily. You artist are tired and miserable. You put everything in what you do. If you take a dollar bill stomp it, spit on it, rip it, chew it, you know what? Its still only a dollar. No pain, no stress has changed its value. Its the same in Southern Gospel, you can fight the same circuit, same demons, same broken dreams and visions night after night. But, you are still the same value. You have to move outside of your disappointments and heartaches. I have learned nothing easy is worth having. And nothing worth having is easy to keep. Be ready to change and fight. I am excited about what all of us together can do for Southern Gospel music.

God Bless,

Rick Hendrix

About This Article - CSI-Nashville “The Death of Southern Gospel Music”

Author: RickBHendrix | Author's Website:
Written: 07/01/2005 | Category: Monthly ArticlesLeave No Stone Unturned Comments: 105

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Reader Comments

Hey, Rick:

Wow....what an article! Thank God for a young man who, obviously, has no fear in saying what he
feels and believes. Some of us who still believe in, and want to retain the integrity of, southern gospel music would say "right on" to all that you have said. It's too bad the "powers that be" are unlikely to read, or listen to, your comments.
Keep on sounding the trumpet regardless. Thanks.

By Don Watson on Fri, July 01, 2005 - 6:30:19

I am shocked at the way Southern Gospel music treats one another. My hats off to you. Great article.I think its certainly bigger than someones dream to preserve it. It is is dying. sad but true.


By Sue on Fri, July 01, 2005 - 9:39:51

You Go Rick! I have been"Screaming " this for months! Of course, no one hears me except my husband! I have been writing and singing gospel for over 35 years, and FINALLY had my first song to reach the charts in May..I have worked for over 3 decades to "break in" to southern gospel music, to no avail..It is next to impossible to get in as a singer OR songwriter..Seems no one wanys to let a newcomer in..THIS is why it is dying on the vine..WHY can't the artists, promoters, publishers, record companies see this? If new blood isn't allowed in, eventually the old will die out.. Has anyone really looked at the people filling the seats of the concerts lately?> The majority of concert goers are over 65..something needs to be done while there's still a chance for revival! wake up!!!! The need for REAL dedication to GOD is paramount! I'm not saying everyone has sold out to the wrong motives, but many, many artists have, and trust me, it shows in their attitudes when talking to people at the product tables, and in the lack of anointing when they sing. If true revival would break out in the southern gospel music realm, there would be NO stopping the growth of this awesome music! GOD is the best promoter anyone could ever hope to have! I've been pitching songs for years, only to have them STOLEN, by "God- called, anointed artists"....but you know what? I'm STILL going to write songs and try to get major artists to record them, because there are still some REAL CHRISTIANS who sing because they ARE CALLED, and there always will be.. God will have his remnant!Seems like southern gospel radio stations are disappearing faster than the speed of light these days, and a lot of it can be attributed to the problems Rick mentioned in his article.. But I still believe God can turn it aROUND, AND I BELIEVE THIS... The day will come when America gets so desperate for the real thing, the old-fashioned anointing..that they are going to come streaming back to Southern Gospel...when their prosperity comes to a halt, when their hearts are breaking, and they finally realize that America will never be like it once was before 911, they are going to come home to southern gospel..The "feel good songs" of contemporary gospel aren't going to do the job in these last days.. when your heart is breaking, will you want to hear "praise songs". "prosperity songs" or,"God Walks The Dark Hills", "I Go To The Rock". and "Thru The Fire"????I know it looks rough for Southern Gospel right now, but I tell you this, "It Won't Rain AlwaYS"!!!!lET'S HAVE A REVIVAL!! nICOLA wYATT

By Nicola Wyatt on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 8:58:39

Sadly, most will read this article and agree to it, but then will not understand or hear a word of it. That's because most of the people who read this really want things to be as they were in 1970. They just want to be the stars. I'm not sure why artists want to continue in the same business model anyway. Even in the mainstream industry, the only ones receiving any significant benefit from this business model are the large entertainment conglomerates. Very few artists receive more than a few dollars and lots of misery. Why do we want to follow that?

By Keith Prater on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 9:14:18

Thanks, Rick, for your perspective. I have played in Southern Gospel groups for years and have found what you say to be true. Frankly, as I see it, most Southern Gospel is fluff and entertainment, not "ministry." Those that want to do more than stroke their own ego are few and far between.

From a quality perspective, I am always amazed at the expectations that churches have, but for which are unwilling to pay. We have to pay bills at home and on the road, but if we get enough to buy dinner for the group on the road, we're "in it for the money." One reason for the decline in quality is the uninformed fan base. The average church-goer has no clue as to the amount of work, sacrifice and money it takes to deliver a quality, God-honoring project and then go on the road. Haven't they ever heard their preacher talk about "muzzeling the ox?"

Lastly, for a refreshing difference, you need to be on the lookout for the song, "Hurting People" by The Glovers. When it comes to "fluff," this song ain't.

God Bless

By Anthony Baker on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 11:27:32

NO- I dont feel people will think it needs to return to the 70s.I think they will see it needs to return to the BIBLLE.

By Terry on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 11:52:27

Entertainment Gospel. Instead of Southern Gospel. Maybe we should name it that.

By Terry on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 11:53:39

Are labels marketing to bookstores now?

If so, they must have changed in the last two years since I got out of Christian retail. Aside from the bigger labels that come thru a major distributor like Spring Hill and Daywind, I typically had to hunt them down and make calls if I wanted to keep anything Southern Gospel in stock. When Pamplin owned Sonlite and Horizon, it was like pulling teeth to get them to fulfill orders of Southern Gospel. They'd send us Bibleman videos in a heartbeat, though. I never understood that.

By David Bruce Murray on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 12:20:24

Rick, I have said it before. I'll say it are my hero! (LOL)

Seriously, I'm glad I was already sitting down when I read this article. You just blew the roof off wid dis 'un!

Thank you for your fearless approach to truth and honesty in your effort to keep our music alive. We need more people like you and ol' King Nick. God bless you both.

By John Lanier on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 12:47:08

John Lanier, By the way-I LOVE your music.
"Holy Sacrifice"-was flawless.


By Dale Embry on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 2:31:19

Hey I kinda agree with Ole Rick. As long as folks are trying to hold on to their piece of the pie (NO matter how small and meningless) we will be stuck in the same old movie, showing after showing.


By Dale on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 2:34:12

This industry is kinda like our office supply store. My grandpa and uncle wanna keep running it. The problem is times have changed.They wanna hold on to the business heritage. My mom finally told them, "Your part of the legacy will live forever to you and your family. What happens to continue the business is not about you or your humble beginnings.Maybe, gospel needs to move past the early birds and put them in their place respectfully.


By Joy on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 2:42:05

Do you and Nick Bruno know one another? Your columns seem to have the same thread running through them. He says pretty much the same thing you do about quality, radio, etc. Maybe people you like and Nick and others who believe the same way should form a new SGM arena.

By ryter on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 4:26:55

I could not have said this better myself. As Christians we all need to get out of our comfort zones. Sad thing is most groups have "A better than thou attitude" towards the general public. I have been amazed about how some groups act when not in concert. Pretty shocking.


By Holly Cunningham on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 6:15:20

Some stuff is better left be. You cannot change them. just sing and smile.

By Jim on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 7:19:38


I am sorry that you think that God is so small that He can't use Christian entertainment to advance His cause. The God I serve is bigger than that.

By John R on Sat, July 02, 2005 - 7:58:17

Back in 1970, the "Major" labels were Word/Canaan and Benson/Heartwarming. Where are THEY now? Shall we wait for our newer Majors like Daywind to go belly-up, too? Then we'll all sell our home burned CDs out the trunks of our cars.

At least in the 70s I could find Southern Gospel records in all the Christian bookstores even way out in California and Washington. Now, here in the heartland in Iowa, I can't find any SGM product in Christian Bookstores unless it has the words "Gaither Homecoming Series" on it. No Signature Sound, no Gold City, no Perrys, no Booth Brothers or Dove Brothers... Oh, wait, there's a Gaither Vocal Band CD... does that count? Maybe the reason it's called Southern Gospel is because it's only available in the South.

I have an idea! If we don't feel like taking Rick's suggestions seriously, why don't we just restrict SGM to a couple counties in Western North Carolina... say between Asheville and Bryson City... we can have the NQC at Inspiration Park and we can have an all-day-singin'-with-dinner-on-the-grounds at Ray Reese's home church in Asheville EVERY SUNDAY. We can change the name of the genre from Southern Gospel to Western North Carolina Gospel and we'd only need 1 radio station and one record label! Then we can all laugh and sing and smile until we all die and go to heaven!!!

Or... we can grow up a little and realize that James Blackwood and J.D. Sumner and Hovie Lister and Jake Hess did not "modernize" SGM in their day only to see the clock rolled back here in the new millenium to the days of sweaty quartets singing Stamps-Baxter shaped-note songbook arrangements note for note, OR to see groups in 2005 slavishly imitating the Statesmen of 1955. Or the Cathedrals of 1975.

I believe our SGM audience will accept a lot more musical diversity than we give them credit for. Let's just strive to write the best songs we can, to sing and make the best CDs we can, and to not be afraid to give our audiences a good show. Come on... this is NOT worship music... it's supposed to be fun.

By Chris J Becker on Sun, July 03, 2005 - 12:04:13

On top of what I just wrote, I agree with both Rick and with Nicola Wyatt. We CAN have both economic and artistic success AND at the same time sing under the true anointing of the Holy Spirit.

America yearns for the real thing and nothing less than pure Gospel music, be it good, rafter-shaking black gospel, or good old shoutin' Southern Gospel, will do the trick. CCM just apes whatever music is popular and just changes the lyrics, there is no defineable CCM "sound." There is a defineable Praise and Worship sound... the sound of bored churchgoers snoring in their pews!

But there IS a SOUND to black Gospel that is imitated by R & B people from R. Kelly to Ashanti, and there IS a SOUND to Southern Gospel that is imitated by country people like Rascall Flatts, the Oak Ridge Boys, Lonestar. The world wants the real thing. They just don't know it yet.

By Chris J Becker on Sun, July 03, 2005 - 12:19:32

Great article, Rick. I hope it doesn't just go in one ear & out the other.

By Elaine Harcourt on Sun, July 03, 2005 - 2:56:26

Hey Rick, buddy you said it just right. Love your articles and you always say just what needs to happen. Sure wish we could get SGM to growing and some of the new artist to working at becoming more involved. Bhy the way, Loved Nicole Watts post also. Sweet lady and she does a wonderful job.
By the way to add to your article - Artist need to be sure and get FULL projects to the Radio Stations, DJ's and Radio Programmers. They must remember that if we don't have it we won't play it and if we have to buy it, then we will use it for our listening pleasure and still not play it. Key is to get it to all those that just might play it. Take care my man and God Bless!

By Ole' Gospel Jim on Sun, July 03, 2005 - 6:53:56