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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Great Men Teaching Great Things

When famed gospel singer Glen Payne was in a hospital in 1999 dying of cancer, his group, the Cathedral Quartet, was scheduled to embark on their much-publicized farewell tour prior to their retirement after 35 years together.

Little did Glen know when they announced their retirement and tour that he would be diagnosed with cancer, which would prevent him from appearing with the group.

Doctors and medical personnel did everything they could to help Glen but their efforts were to no avail. And when it became apparent that Glen would die within a few short weeks, a shaken George Younce--bass singer for the group--went to see him in the hospital.

"You know, Glen," said George, "We've been out there night after night singing the Gospel for 35 years. You have not only been my business partner in this group but my best friend. I don't think I can go out there, or ask the rest of the guys to go out there, and do this retirement tour without you. It just doesn't seem right to me."

In a weakened voice, Glen responded, "George, in 35 years we've sung no matter what. Our promoters and our fans depend on us. We sang when we were sick. We sang when there were family emergencies. It had to be done. We never let our supporters down, not once. You go out there and sing for the people. Keep our commitments to the promoters...all of them."

Reluctantly George did as Glen had asked.

I went to one of the Cathedrals' farewell concerts in a large southern city. They were the only group on the program, but it had been sold out weeks in advance--all 20,000 seats.

When the group walked on stage, George came to the microphone and stated somberly, "Friends, we are happy you all have come out to see the Cathedral Quartet tonight. We love you, and you know that. But I have to tell you right at the outset some bad news. Glen Payne died this afternoon at 3 PM."

You could hear one, big collective gasp in the audience. You could see women begin to cry and men reaching for their handkerchiefs. I admit I shed quite a few tears myself. Glen had been one of my heroes since I was a boy.

But once the announcement was made and the grief was expressed, the group sucked it up and did the program as never before...just for Glen.

They sang their hearts out.

The reason? It was not just for Glen but for the purpose for which they sang. Glen had always said from the beginning that when they started this quartet they wanted to do it for the right reasons and do it the right way--straight up, sincerely, honestly, and with integrity. He wanted the group to be a vehicle by which to spread the Gospel.

Both Glen and George had blemishes from their past, and they were the first to admit it. I don't know how many times I heard George give his testimony about how his drinking got the best of him in his early years in Gospel music. But God had a way of changing all of that. Both men came to see a better way. And in time they were molded and shaped by the Master Builder who turned their failures and sins into shining examples of what a life can become when Christ is the focus.

The lessons I learned from Glen Payne are numerous. Vocal technique, a love for quartet singing, how to present oneself on stage, a dogged determination to do what God had called you to do no matter what the obstacles, the need to give God the credit for whatever success comes your way, and, finally, how to die.

Great men teach us great things if we pay attention. Glen Payne is part of the reason I am who I am today.


  1. I had not heard that story before. Wonderful! We serve a good God!

  2. Paul, that story has not been told far and wide, but since I had kept up with Glen and George very closely for a number of years, I was privy to it. Glen was quite a man and quite a Christian. So was George.