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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Artist Spotlight and a Bit of Music History for a Sunday

Over the last several months I have periodically shone the spotlight on some noteworthy Gospel artists and used the occasion to muse on some music history to boot. We continue with that today.

In my many comments about the famed Cathedral Quartet, retired in 1999, I have noted that Glen Payne and George Younce were responsible for introducing to Southern Gospel Music many top singers and musicians. At least 3 separate, full-time groups that are traveling today came out of the Cathedrals. We have discussed these already--Ernie Haas and the Signature Sound Quartet, Legacy Five, and The Mark Trammell Quartet. Now we will focus on the 4th.

Glen and George knew how to spot good talent, and the fact that all of these top-notch groups had their birth in the Cathedrals organization only emphasizes their influence. This was certainly true when, in the late 1980s, pianist Roger Bennett left the road for a couple of years. Bennett would return in 2 short years and stay with the group until their retirement in 1999.

But during the Bennett hiatus, Glen and George brought to the national stage a young pianist from the hills of East Tennessee who quickly established himself as one of the most amazing artists to come along in the history of Gospel music.

That young man was Gerald Wolfe.

Glen hired Wolfe to be the pianist for the Cathedrals, but it was discovered that this 'little man' (George used to kid Gerald about his small stature) had a powerful, crisp lead voice. Thus, in no time Glen and George were featuring Gerald's voice during their concerts, as well as his piano ability.

Perhaps no one in the history of Southern Gospel Music has ever established himself as a top talent in such a short period of time. In just a few months Christians who followed Gospel music were abuzz about Gerald Wolfe.

In 1986 or so, the Cathedrals traveled to London, England  to record an album with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It would become one of the landmark recordings in the genre, the first time a southern quartet had ever recorded with such a high-brow, acclaimed orchestra. Cathedrals personnel at the time were Danny Funderburke on tenor, Glen Payne on lead, Mark Trammell on baritone, George Younce on bass, and Gerald Wolfe on piano.

Several major hits came off of that album, but it was one solitary song that featured the voice of Gerald Wolfe that made music history. Glen decided that on this particular song Gerald would take the lead. And he  flat hit it out of the ballpark with the other guys harmonizing in the background, along with the thrilling sounds of the London Philharmonic providing the accompaniment.

That song was entitled, 'Champion of Love,' and from the time it was released until this very day the song has been sung each night whenever Gerald Wolfe performs. It became his 'signature song' and audiences today still insist that he sing it in his concerts.

'Champion of Love' was not only a major hit in Southern Gospel but found itself at the top of the playlists in the Christian Contemporary and Worship & Praise sub-genres.

After only 2 short years Gerald decided he wished to form his own group. On the strength of his mega-hit and the attention his voice was receiving all across the Christian world, Gerald formed a trio that he called 'Greater Vision.' For 22 years Greater Vision has been a staple in the top tier of Southern Gospel Music circles.

When Gerald started the trio he tapped baritone Rodney Griffin to join the group. Griffin was also a young songwriter. In time he would become one of the most prolific songwriters in the field, and Greater Vision has enjoyed a string of hits from the pen of Rodney Griffin to prove it.

When the Cathedrals were on their farewell tour, Mark Trammell reminisced on the influence that Gerald Wolfe had on his life during the short time he was with the Cathedrals. Trammell noted that late at night, as the bus was traveling down the road and he could not sleep, he would often get up and go talk to the bus driver. He would notice that on many nights Gerald was awake in his bunk as well, and as Mark passed by he would see Gerald's overhead light on, and there he would be, said Trammell, "reading his Bible."

Greater Vision under the leadership of Gerald Wolfe has been a shining example of what dedicated Christian men who not only talk the talk but walk the walk can do in this world of darkness and woe.

And now, here is an example of Greater Vision's music. This one is a favorite of mine, and it is from the pen of Rodney Griffin.  It is entitled, 'He's Still Waiting by the Well.' Turn up your volume on this one, folks. Not only is this a foot-tapping barn-burner, but the message is deep and moving. I like it. Hope you will too.

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