"And on Sundays and Wednesdays - Wednesdays being revival days at the First Assembly of God Church - Elvis learned to sing spirituals." - from ELVIS by Jerry Hopkins
Since the Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, known as "the father of gospel" wrote "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" in 1932, gospel music has been a popular form of musical expression, particularly in the south where it seems to have become a part of the fabric of the land.
During the 1940's and 1950's, the southern gospel quartet trend began with groups like the Statesmn Quartet, the Blackwook Brothers, and others, establishing a pattern which still exists today. The groups were virtual carbon copies - complete with four-part harmony, matching suits, and crowd-pleasing stage antics.
Of course, the music has ventured through trends over the years with trios and mixed groups with female voices. Also, the instrumentation has experienced pronounced change beyond a simple piano to include three and sometimes four other instruments.
Southern gospel as an industry has been riddled with problems from the very beginning. The star syndrome and competition between groups are just as prevalent as they are in religious rock. Most of the quartet convention-style programs are hardly anything beyond a "show", seldom leading anyone to either salvation or a deeper walk with Christ.
The industry has also been considerably corrupted by immorality among its participants, and alcoholism. This book's co-author wrote a revealing account ten years ago of the late James Sego, of "Sego Brothers and Naomi," who had been an alcoholic for many years while active in gospel music.
Several groups have also left the southern gospel field for secular music. The Oak Ridge Boys, once known as the Oak Ridge Quartet, is probably the best known - now singing what is often a raunchy form of country music.
The Dixie Melody Boys, a group that began in southern gospel, recently chaged its name to the DMB Band after several years of changing musical direction. The band's music is "a progressive country sound." Christian Activities Calendar calls the sound a unique blend of contemporary Christian/country music.
DOES IT EDIFY?
Churches which employ southern gospel groups oftentimes are encouraging the unholy mixture of teh world and God. Thats because most of these so-called gospel concerts are nothing more than a "show" where performers are entertaining.
The issue has nothing to do with a person's musical taste, or likes and dislikes for particular music. Im speaking of what is right and wrong spiritually, what is biblical, what is Christ-glroifying, and what is Christlike.
The Apostle Paul looked at it in this manner:
"All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." (1 Cor. 10:23)
Paul is speaking about edification of the Body of Christ and Christ Himself. A person can involve himself in many things which may not be sinful on the surface but which do not edify Christ. Thus, there is no spiritual profit.
Several years ago I appeard on the "700 Club" and this subject was addressed. The program's co-host asked "Are you telling me Bing Crosby's 'White Christmas' is wrong?
My answer was this:
""Its not a question of being right or wrong. Its a question of being edifying. The truth is, its not edifying to the cause of Christ. It does not glorify or lift up Jesus Christ""
A Christian really doesnt have to look at some situation and ask whether its sinful or not. The proper question is, rather: Does it edify Christ? Does it glorify Christ? The sin question is answered easily once the edification question is addressed.
I strongly believe that much of the southern gospel quartet music falls into this category.
Janet Paschal, one of our featured soloists, probably sings to more people today than any other female singer. Yet before she joined this Ministry, Janet traveled the southern gospel music circuit for almost seven years. The following interview with Robert Paul Lamb reflects her experiences and impressions from those years "on the circuit"
R.P. - How did you get started singing gospel music?
Janet - I was raised in the church and first began singing there. At eighteen, I auditioned for a gospel group and was hired.
R.P. - What was the situation you found in gospel music once you began traveling the circuit?
Janet - When I first joined the group, they were sort of at a low point due to personal changes. As a result, we appeard in a lot of churches, as opposed to concerts in auditoriums. Of course, that gradually changed over the years.
I suppose I grew up thinking all these singers were anointed of the Lord. Thats not to say some arent. But I was thinking they were more so than what I discovered when I got into the circuit. Perhaps at eighteen, I had stars in my eyes. I also found there was a lot of hard work involved. I probably went through a period of being dis-illusioned
R.P. - What happened to effect this feeling of being disillusioned?
Janet - Well, a lot of our concerts included four of five major groups. People talked about wanting to leave the stage "hot" from a rousing song. You might have groups not wanting to follow other particular groups on stage. There might be an argument over how much time one group while another took less. Everything was more business oriented than I'd ever guessed.
I just thought everybody got up there with the program they felt the Lord had given them and sang. I felt it shouldnt matter where they came in the program.
R.P. - Would you say the programs were more performance-oriented as opposed to being ministry?
Janet - They were more performance-oriented. Of course, there were exceptions. But the programs were pretty much planned out - the introductions, the funny lines, the order of songs. A program was basically followed for a year, then changed.
R.P. - What about preperation? Was there prayer before going on stage? Did the group ever have Bible study together?
Janet - No, not as far as I knew. Again, there may have been exceptions but Im saying as far as I knew. Inner preparation didnt seem to have anything to do with it, or you could say, it was left totally up to the individual.
When I joined the group, I made up my mind that I would read something from the Bible every day, no matter the schedule. Of course, we were travelling frequently and doing one-night stands. We'd go to bed on the bus one night and wake up the next morning in the town where we would be in the next concert. But I continued reading my Bible every night and just spending time with the Lord.
Because of that, I believe the Lord helped me see things as they were as opposed to becoming a part of them. This helped set me apart and enabled me to say, "THats not the way I want to be"
R.P. - In gospel music circles, are people there because of the calling of God or just a host of other reasons?
Janet - Let me say that I personally worked with a good group of people who were very sincere. But as far as the calling of God is concerned, I think most of the people in the gospel quartet circuit are there for other reasons. Their family might have been in the business; thats very prevalent. It was just rare to see somebody who was there because it was Gods calling on their life.
R.P - In terms of results, were people saved in the churches where you sang? We're altar calls given?
Janet - It did happen where individuals said they gave their heart to the Lord during the service or at some place where a particular song was sung. But it was rare. Some pastors might have given altar calls, in which case people would have responded.
R.P. - I suppose it could be said that you found that persons and personalities were glorified in gospel music and that the financial aspect of the business overshadowed much of what was done?
Janet - Yes, but I think that is something that has evolved in gospel music. I dont think it started that way. The people who started were sincere, and of course there are still some sincere people out there. But I believer the growth of gospel music and the business aspect of selling records have affected this.
R.P. - Would you say this affects the industry with current trends today?
Janet - Sure. You can detect that with the contemporary fad. Gospel music kind of goes along with whatever is going. It began with quartets, shifted over to trios, then more towards female voices. Now its moving in a contemporary vein. Yet it doesnt change according to the message God has given. It moves only with the trends.
When I was traveling with the group, we were with a major record label. So we had to pick songs our producers liked. Songs that would "chart." That would cause the records to be played regularly over the radio, giving us visibility and familiarity with listeners and promoters.
R.P. - After all that time traveling, what would you say was your biggest disappointment?
Janet - I guess a lack of total dedication from people to the Lord Himself. A lot of times groups on the road would stay in the same hotel and they might get together for breakfast. During those times, you seldom - or never - heard them talk about the Lord. They talked about the business, the industry, and funny things that happened.
At times, we appeard at fairs. A couple of times we were on the Grand Ole Gospel portion of the Grand Ole Opry. I felt out of place in some of those situations. It seemed as if we were casting pearls before swine. I wondered why promoters would want to put us there.
R.P. - You left gospel music not knowing if you would ever travel and sing professionally again?
Janet - Thats true. I suppose you could say that after a number of years I just became tired of traveling. About a year before I left, the Lord began preparing my heart for a change, and I was really looking forward to it when the change finally came. I went to school for a year and a half back in North Carolina before I came here.
R.P. - Without sounding self-serving to Jimmy Swaggart or this Ministry, can you contrast the difference between what you were doing and now?
Janet - I had been acquainted with Brother Swaggarts ministry for many years and had attended crusades some years back. But I guess I wasnt prepared for seeing all the hungry, responsive people in the coliseums. Right away, I knew my singing material would have to be more ministry-oriented as oppsed to getting people on their feet to clap, or hitting the charts with a song, or pleasing producers in the studio.
One of the things that impressed me with Brother Swaggart was that worldly possessions didnt mean anything to him. I had never seen that attribute in anyone before. I had been around people who thought that was your testimony - to have cars and jewelry and thins like that.
R.P. - Did you notice that the music was building toward something - to prepare peoples hearts to hear the Word of God?
Janet - Yes, I did. In particular, I noticed Brother Swaggart would do his songs with a verse, a chorus, and then he'd play a whole instrumental chorus before finishing with another verse. In gospel music, people say you cant hold anybody's attention that long.
When I came here, I found Brother Swaggart singing songs that are fifty years old. He'll do the entire song in that manner, yet it will hold your attention. It might not hae chord changes or nifty little runs, but it has the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I realized it didnt take any of those changes. It simply took the anointing.
As I see lives changed, people being saved and filled with the Spirit, I feel the Lord has lifted me to a higher plane. The results - especially in the overseas countries - are just staggering. To realize I have a small part in this is very humbling.
R.P. - Whats the sharpest contrast between this kind of ministry and singing on the gospel circuit?
Janet - Motivation. In gospel music, your whole reason for being there is the desire to be in a group. Of course, money enters into it as well as other factors. Here, there is a lot of hard work and a lot of pressure, but there is a difference. I believe the reason everybody is here is because the Lord sent them. I realize this is an opportunity from the Lord and I need to make the best of it. The possibilities of reaching millions of people all over the world are just staggering.
R.P. - Im sure you know some of the horror stories about the personal lives of people in gospel music - and we really havent talked about that specifcally. However, if you could change the gospel music circuit in any way, knowing what you know today, what changes would you make?
Janet - I would probably eliminate about three-fourths of the people now singing gospel music. That would leave the sincer one, the cream of the crop. I know some people are there because of family, or they like the spotlight and autograph seekers, or they simply want to travel. In particular, I would eliminate those who have no relationship with the Lord.
R.P. - I know you still have friends in gospel music. If you could directly speak to them about their lives and the industry, what would you tell them?
Janet - Id say something like this: I appreciate what you are doing. I can appreciate your love for gospel music, for I too have felt that same zeal. I would like to challenge you to minister more effectively than perhaps you have ever done before. My challenge is to make Jesus Christ the Lord of your music. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct your decision-making, your arrangements, your programs, your bookings - every facet of your music ministry.
Then your music will begin to touch the hearts of more people than ever before, for the Holy Spirit knows the hearts of the people to whom you sing. He can penetrate the heart, bless and uplift, convict and direct lives.
I challenge you to pray for the anointing of the Holy Spirit over every service, every performance, and every decision in your ministry. I challenge you to check your priorities and examine your motives, your attitudes - even your hearts - and say with David:
"Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
"And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psa. 139:23,24).