Yesterday, Steve Eaton over at the new Musicscribe coglomerate continued his excellent “Most Infuential” series with a post on the Triumphant Quartet. He noted the fact that the group has not had a single personnel change since their inception eleven years ago. Many of us say things like “well, that’s rare in this day and age,” but the fact is that it’s rare, no matter the day or age of southern gospel music. And I’ve done some research to show it.
Using the fabulous SG History site as a resource, I looked at every major (by my estimation) southern gospel group’s history, and determined their longest-standing vocal lineup (musicians not included, for simplicity’s sake). There are plenty of groups that kept a lineup in place for a decade or more, but nearly all of them are and were family groups. These groups are less likely to have personnel changes for obvious reasons…you typically don’t leave your family group unless you’re retiring, and you’re usually not fired, either.
Let’s get right into some data, and then we’ll draw some conclusions. Please, if you see anything you think is wrong, or should be modified, let me know. Here are the only groups I found that made it over 20 years with a single vocal lineup. I generally did not count part-time or utility vocalists.
- McKameys – 26 years (1983-2009): Peg McKamey Bean, Carol Woodward, Connie Fortner, Ruben Bean
- Hoppers – 24 years (1989-active): Kim Hopper, Dean Hopper, Connie Hopper, Claude Hopper
- *I do not really consider the Jordanaires as a “southern gospel” group, but they had the same lineup from 1958-1982.
Though those are two hall-of-fame family groups, that’s still really impressive, to be blessed to put the same people out there night after night for more than two decades. I could not find another group with a lineup longer than 20 years. Here is the continued list:
- Bishops – 17 years (1984-2001): Ken Bishop, Mark Bishop, Kenny Bishop
- Chuck Wagon Gang – 17 years (1936-1953): Dad Carter, Jim Carter, Anna Carter, Rose Carter
- Happy Goodmans – 17 years (1963-1980): Vestal Goodman, Howard Goodman, Sam Goodman, Rusty Goodman
- Freemans – 16 years (1997-active): Chris Freeman, Darrell Freeman, Misty Freeman, Joe Freeman
- Paid in Full – 16 years (1991-2007): Jeff Crews, Lance Moore, Bradley Littlejohn
- Perrys – 15 years (1970-1985): Libbi Perry, Randy Perry, Debra Perry
- Talley Trio – 15 years (1996-2011): Lauren Talley, Debra Talley Roger Talley
We finally have our first non-family group, in Paid in Full. One can argue just how major is “major,” but they were definitely together and touring back to 1991. Same with the Perrys, who didn’t really break out until the 1980s. It’s debateable whether to include Brian Alvey’s addition as a “personnel change” for the Talleys in this exercise, but I decided he was a pretty major addition. If you don’t want to count that, then their streak would obviously be active.
Keeping the list going…
- Martins – 14 years (1987-2001): Jonathan Martin, Joyce Martin, Judy Martin
- Collingsworth Family – 13 years (2000-2013): Phil, Kim, Brooklyn, Courtney, Phil Jr., and Olivia Collingsworth
- Greater Vision – 13 years (1995-2008): Gerald Wolfe, Rodney Griffin, Jason Waldroup
- Heavenbound – 13 years (1975-1988): Jeff Gibson, Lawrence Taylor, Allen Ham (may need someone in the know to confirm this one)
- Hemphills – 13 years (1977-1990): Joel Hemphill, LaBreeska Hemphill, Candy Hemphill, Joey Hemphill
- Couriers – 12 years (1968-1980): Neil Enloe, Duane Nicholson, Dave Kyollen
- Whisnants – 12 years (2001-active): Jeff Whisnant, Susan Whisnant, Aaron Hise
- Blackwood Brothers – 11 years (1954-1965): James Blackwood, Cecil Blackwood, J.D. Sumner, Bill Shaw
- Booth Brothers – 11 years (2002-active): Michael Booth, Ronnie Booth, Jim Brady
- Bill Gaither Trio – 11 years (1977-1988): Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither, Gary McSpadden (debateable whether to include addition/loss of Betty Fair in 1960s)
- Isaacs – 11 years (2002-active): Sonya Isaacs, Becky Isaacs, Ben Isaacs
- Triumphant Quartet – 11 years (2002-active): David Sutton, Clayton Inman, Scott Inman, Eric Bennett
- Greenes – 10 years (1979-1989): Tony Greene, Kim Greene, Tim Greene
- McGruders – 10 years (1986-1996?): Carroll McGruder, Priscilla McGruder, Stan Cook
- Nelons – 10 years (2003-active): Kelly Nelon, Amber Thompson, Jason Clark
- Palmetto State Quartet – 10 years (1971-1981): Claude Hunter, Jack Bagwell, Jack Earl Pittman, Cliff King
Still almost all family groups, but some others mixed in, too. Notice the scarcity of male quartets. As far as I can tell, Triumphant is right with the classic Blackwood Brothers lineup for the longest-lasting vocal lineup EVER for a major male quartet. How impressive is that?
Some other big names never made it to 10 years without a vocal lineup change. Here are a sampling of those:
- Cathedrals – 9 years (1990-1999): Ernie Haase, Glen Payne, Scott Fowler, George Younce
- Florida Boys – 8 years (1958-1966): Coy Cook, Les Beasley, Glen Allred, Billy Todd
- Inspirations – 8 years (2000-2008): Archie Watkins, Matt Dibler, Melton Campbell, Mike Holcomb (did Campbell take a hiatus in there? how long?)
- Gold City – 7 years (1985-1992): Brian Free, Ivan Parker, Mike LeFevre, Tim Riley
- Kingdom Heirs – 7 years (1995-2002): David Sutton, Arthur Rice, Steve French, Eric Bennett
- Dixie Echoes – 6 years (1976-1982): Andrew Shelnut, Dale Shelnut, Randy Shelnut, Randy Allred
- Dove Brothers – 5 years (1997-2002): John Rulapaugh, McCray Dove, Eric Dove, Burman Porter
- Legacy Five – 5 years (2004-2009): Frank Seamans, Scott Fowler, Scott Howard, Glenn Dustin
- Statesmen – 5 years (1958-1963): Rosie Rozell, Jake Hess, Doy Ott, Big Chief Wetherington
- Gaither Vocal Band – 4 years (several groups, including the current one, the Penrod/Phelps/Lowry group, and the Murray/English/Lowry version)
- Kingsmen – 4 years (1984-1988): Garry Sheppard, Jim Hamill, Ed Crawford, Arthur Rice, Ray Dean Reese (This is kind of difficult to determine. I included guys like Rice and Tim Surrett as vocalist changes, since they sang so much, though Hamill was still also singing lead.)
That’s a lot to digest, but I thought it was a neat way to show just how rare Triumphant’s feat is, and also to educate myself and others on just how elusive lineup stability is in the southern gospel world. I welcome your thoughts, additions, or corrections on any of this.