That Elusive Stability

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.


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    • lee65 on April 4, 2013 at 1:30 pm
    • Reply

    I don’t think The Singing Cookes have had any changes and, what about the Primitive Quartet,i’m not as familiar with them.

    1. Great ones! The Singing Cookes were not on the SG History website, so they did not cross my mind. I admit I’m not all that familiar with them, though I do know a couple of their songs. I love the Primitives, but I didn’t put them on the list because I was thinking of them more in the bluegrass arena. You are right…they have had the same group of guys for a very long time. Not sure if they’ve had a minor change, or when that was, but the basic core of the group has been there for upwards of 30 years or more.

        • Daniel J. Mount on April 9, 2013 at 7:20 am
        • Reply

        I considered them a bluegrass group, too, until I moved down here. It seems all the bluegrass groups think of them as a Southern Gospel group, because of their emphasis on the vocals and the lyrics.

        Bluegrass groups focus their energies on being virtuosos in the instrumental breaks between the lyrics. Southern Gospel groups, in the view of Bluegrass groups, even if they use Bluegrass instrumentation, focus their energies on having incredible lyrics and vocals, and the instrumental turnarounds aren’t a particularly big deal.

        1. Point taken!

            • Daniel J. Mount on April 9, 2013 at 9:39 am

            That said, the Primitives do use Bluegrass instrumentation, so it’s pretty understandable why they get classified with Bluegrass more often than not. 🙂

    2. To more accurately answer your question, I believe the current version of the Primitives is the longest-standing. Jeff Tolbert joined around 1998/1999, and I don’t believe they’ve had a change since.

        • Tim on April 12, 2013 at 9:45 am
        • Reply

        The Primitive have had people join but has anybody left the group?

        1. Good question, and I’m not sure that anyone has left.

            • Daniel J. Mount on April 12, 2013 at 3:32 pm

            Yes, there has been one. There were originally two Riddle brothers and two Wilson brothers. Fairly early on, one Wilson left and the third Riddle joined. But they’ve had the same four core vocal members for decades upon decades now.

    • Baptist on April 4, 2013 at 6:39 pm
    • Reply

    I would have thought the Inspirations had the same vocals in the earlier years for longer than four or five years.

    1. I thought the same. The original 1964 lineup of Archie, Ronnie Hutchins, Jack Laws, and Troy Burns at bass lasted about five years before Eddie Dietz replaced Ronnie.

      Mike Holcomb joined in 1972, then Troy Burns came back to sing lead in 1974. Mike, Archie, and Troy would last for a very long time, but Eddie Dietz left in 1979, when Jack Laws took back over full time baritone vocals. So Archie/Troy/Eddie/Mike was a five-year lineup.

      Eddie came back to replace Troy at lead in the early 1990s, then Ronnie came back as well. Archie/Eddie/Ronnie/Mike was the 90s lineup, but only lasted six years before Matt Dibler replaced Ronnie.

      So the longest-lasting was the Matt/Melton lineup. With Archie and Mike having such great longevity, it seems like they would have a longer stable period. Even though they had the same guys singing lead and baritone a lot of the times, they tended to leave and replace each other a lot.

      1. That Archie/Troy/Eddie/Mike lineup from 1974 to 1979 (Jack Laws sang some, too) is the quintessential lineup that recorded many of their major hits when they were at the top of the southern gospel world.

          • Maggard on May 26, 2013 at 3:16 pm
          • Reply

          In 2004, Melton Campbell left the Inspirations and Jack Laws returned, recording “What a Day” with them. The next year, he returned and was with them until 2010. So there was really two stints of the Matt/Melton group, as well as two stints of the Dibler/Laws lineup (Sundays Coming, and What a Day). Similarly, there where two separate stints of the Hutchins/Dietz/Holcomb lineup, one in 1972, and the one in the 90’s. The 70’s Burns/Dietz lineup was also briefly together in the late 80’s as well. Very interesting

  1. Thanks for all the research put into this. I think there is a tendency (at least on my part) to overestimate the stability of the “classic” SG groups. Clearly, transition has always been a part of the industry.

    1. Thanks! And that was indeed one of my main reasons for doing this research, to try to put into doubt that misconception.

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