Today’s post will kick off a new series here at Southern Gospel Critique, where we will discuss some of our favorite gospel singers of all time, and the songs that featured them. It only made sense for the first post to be about a lead singer, and what better lead singer than, in my opinion, the greatest lead singer in the history of southern gospel?
Glen Payne started out professionally with the Stamps Baxter Quartet, then later was a part of one of the smoothest blends in gospel music history with the Weatherfords. But it was with the Cathedrals, of course, that he made his greatest mark on gospel music history. He was the only lead singer the group ever had, from 1963 until their retirement in 1999. Along the way, he became one of the most celebrated gospel singers of all time, with his impeccable vocal technique and ability, his jubilant stage personality, and the sweet spirit of the utmost Christian gentleman. Payne passed away shortly after the Cathedrals’ retirement, but his memory lives on in the hearts of gospel music fans everywhere, and his legacy lives on in the numerous performers he mentored and influenced.
As this series will primarily be about songs, let’s talk about Payne’s features. Most of my favorites come from the last two decades of the Cathedral Quartet’s existence, as that is what composes a majority of my Cathedrals music collection. I would love to hear from some of you Cathedrals historians on what stands out from Payne in his first 15-20 years with the Cathedrals, and even before that. He was equally adept at delivering an emotional ballad as he was a classic quartet toe-tapper, and both types of songs are represented in my list.
Keep in mind that my list is composed of my favorite Glen Payne features, not necessarily his “best” from a musical critique perspective. I’ll leave that to the pros.
- “God Himself the Lamb,” Symphony of Praise (1987) – This has always been my favorite song on my favorite album, and one of my favorite gospel performances by anyone, ever. With a little help from Lari Goss, Glen delivers an absolute masterpiece.
- “We Shall See Jesus,” Live…in Atlanta (1983), A Farewell Celebration (1999) – This is undoubtedly his signature song, and justifiably so. Though others have made attempts, and good ones, at Dianne Wilkinson’s dramatic and powerful ballad, this will always be Glen Payne’s song. Maybe it’s because it was my first experience with it, but I’ve always preferred the Farewell Celebration version to the original. It just seems to pack more emotional punch.
- “High and Lifted Up,” High and Lifted Up (1993) – Maybe Payne and Wilkinson should have combined forces more often! This is another tremendous power ballad of rejoicing, with Payne staying in the lower portions of his range for most of the verses.
- “I Won’t Have to Cross Jordan Alone”, NQC Live 99 (1999) – Payne’s last recorded performance, live from a hospital bed into the 1999 National Quartet Convention, not long before his passing. All the way to the end, he sang with gusto and skill. I wasn’t there, but I’m sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
- “Your Blesser Ain’t Never Been Blessed,” Raise the Roof (1994) – OK, so maybe this isn’t the most artful work of songwriting to be penned. But it is pure fun, and I actually believe one of Payne’s best vocal performances. This old-time style of quartet singing is right in his wheelhouse.
- “I Stand Amazed,” Live with the Cathedral Quartet (1979) – Speaking of a classic style, this delivery, accompanied by Lorne Matthews’s piano, is just fine old-school singing. And what a wonderful melody crafted by Squire Parsons!
- “In the Depths of the Sea,” I’ve Just Started Living! (1989) – I don’t hear much about this song, but I’ve always loved it. It has a more soulful 3/4 feel, but Payne proves adept at that, too.
- “The Prodigal Son,” Live with the Cathedral Quartet (1979) – Was this Payne’s most celebrated feature before “We Shall See Jesus”? Maybe one of you readers will have insight on that. From this live recording, it is clear that he really enjoyed singing it, and that the message of the song spoke to him.
- “Hallelujah Square,” Our Statue of Liberty (1974) – Lately Chris Allman has been wowing audiences with his rendition, but he probably never would have thought to sing it if it Glen Payne hadn’t done it.
- “I’m in the Shadow,” Travelin’ Live (1986) – I always have to turn my volume up to hear it like I want to, but this tender ballad has been lost among the other hits to come out of this celebrated live recording. Go back and take another listen!
What are some of your favorite Glen Payne features? Do they line up with some of mine, or do you have some fresh perspective? Do you have any general thoughts of the legacy of Glen Payne? Feel free to share!