As the darkness created by social upheaval and worldwide changes grip the world, there are a few lights across the globe that offer hope, stability and a view into the marvelous grace of the living God. Bill and Gloria Gaither along with the Gaither Trio and all the participants of the Homecoming Series, seen by millions all across the globe, are an unparalleled gospel music beacon of hope and encouragement in a world of sinking sands.
Indiana born, Bill Gaither has become an unmistakable gospel music icon with numerous awards but in 2000 he and his wife Gloria, were named the Gospel Songwriters of the Century by the American Society of Composers and Performers. Bills real success has little to do with awards. His success can be estimated only by those he has inspired, encouraged and pointed or re-pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ through his music.
Perhaps the second part of the Gaithers success is because of the amazing company he keeps. Iconic musicians of every kind and description are part of the famed Homecoming series. There are simply too many to name but among them both past and present are Ben Speer, George Younce, Jake Hess, and Vestal and Howard Goodman. Those who make up the rest of the list are each among the most prodigious gospel singers and musicians this world has ever produced.
Every musician playing in the Homecoming series is above average and we can only wish that a little more of an introduction was offered in the video series to help us to get acquainted with the lives of those great musicians. Impossible to miss is the late Anthony Burger who died of a heart attack in 2006. Burgers hands, severely burned in childhood were healed, some would say by the miraculous power of God, to allow Burger to become an unmistakable child prodigy.
His piano stylings and interpretation of gospel music is still the mark that others often use to gauge their success or progress. Words cannot describe the performances of Anthony Burger. Watching him play the piano can exhaust you and the only way such energy and skill could possibly be explained is that it was, the full power of Gods Holy Spirit at work, in one willing musician.
The Gaither Trio developed later in Bills career is made up of Bill, Mark Lowry, Guy Penrod and David Phelps. Each has such a distinctly different personality and style that it seems like a miracle that they ever found each other and decided to work together.
Bill normally sings the bass and baritone parts but his personality is soft, he hardly seems like the glue that would hold the Trio together. He is a steady man with only one apparent purpose in life and that is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ with his music and that is what accounts for the fact that he was able to draw and utilize the talents of others of like mind.
Mark Lowry stumbled into comedy when he was performing because when he tried to fill the dead air between songs, people began laugh at his stories and antics. But when he sings the laughing comes to an abrupt halt. Lowry has so much character and style in his voice that even if he were to whisper you would still be spellbound. His rendition of Mary, Did You Know is a journey into a part of the gospel that everyone is familiar with, but will never see so clearly, until they have heard Mark Lowry bring it to life in a visionary musical theophany.
Guy Penrod, a Tennessean and the Trios leader until 2008, is the father of eight children, all of them homeschooled. Although he is now singing solo he was the tallest ground stake the Trio ever knew until his departure from the Gaithers homecomings. It is arguable which of his songs are the best, but one of the all time favorites is a soft piece called Knowing youll Be There that seems to stir the hearts of many believers.
Then along comes David Phelps. The tenor of the group, Phelps has perfect intonation, impeccable annunciation and a vocal range and power that exceed the Irish and Italian tenors of the day. He has what might be called, a world class voice, but with the power of the Holy Spirit behind him his voice passes out of mere world-class to, spiritually transcendent. Two Grammy awards and Dove awards are not the high point of his music. His music alone can define the high point of his career; hearing Phelps sing is the only way to fully understand what he has accomplished and contributed to the field of gospel music.
Phelps sings with such virtuosity that trying to pick his best is very hard. One song that brings audiences to tears in full reverence to God is No More Night written by Walt Harrah. Those who know the promises of Christs return and who have ever pondered the vision of the promised Holy City that God himself is preparing for the redeemed, are never closer to seeing this great portent than when David sings this song. The chorus says it all.
No more night. No more pain
No more tears. Never crying again.
And praises to the great I Am.
We will live in the light of the Risen Lamb
Many have noticed that the contemporary Christian music of today often does not point directly to Jesus Christ and in some songs his name is never mentioned. Also there is the tendency to repeat single lines instead of using a story line or a biblical example in contemporary music. Finally where gospel music uses resounding chorus lines and final crescendos to bring a song to its heights, contemporary music tends to use drums or loud instrumentals to fill and end a song. This is not only one of the chief differences of gospel music but it is what makes it, for many people, a much richer musical experience.
One of the other distinctions of American gospel music is that it deals with leaving earth for a far better home. It reminds believers that the walk is not just an endless strain of trials and tribulations but it has a wonderful final destination. The pictures of heaven, the millennial kingdom, and the reunions are a way to focus on the final destination instead of the arduousness of the present task at hand. The Homecomings have plenty of this and a few entire programs are dedicated to this purpose, which accounts for the uplifting nature of them all.
Other styles and genres of music are always included in the homecomings, some incorporated into the larger group and at other times they are guests. Black Gospel singer Jesse Dixon, a regular at homecomings, can get an audience up out of their seats clapping and swaying to the music like no one else. The hard driving bluegrass syncopations of Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver blend into special shows easily as do others who represent the best of contemporary, blues, classical and operatic.
Gaither has gone beyond the commonly held idea that many genres of music came out of the church. Not many argue that the church has helped to generate many emerging genres across the years. What Bill Gaither has done is to draw our attention away from what came out from the church, back to the great stuff that is still in the church.
Another notable achievement of the Homecoming series has nothing to do with Bill but can only be credited to the collective body of singers and performers that have joined with Bill across the years. To watch these artists perform, it doesnt take long to see that it is far more than a mere performance. Soaring far above just performance craft, the emotional investment, the strong bond of fellowship among them and the obvious experiential involvement of the singers with their Savior is what makes it a true experience for their audiences, and not just a performance.
The entire gospel music experience has been granted a sort of, grand master, in the life and ministry of Bill Gaither. His total contribution to the inspiration of America through his music is inestimable. He is perhaps living out the words penned in the third verse of He Touched Me which is the most popular song he has ever written. He has literally fulfilled these words so far, and we can only hope that he will continue to do so until the Lord returns.
Since I met this blessed Savior
Since he cleansed and made me whole
I will never cease to praise him
Ill shout it while eternity rolls
Until time meets up with Revelation 10: 6, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer; we can pray that the entire Gaither experience will be here with us, to bring hope and to be a beacon of light in a very dark world.