Year of 2000
Fisk Jubilee Singers
The Fisk Jubilee Singers, associated with Fisk University, is a historic ensemble, which popularized “slave songs.” The group has received several awards includingthe Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed on them by The National Arts Club in New York on March 6, 1996. The Jubilee Singers have recently made appearances at the bicentennial celebration of the State of Tennessee and the opening of the Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville. Being such a unique ensemble, the group continues to perform all around the world. Since December 1997, the Fisk Jubilee Singers have traveled twice to Italy under the sponsorship of the Umbria Jazz Association. The Singers recently appeared in a performance during the Race Against Poverty Awards at the United Nations in New York. There are plans for the ensemble to increase international trips to several places including Ghana, one of the countries from where able-bodied men and women with their music and religion were taken to become slaves on the plantations. The Negro Spirituals have their roots in Ghana and other African countries. The ensemble is made up of students on various disciplines at Fisk University and these students come from all over the U.S.
Bob Hartman formed Petra (along with original members Greg Hough, bassist John DeGroff and Bill Glover) in 1972 while attending a Christian college in Fort Wayne, Indiana. By the next year, the band was a regional sensation and in 1974 Word’s then-new contemporary label Myrrh released its first album. Though some Christian bookstores refused to carry it, young believers demanded it, as they would for many years to come. Nearly 30 years later, Petra is still Christian music’s top-selling band with both Dove and Grammy awards to add to their legacy.
From the beginning in the 1950s to their plans for the new millennium, the Kingsmen have had one purpose in mind to present the gospel of Jesus Christ through the medium of southern gospel music. The Kingsmen began as a part-time group and really came to the forefront of the gospel music industry after Jim Hamil joined them prior to the 1973 recording called Big and Live. The group was affectionately called in those days the ton of fun. They have won numerous fan awards from the Singing News and Gospel Voice Magazines and are the recipients of nine Dove awards from the GMA. They have made history with their song “Excuses” which maintained it’s #1 status for 19 months. The Kingsmen performed at the White House for President Jimmy Carter in 1977 and were the first group to record and film a live performance at the famed Grand Ole Opry. The group founded by Eldridge Fox currently consists of Ray Dean Reese, Greg Fox, Parker Jonathan, Bryan Hutson, Jerry Martin and Andrew Ishee. Past members have included Jim Hamil, Frank Curshall, Jerry Redd, Ray Talley, Johnny Parrack, Squire Parsons and Anthony Burger to name a few. The Kingsmen are as active today in gospel music as they have been for the last 40 years.
Oak Ridge Boys
The Oak Ridge Boys’ history dates back to 1945 when Wally Fowler formed the Oak Ridge Quartet. The current group consists of William Lee Golden who joined in 1965, Duane Allen (1966), Richard Sterban (1972) and Joe Bonsall (1973). Past members have included Willie Wynn, Gary McSpadden, Smitty Gatlin, Herman Harper, Noel Fox, Jim Hamil, Ron Page, Tommy Fairchild, Steve Sanders, Tony Brown, Don Breland, Mark Ellerbee, John Rich, Hobart Evans, Powell Hassell, Lon “Deacon” Freeman and many more. This group was one of the all-time favorite quartets in gospel music history and by 1973, began to make their entry into country music by signing with Columbia Records. The Boys have enjoyed 25 top ten singles, including 13 number one hits. They continue to tour and record today. Their most popular gospel songs included “I Know,” “King Jesus” and the ever popular, “Jesus Is Coming Soon.”
Breland, Roger & TRUTH
During the late 1960s, John Roger Breland had a dream to start a Christian band. His goal: to share the message of the Gospel through music. In June of 1971 Breland’s dream became a reality with the formation of the group, TRUTH. TRUTH is an acronym for Trust, Receive, Unchangeable True Happiness in Jesus. The group performed its first tour with only fifteen members. Some were barely out of highschool. For the first several years of the band’s existence, these members performed 400 concerts annually and travelled 50 weeks of the year. As TRUTH became established, the group performed 260 live concerts each year, and spent the rest of the time in recording studios. By the beginning of the 21st century, TRUTH had 22 members, and had travelled to all 50 American states and 21 different countries. The group had produced almost 60 albums and performed before more than ten million people in over 9,000 concerts. In 2000 TRUTH was accepted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The Truth Legacy Collection was released in 2001, shortly after the group performed its farewell tour.
Shirley Caesar was singing gospel at the age of 12 to help support her widowed mother. In 1958, she joined the Caravans with gospel singers Albertina Walker, Bessie Griffin, Delores Washington, Inez Andrews, Cassietta George and Rev. James Cleveland on piano. Caesar’s fiery zeal for Christian ministry inspired her to develop her own preaching style. She left the Caravans behind in 1966 and turned to evangelism, preaching and singing in churches and venues around the country with the Shirley Caesar Singers. Shirley Caesar Outreach Ministries was founded in the 1980s to offer assistance and counseling to the poor in her hometown of Durham, North Carolina. In 1990, Caesar opened her own Pentecostal church. Most of Caesar’s albums are recorded live, capturing the power of gospel music at its best. Along with the numerous Grammy, Dove and Stellar awards she’s received, Caesar has also performed on Broadway appearing in the productions Born to Sing: Mama 3, Mama I Want to Sing and Sing Mama 2.
Edwin Hawkins will take his rightful place in music history as the man whose inspired choral visions motivated millions to turn their thoughts to matters spiritual by introducing them to the world of gospel. Actually, it was while serving as the organist and choir director for the Ephesians Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, Calif., that a young Hawkins recorded his first “live” album, Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord, with the Northern California State Youth Choir. The album became a huge seller, due to the unexpected crossover appeal of “Oh Happy Day.” Ironically, Hawkin’s updated arrangement of the age-old tune first took off on secular radio stations, then took the nation and the world by storm. Off that song’s popularity, the Northern California State Youth Choir, later renamed the Edwin Hawkins Singers, received the opportunity to tour the U.S. and Europe extensively, appear on such television programs as “The Ed Sullivan Show,”and sign a recording contract in 1969 with the mainstream music label, Buddah Records. Almost all those events were unheard of for gospel acts at that time. Today, Hawkins heads up the Edwin Hawkins Music and Arts Seminar, an organization that assists young artists in furthering their career in gospel music.
Bob MacKenzie moved to Nashville in 1964 to become the general manager of The Nashville Symphony. He joined the John T. Benson Publishing Company in 1966 as creative director. During his tenure, MacKenzie produced virtually every album Benson released, in styles ranging from Hale & Wilder to The Sego Brothers & Naomi. During this time, MacKenzie almost single-handedly raised the level of quality of Christian music recordings by utilizing some of Nashville’s best musicians and technicians and other measures such as taking several album masters at a time to London to add orchestration. Included on the list of his production credits includes The Bill Gaither Trio, The Stamps Quartet, Doug Oldham, The Rambos, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Imperials, The Speers, Truth, Re-Generation and many others. Alleluia: A Praise Gathering for Believers, the first gold record in Christian music, is among the classic albums produced by Bob MacKenzie. His long association with Bill Gaither led to the formation of Paragon Associates which managed Gaither copyrights, developed artists, created the ground-breaking hymnal, Hymns for the Family of God, and released albums on several artists including Don Francisco, whose “He’s Alive” became a Christian music classic. A partnership between Paragon and Zondervan purchased The Benson Company, installing MacKenzie as president. MacKenzie’s greatest contribution to Christian music, however, may be his involvement as a motivator, mentor and “inspirer” in the careers of scores of artists, writers and industry folks. The late Fred Bock spoke for many when he said, “I would have to say that Bob MacKenzie is the greatest creative catalyst that I’ve had in my life.”
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