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Music’s nice guy encourages others to be generous, too

POSTED: May 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Bill Gaither is one of the nice guys in the music business.

Decades ago, Bill and his wife, Gloria, found their niche in song writing. They have penned more classic Christian songs than I could fit in this column.

They're great singers, too. Bill, his sister Mary Ann, and brother, Danny, formed the Bill Gaither Trio in the 1950s. Mary Ann was later replaced by Gloria and Danny eventually left the group.

While Bill and Gloria's music work has been labeled as contemporary, Bill has always had a passion for the great Southern gospel music. He was fond of the old quartets, like Hovie Lister and the Sensational Statesmen and the Happy Goodman Family.

In 1991, Gaither had an idea to bring together the legendary performers of Southern gospel for what he called a "homecoming." They would record an album and a video and that would be it.

It was wildly successful and has continued for 17 years. In 2004, the series sold more tickets nationally than Elton John, Fleetwood Mac or Rod Stewart.

Gaither brings his homecoming to the Gwinnett Arena this Saturday.

The bittersweet part is that many of the great gospel singers, who once performed with Gaither, have gone to that great homecoming. The eternal one.

I talked to Bill Gaither by phone last week, and he is excited about a song called "Give It Away," which was written by Gloria and their son, Benjy.

The song talks about the rewards of sharing with others.

"It depends on how we choose to spend our days," the song says. "We can hoard up all we've got, or give it all away."

On this tour, Gaither is doing some of that.

"We have a drawing from our mailing list and we give out $200 to five people to give it away to somebody else," Gaither said. "We do that in every town we come to in hopes that someone will give it away and help somebody else's suffering."

Gaither has gotten notes from all over about how the gift has been used.

The stories include using the funds as seed money to raise more and get a single mom into her own apartment.

That's pretty good stuff.

Despite great success of his own, Gaither lives rather modestly. Although they've built on a couple of times, he and Gloria live in the same house they've lived in for 40 years.

What's really noteworthy is that Gaither gave old-time gospel music to a new audience. He brought back the careers of some talented folks who had been sidelined by a new genre of Christian music.

Some of these folks, unfortunately, didn't have the best of financial planning and Gaither saved some of them from financial despair. When he sings about giving it away, he sings from the heart.

These shows sell out fast, but Bill tells me that there are a few good seats for the Saturday night performance. If you haven't been, the Gwinnett Arena is a great venue and there is plenty of free parking.

He'll be joined by his Gaither Vocal Band, Jeff and Sheri Easter, Ernie Hasse & Signature Sound, the legendary Eva Mae LeFevre, Gordon Mote, Janet Paschal, Lynda Randle, Kevin Williams and a bluegrass duo, Dailey & Vincent.

If you like great gospel music, get yourself a ticket and come on. I'll see you there.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays.



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