I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did, I would be hard-pressed to find room to add anything else. There is not much I have wanted to do that I haven’t done, from shooting the breeze with the president in the Oval Office to seeing the sun rise in the Scottish Highlands to being embedded with the brave men and women of Georgia’s 48th Brigade Combat Team in Iraq.
But until I was able to meet Bill and Gloria Gaither and tell them “thank you” for making my life infinitely richer, my bucket would have a serious hole in it. They are to gospel music what Rembrandt is to art, what butter is to biscuits.
My musical tastes are eclectic. With the exception of rap (which isn’t real music), I enjoy everything from classical to rock — from Tchaikovsky to Ray Charles Robinson of Albany — but especially do I love old-time gospel music. I grew up listening to the Statesmen Quartet, the Homeland Harmony Quartet, the LeFevre Trio, the Sunshine Boys and a lot of others I could name, except I might give you a serious case of eye glaze.
I have fond memories of going to the East Point City Auditorium with my parents to hear the LeFevre Trio — Eva Mae, Alphus and Urias — sing up a storm. Today, the ACLU would likely get their politically-correct shorts in a wad about folks singing and praising Jesus in a (gasp!) government building. Bless their hearts.
Nobody has done more to keep gospel music alive and well than the Gaithers. Bill and Gloria Gaither are two former school teachers-turned-performers-turned-entrepreneurs from Alexandria, Ind., who reign over a global gospel empire featuring television shows, worldwide concert tours, music publishing, CDs, videos and the like.
Despite their enormous success, I have a feeling they are what we call in the South “real people.” They still reside in their hometown of Alexandria.
They are also outstanding songwriters. To date, they have written more than 700 songs, including, “Because He Lives,” “Sinner Saved by Grace,” “He Touched Me” and “Jesus, There’s Something About That Name,” among others. I know them all by heart and am not hesitant about singing along (and loudly) while out driving around town. I do get some weird looks, but that’s OK. At least I’m not texting.
A Saturday night ritual at our house is watching the Gaither Homecoming Shows on television. Over the years, I have come to feel as though I know the performers up-close and personal. I grieved when we said goodbye to Eva Mae Lefevre, George Younce and Glen Payne; Hovie Lister and Jake Hess; Happy and Vestal Goodman; Jessy Dixon (my hero) and Anthony Berger and just recently, Joey Feek, a woman who must have been as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside.
But we still welcome into our home David Phelps and Lynda Randle; Buddy Green and Mark Lowry, who collaborated on “Mary, Did You Know,” which has become a Christmas classic; the Martins and the Gatlin Brothers. Larry Gatlin and I were once tighter than ticks when he did a series of commercials for us at Southern Bell, but that was a long time ago.
And every time I hear Larnelle Harris and Sandi Patty sing, “I’ve Just Seen Jesus,” I get goosebumps and wonder how anybody could be a nonbeliever after hearing this electrifying performance.
The risk in meeting the Gaithers is that I might find out that everybody isn’t having as much fun as it looks like they are having and that like a lot of artistic endeavors, there are ego clashes, personality conflicts and contract disputes.
Something tells me that they just might be different. I attended a Gaither concert at the Gwinnett Arena a few years back. At the end of a long and celebratory night and after the obligatory encores, Bill Gaither came back on stage to tell a packed house getting ready to leave that his folks were having so much fun they wanted to keep on going if that was OK with the audience. I decided these people love what they do.
The Gaithers and their Homecoming friends have brought a lot of joy to my life and to millions of others with their music.
I may never get the chance to tell them in person, but if you happen to see them, I hope you will let them know. That would fill my bucket to overflowing.