The year was 2012. My friend and Canadian editor of SGM Radio magazine contacted me, asking if I would be interested in writing some articles on some of the long-time singers in Gospel Music.
To be honest with you, at the time I didn’t know what to think. Me? I’m not a writer. I’m a so-so baritone, parts singer, and have been with a few groups, but me? Who am I? It seems to me, that Moses in Exodus 3:11 said the same thing, when asked to go to Pharaoh and demand that He let the Israelites go free.
Anyone who knows me well knows that when I do something, regardless of what it is, I give my very best. I’ve always been that way and probably always will be.
I thought about what Lorraine had asked me for a few days. All the time thinking, “Do I have what it takes to be a writer for a magazine?” With some trepidation, I agreed to give it a try. That was back in 2012 and since then I have done some 28 articles. Me! I actually surprised myself after my first article, finding that the articles came relatively easy, but the spelling and the grammar did not! Lorraine, being a very strict teacher, would correct some of the errors, putting the sentences in a much more structured and readable format.
I remember trying to contact the first artist, who was the late Bobby Clark. Bobby of course sang with the prestigious Cathedral Quartet. I met him first at the Louisville Quartet Convention. At the time, Bobby was singing with the Men of Music. I remember it vividly: approaching him and nervously sticking my hand out and saying, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Clark.” He reached for my hand and said, “The honor is mine and call me Bobby.” Wow! I’m already on a first name basis with Bobby Clark!
We chatted for a few moments and I thanked him for all the years of ministry. Clark had tears in his eyes and that spoke to me. I had previously had the impression that these artists were all in it for the money and some of them didn’t mean what they sang about. Man, was I wrong! Being a Gospel singer myself for many years, I know that I speak for many artists—Gospel singers are not in it for money!
Many years later, I found myself on the phone trying to contact Mr. Bobby Clark. When I finally reached him, I learned very quickly that Clark was just as hospitable on the phone, as he was in person all those years before. I told him about my idea of doing an article on him and he was humbled. I need to say at this point, that every artist I had the privilege of contacting, all had the same attitude and were moved and humbled that little old me wanted to do an article on them.
We chatted on the phone, and I was writing as fast as I could some of the things he was telling me about the good ole days. He was telling me story after story about George Younce and Glenn Payne. As we ended out conversation, he asked me if he could send me a book that he had written about his days with the Cathedrals. Of course, I said “Sure!” True to his word, he sent me his book about the Cathedral quartet entitled, “The Early Years.” What a joy to read this book, which was autographed to me. It is one of the small treasures I have.
After Bobby Clark, there were so many others I had the privilege to speak with, such as Danny Funderburk, Big John Hall, Roy Tremble, and Evie (still my favorite female singer.) Speaking of Evie, when she phoned me, (Evie phoned me!) she stressed one point to me: she would be glad to have me do an article on her, but the glory had to go to Jesus! She said, “It’s all about Jesus.” Once again, that spoke to me. Why do we all do what we do?
Here is another God thing. Years before, when I was doing Gospel concerts in Peterborough, I tried to contact Evie to have her come and sing at one of my concerts. After much trying, I finally was able to get her husband Pelle on the phone. He graciously informed me that Evie was no longer doing Gospel concerts. I thanked him, but I was disappointed that I never got to speak with Evie. Fast-forward about 20 years. I hung up the phone with Evie, after thanking her for all the many years of ministry. Once again, she was humble and graciously thanked me. These artists, I must tell you, are all responsible each in their own way for my maturity as a Christian.
I remember phoning Jim Murray, that great tenor who sang with the Imperials, the Gaither Vocal Band and so many more. I was very hesitant to phone Murray, as just a short time before; his beloved wife Loretta had passed away. I waited what I thought was an appropriate time and phoned him at his office in the church he helps pastor.
Jim was very gracious. Of course, he spoke about his beloved wife and, of course, I let him. Once again, I was reminded that all these Gospel
artists sing about what they believe in. Jim Murray knew that he would see Loretta again in Heaven. What would be the use of singing all those years if he didn’t have that hope? How many relatives do we all have in Heaven? How many friends? It’s true, what would be the use for all of us who are involved in Gospel music, if we didn’t have the hope of Heaven?
After Jim, I spoke with Bill Nelson of the Swannee River Boys. I spoke with Buford Abner’s widow and about all his years with the Swannee River Boys. I had a great conversation with Lorne Matthews who was the great pianist for the McDuff Brothers. Even as I write this article, I’m flooded all over again with memories of the first time I saw some of these artists. The energy of those performances and knowing that they sang these songs over and over and over again, and did it with the same energy and love as the first time they sang it.
Then there was Bobbie Jean White. My friend Bill Griffin suggested her. I’m sure glad he did! What a woman of God she is! I had never spoken with B.J., as she likes to be called, but after interviewing her and learning of all her trials and tribulations, I felt I had met a new friend.
I’ve mentioned before that it was artists like Jim Murray, Lorne Matthews, Evie and Big John Hall that paved the way for someone like Phil Foster. I was never the quality of some of these great artists, but
also learned that is not important. We all give what we have and we let God do what He wants with the talent He gave us! (End of part 1)
Stay tuned to the SGM Radio website for Part 2 of Why We Do What We Do. http://www.sgmradio.com/
For more features by Phil Foster, visit the archives on the SGM Radio website main page.
Written by Phil Foster. email@example.com