Thinking Out Loud

July 24, 2015

The Day The Audience for the Music Died

…and they say modern worship is repetitious…

There is no denying that there’s been a slowing down in the production of the Gaither Homecoming video series, aka the Gaither Gospel Series. For the uninitiated, these concert videos — appearing first in 1991 on VHS and later switching to DVD — featured a large cast of singers performing a mix of old hymns and southern gospel standards. A trip down memory lane for people of a certain age, I suppose.

Back in the day, we couldn't resist adding former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to this Gaither Gospel DVD cover.

Back in the day, we couldn’t resist adding former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to this Gaither Gospel DVD cover.

The Wikipedia page for the series lists just under 100 titles, though it is in need of update. In its peak years, there were five or six new releases annually, also available as audio product on cassette and later CD.

(In America, the term gospel can mean two different things. The country-inspired, Nashville-flavored sound is usually termed Southern Gospel, while the large choirs historically coming from the African-American Church is often simply called Gospel or Mass Choir music. The Gaithers are the former category.)

The series, promoted through a weekly television show that was in reality an infomercial for the videos, was a major cash cow for the Gaither organization, their distributor, and retailers. Mark Lowry, a stand-up comedian who was also a member of the Gaither Vocal Band once quipped something to the effect that one of the most significant moments in the history of Christian music was the day Bill Gaither bought a camcorder.

But lately, the production of new titles has seen a somewhat sudden decline. There could be a number of reasons for this:

  1. Bill will be 80 in March of 2016, so perhaps he just wants to slow down his own pace and take it easy.
  2. The Christian retail industry is not in good shape generally. Over the years the U.S. base price for the series has dropped from $29.99 to $19.99, but price reductions are not enough to get people to buy.
  3. The faithful already have shelves and shelves of these things. There is such a thing as going to the well once too often. Also, the novelty has worn off.
  4. Many of the key compositions have now been preserved for posterity. This is significant because while some of the hymns and gospel songs exist on YouTube, many of those versions don’t have the feeling that many associate with them.
  5. Some of the target demographic are simply dying off.
  6. Some people who are moving into the target demographic are nostalgic for a different type of church music.
  7. Many of the videos were based on live concerts that are costly to stage and film. Some of the key personnel have done their time and don’t want to hit the road anymore. Last one out be sure to lock the bus.

More recent releases have focused on a new generation of southern gospel artists, such as Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, but even with appearances by people like Michael W. Smith or even Michael Tait, the concept just isn’t transferable to a generation accustomed to picking and choosing the songs they like and then downloading the mp3 or mp4.

Nonetheless, today we pay tribute to the Homecoming videos. They weren’t my personal preference, but there are definitely a key entry in any history of Christian music.

6 Comments »

  1. They are not my personal preference either. I know of a few of their hymns that somehow snuck into my church hymnal. One of which – Family of God – we sang even as the worship leader, the pastor and his family as well as my own family sang on the day that all of us left the church permanently. I didn’t like that type of music in the first place and now its association with that church makes me dislike it even moreso. I think churches would do well to have a little bit of everything for everybody so that they are likely to benefit from at least one song. My church doesn’t play the music I like and I thirst for it knowing full well that they will never satisfy it.

    Comment by Jamie Carter — July 24, 2015 @ 7:31 am

    • “Everything for everybody” is what the late Robert Webber called Blended Worship, and it’s something I’ve always promoted.

      Just as not all of us derive our greatest teaching from the Sunday sermon — there are podcasts, books, small groups discussions, etc. that are often richer — so I believe that sometimes our best worship moments happen in the car with a CD playing. I realize that’s asking people to lower their expectations, but…

      North Point does a thing where once a month they have a night of worship. It’s needed there because they only sing 2-3 songs to begin with. They combine it with a communion service. Maybe the best advice is to find a worship concert in a genre of your preference taking place within driving distance of where you live.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 24, 2015 @ 8:16 am

      • We tried that first, but the ones that have the music that we like are pushing an interpretation of their theology that we are against. We have done enough time in churches that teach it to know that spiritually it is the bad apple that ruins the bushel. No amount of good music can cover up a bad teaching. This is the only church that teaches differently … the only one. I end up bringing my MP3 Player along just in case there is a quiet enough time to listen, but I miss the experience of singing God of this City or Revelation Song together.

        Comment by Jamie Carter — July 24, 2015 @ 8:31 am

      • We’re getting a bit beyond the focus of this article. Obviously there are other factors at play, of which the music is only part.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 24, 2015 @ 8:33 am

      • Sorry about that, I get a little worked up about music sometimes.

        Comment by Jamie Carter — July 24, 2015 @ 8:40 am

  2. Love your article. It was through Gloria and Bill Gaither Gospel Series that I was first introduced to Southern Gospel and Bluegrass Gospel Music.

    Comment by The Old Black Church: — July 26, 2015 @ 1:32 pm


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