…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.
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:
- Bill will be 80 in March of 2016, so perhaps he just wants to slow down his own pace and take it easy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Some of the target demographic are simply dying off.
- Some people who are moving into the target demographic are nostalgic for a different type of church music.
- 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.