Contributor Two Contributor Two
Gospel Music Memories
Contributor Two Contributor Two
Recently as I watched a DVD of The Best of Jake Hess, my mind was flooded with my own favorite memories of Jake Hess and the Statesmen Quartet. Growing up in Alabama in the 1950s, my dad, W. C. Gore, was a minister and pastor of small churches. My four sisters and I (the Gore Sisters) sang in church and at Daddy’s revivals. We also joined him on street corners for street meetings and on live radio programs, which were always early in the morning. Daddy took us to the monthly all-night singings in Birmingham to hear the Statesmen and Blackwood Brothers quartets.

We didn’t have the technology then for immediate photos, social media or the Internet, so the fans in the ’50s were not as “up-close” with the performers (at least not from my perspective). We were not “groupies,” but we loved the music and we had our favorites. Eventually, friends chose sides: the Blackwood Brothers versus the Statesmen. Their inspiring music was more than just entertainment; it planted biblical truths into our lives.

The scrapbook in my basement is dusty and the pages are yellowed. A trip through memory lane reveals a few photos cut from the newspapers or purchased from the quartets’ product tables (which were not many). I’m not sure if that was because we didn’t have much money to spend at the events or because not many photos were available. However, that did not prevent me from feeling like I had a personal relationship with these singers. I listened to their records and treasured their songs. Buried somewhere in the layers of old long-play albums is my all-time favorite: Through the States with the Statesmen.

In the summer of 1954, I heard the tragic news of the plane crash that killed R.W. Blackwood and Bill Lyles, of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. Though I had never met them formally, I lost two friends and my heart felt the pain just as if they were close relatives. At the time, Daddy was pastoring in Childersburg, which was not too far from where the accident occurred in Clanton. Wanting to help me bring closure to their deaths, Daddy took me to the site of the crash and let me place a piece of the damaged aircraft in my scrapbook.

Since the Statesmen and Blackwood Brothers are no longer with us, I have a new favorite group — the Gaither Vocal Band. When they sing the old songs, I sing along, remembering every word.

Not long ago at a celebration for the 15-year reunion of the Voices of Lee, Danny Murray introduced Bob and me to Bill Gaither, who is my hero today. He was so gracious to us, and we cherish this new memory. Thank you Bill and Gloria for keeping the greatest music alive—the music that touches hearts and changes lives!

— Wanda Griffith
Cleveland, Tennessee