Ira StanphillThe Essential Songwriter Collection series lists ten songs each from legendary songwriters that every Southern Gospel fan should add to their collections.

  • “A Crown of Thorns”: McDuff Brothers, Here Come the McDuff Brothers with Big John Hall, 1960s. Though one of Stanphill’s lesser-known songs—Stanphill only wrote four or five widely recognized classics—the strength of the rendition played into the song’s inclusion on the list.
  • “Follow Me”: J.D. Sumner, The Heart of a Man, 1969. It’s a toss-up between the technical excellence of Larry Ford’s 1994 arrangement and this simpler but heartfelt 1969 version from Sumner. Ford’s arrangement is stronger, but the pathos in Sumner’s voice tips the scales in his favor.
  • “Happiness Is”: Melody Four, A New World. Though this song is more-recognized than some of the others on the list, the Melody Four’s rendition still has little competition.
  • “He Washed My Eyes With Tears”: Gaither Homecoming Friends, Passin’ the Faith Along, 2004. This version, featuring Tanya Goodman Sykes and Reggie & Ladye Love Smith, brings modern production quality to the song without losing its hymnlike feel.
  • “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”: Gold City, A Collection of Favorites Vol. 1, 2010. It would be easy to pick the version with the most pathos for every song on this list. In this case, though, while the slower pace George Younce employed brought out the power of the lyric, Gold City’s recent country-influenced version is a fresh and delightful twist.
  • “Mansion Over the Hilltop”: Cathedrals, Alive! Deep in the Heart of Texas, 1997. Too many groups treat renditions of “Mansion Over the Hilltop” as a matter of routine—just another performance of just another hymn. Here, Scott Fowler let loose on the verse, delivering it with a passion that led to a round of applause as he finished his solo and the group transitioned back into the chorus. (Runner-up: The Blackwood Brothers turned a solid rendition on Favorite Gospel Songs and Spirituals, 1952).
  • “Room At The Cross”: Weatherfords, The Finest in Gospel Singing, 1959. Though the 1960 Statesmen live version came close, no version has surpassed this one, featuring Lily Fern Weatherford on the solo, as the smoothest to date.
  • “Suppertime”: George Younce with Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, NQC Live 2003, 2004 (video). Despite many other fine renditions, there is really no question that, in Southern Gospel, this is Younce’s song. The bigger question is which version to record through his career. He recorded it quite a few times, from a 1957 version with the Blue Ridge Quartet to this final 2003 version. Vocally, it’s not his strongest (that would be his 1971 version on the Cathedrals’ Somebody Loves Me). But that’s not the point. This was Younce’s final NQC appearance, and final appearance outside of his immediate area. In that moment, the lyric and the legend came together for an unforgettable goodbye.
  • “Unworthy”: Greater Vision, The King Came Down, 1993. John Rulapaugh offered a similarly strong vocal delivery of the song on Palmetto State Quartet’s Gospel Quartet Favorites album in 2006. However, the supporting elements around Mark Trammell’s feature vocal—the harmonies, the vocal arrangement, and the soundtrack—give the Greater Vision track the edge.
  • “We’ll Talk It Over”: The LeFevres, Gospel Music USA, 1975. This hymnlike rendition features bass singer Rex Nelon on lead, just a year or two before the LeFevres would become the Rex Nelon Singers.

What do you consider to be the definitive versions of Ira Stanphill’s songs?