Southern Gospel’s potential audience is far greater than its current audience. The key to finding this audience—and thus, the key to the future of Southern Gospel—is two-fold—(a) finding our potential fans, and (b) getting past their misconceptions.
I am a decent case in point. Until 2004, I was a fan of Contemporary Christian Music. My favorite songwriter was Michael Card, my favorite singer Steve Green. But other than Card and Green—who are largely on the sidelines and semi-forgotten in the genre they helped shape—there was very little on the scene that was theologically insightful and sound, and to my liking stylistically. It was at this point that curiosity led me to borrow the Cathedrals’ High and Lifted Up CD from my local library.
Now let me backtrack. At the time, my perception of Southern Gospel, influenced by some tapes I’d heard which I assumed were SG, was that it was old men with heavy, uncontrolled vibratos singing dirges around mournful organs. I’m not kidding.
And then, in 2004, I heard the song “Death Has Died” . . . and here I am today, six years later. For I discovered that Southern Gospel had really been my stylistic and lyric home all along, and I just didn’t know it.
* * *
Therein, I suspect, lies the key to our genre’s future. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands who would point to Southern Gospel groups as their favorites, if we can just find them and get past their misconceptions.
Of course, not everyone fits my exact profile, though I wouldn’t be surprised if thousands of others others who purchased Steve Green and Sandi Patti albums back in the day would become Southern Gospel fans if exposed to High and Lifted Up, the Booth Brothers’ Declaration, or recent mainline releases by the Perrys or the Collingsworth Family. Meanwhile, other artists would appeal to Christian fans of secular country music or people who like ’90s CCM/Adult Contemporary but want richer lyrics. And from a totally different angle, I come from a Christian homeschooling background and will more often than not mention the Collingsworth Family first to someone who shares my background.
Southern Gospel can certainly be stronger than it is and could possibly become the strongest genre in Christian music if we can find the way to connect potential fans with the right groups.