Was George Younce the greatest bass singer of all time?
In a word, yes.
I am finding that some of the most insightful posts in Southern Gospel right now are coming from The Inquiring Mind. In a recent post (edit: link removed due to site being down), he makes the case against George being the greatest. With all due respect to one of the most knowledgeable Southern Gospel historians out there, let’s look at some of his arguments.
First off is that people who think of Younce as the greatest haven’t heard the other great bass singers:
And leaving aside the obvious talents of great bass singers such as Arnold Hyles, Jim Waites, and Aycel Soward, does anyone seriously believe that Younce was the superior talent to men such as JD Sumner, London Parris, Jay Simmons, Herschel Wooten, Bill Lyles, Jim “Big Chief” Wetherington, Herman Harper, Bob Thacker, Armond Morales, Noel Fox, Billy Todd, Doug Jones, Gerald Williams, Brock Speer, or even Chalmers Walker?
Perhaps some of these men…but certainly not the majority of them. I would be willing to wager that most of the supporters of the idea that Younce is the greatest of all never even HEARD of most of those men. What basis, then, does someone have for making such a claim without the ability to make a fair comparison?
I can’t speak for others who perceive Younce as the greatest, but I know that as for myself, I have heard and have songs, albums, or CDs in my collection featuring the bass voices of Arnold Hyles, Jim Waites, J.D. Sumner, London Parris, Jay Simmons, Bill Lyles, “Big Chief” Wetherington, Herman Harper, Bob Thacker, Armond Morales, Billy Todd, Gerald Williams, and Brock Speer. I’m not positive I have heard the others mentioned, although chances are I have.
So I think I have the ability to make a fair comparison.
Inquirer1 does make an interesting point in that Younce was not recognized as the greatest when he was at the top of his game in the 1960s and 1970s.
When Younce really entered gospel music’s “big leagues” and joined the Blue Ridge Quartet in the late 1950s, he was in one of gospel’s most popular and visible quartets, and yet, despite his voice being at its’ arguable best, no one even thought of Younce as among the very best basses. The names mentioned most in that regard were JD, Chief, Morales, even Parris(from some!), but Younce was never ever regarded as the best. This despite the fact that he could probably do what he’s so adored for today as well(if not better)than he could at any time. He just was not seen in that light.
That is a valid consideration, but it is worth remembering that becoming the “greatest” isn’t something that happens overnight; it is a verdict rendered at or after the culmination of a lifetime on the road.
Having said all that, why do I believe George Younce was the greatest bass singer of all time?
I believe that the greatest bass singer is the one who best connects with his audience, whether on stage or on record. And in that regard, I believe that George Younce was the complete package.
Until his last years, he could rattle the floors with a double low A-flat. And on the very next song, he would sing a melody in a range which bass singers normally leave to the baritones or lead singers. He knew how to read a crowd like few others and did a masterful job emceeing concerts. And his recitations had an emotive quality that would still send chills down the backs of his fellow group members, who heard him do them every night.
And then, when the concert was over, many are the stories of the little kindnesses he showed to his many fans, young and old, who were waiting for a chance to meet their hero.
So why do I believe he was the greatest? It wasn’t because he was the lowest singer ever. He may not have been the most musically talented, either. Quite possibly, other bass singers were even more entertaining. But George Younce connected with the hearts of his listeners in a way that few have equaled and none have surpassed.