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Veterans Day 2012

November 8, 2012

Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
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The Story of John Philip Sousa

November 2, 2010
John Philip Sousa

John Philip Sousa

John Philip Sousa was born in Washington, D.C. in 1854, on G Street near the Marine Barracks.   His father, Antonio, played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band, and John Philip grew up surrounded by military music.   By all accounts, Sousa was an adventure-loving boy, and at the age of 13 he tried to run away to join a circus band.  His father enlisted him in the Marine Band as a band apprentice, while he concurrently continued his private musical studies.  After serving seven years with the Marine Band, he was discharged from the Marine Corps.

He continued to perform as a violinist and as conductor in various theater orchestras in the Washington and Philadelphia area.  By 1880 he had become well known as an excellent conductor, composer, and arranger.  During this year, he was appointed the leader of the “President’s Own,”  the U.S. Marine Band.  He served in this position for 12 years, during which time this band became one of the finest military bands in the world.  Sousa resigned from the Marine Corps in 1892 to form his own civilian band.  Throughout the world audiences came to see “The March King” during his American and worldwide tours.

Sousa was known to say, “When you hear Sousa retiring, you will hear of Sousa dead.”  On March 6, 1932 in Reading, Pennsylvania, Sousa passed away suddenly following a rehearsal of the Ringgold Band.  The last piece Sousa conducted at this rehearsal was his most famous march, The Stars and Stripes Forever.  By an act of Congress in 1987, The Stars and Stripes Forever was designated as the National March of the United States.

Click here to see a list of Sousa music and books.



Southern Gospel Music: Part 3

September 28, 2010


By the 1970s there were many traveling groups — some family quartets, some all-male quartets, and even mixed trios were seen traveling to churches and conventions across the country.  The Happy Goodman Family received their first Grammy in 1968, and a second one ten years later in 1978;  Vestal Goodman, the group’s alto singer, won a Dove Award for female vocalist of the year at the very first Dove awards ceremonies in 1969.  Southern Gospel music had hit a mainstream market and was no longer considered “hillbilly” or a lower class of music.

Two of the songwriter/singers who immeasurably helped to pave the way for this to happen are Dottie Rambo and Bill Gaither.  Dottie Rambo, the alto and resident songstress for the Singing Rambos, penned many great songs which were recorded by many artists.  Who hasn’t heard If That Isn’t Love, or He Looked Beyond My Fault ?  Whitney Houston took Dottie’s I Go to the Rock to new heights when she recorded it for the movie The Preacher’s Wife in 1996.  Another of her most recognizable songs is We Shall Behold Him.  When she died in 2008, it was reported that she had personally penned and published more than 2500 songs and was referred to as “the Fanny Crosby of our time.”

Bill Gaither and his Homecoming Friends have probably done more to support and educate people about southern gospel music than any other single individual.  Back in 1990, he decided to invite some of his personal heros to an impromptu videotaping at his studio in Anderson, Indiana.  As they say, the rest is history!  On Saturday evenings, you can always find him on various television stations with a group of his friends.  He penned greats such as He Touched Me, The King Is Coming and There’s Just Something About That Name.

Southern gospel music has become a genre all its own and is now a widely accepted style of music.  The groups that are traveling today perform concerts all over the United States and throughout the world, so the style is not restricted to just the South anymore.  The Southern Gospel Association developed the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame in 1996.  For more information, visit

Click here to see music by Bill Gaither.



Southern Gospel Music: Part 2

September 23, 2010

Many people like to lump various styles of music together in one large category and simply call it “gospel,” but this does a huge disservice to those who are searching specifically for a particular type of gospel music.  The term “gospel” can be divided equally among three specific genres:  Southern Gospel, Black Gospel, and Mountain Music.

Recently, we have seen a surge of appreciation for Mountain Music, due in part to things like the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou, and the many CD releases utilizing acoustic mountain instrumentation such as the dulcimer, autoharp, flat top guitar, and dobro.  This mountain music is closely related to “bluegrass,” which originated in Ireland, Scotland, and other areas of Europe.  As people began to settle in the Appalachian Mountains, they brought with them this beautiful acoustic and heartfelt style of music, which has become one of the purest forms of American music.

By the 1940s, southern gospel groups like the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, which incidentally included three brothers and one of their sons, had formed and were traveling in cars to sing in various churches, revivals and tent meetings across the United States.  By this time, the Speer Family was doing this as well, with Mom and Dad Speer and their children, Ben, Brock, Mary Tom, and Rosa Nell.  It wasn’t long until groups like the Happy Goodman Family, The Rambos, and The LeFevres came onto the scene, and by the 1960s families watched the Gospel Jubilee on television on Sunday morning as they were getting ready for church.

While these groups relied heavily on the old songs learned at “singing conventions,” it wasn’t long until they began to write music themselves.  Rusty Goodman, the songwriter of the Happy Goodman Family, is best remembered for I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now and Who Am I.

This type of music, because it was unpretentious and appealed to the down-home mentality of most southern families, was on the verge of really breaking out!


Southern Gospel Music: Part 1

September 16, 2010

Do the names Blackwood, Goodman, Gaither, or Speer mean anything to you?  If you grew up in the South, they probably do.  These are some of the most recognizable “southern gospel” family quartets that have ever performed.

Southern gospel music evolved out of the “shape note” or Stamps-Baxter singing schools of the South.  Early in the 20th century, hymnals were rare and treasured like Bibles, with many using a method of music notation called “shape notes.”  While the system had originally only used four tones of a scale, by the turn of the century, three more had been added, corresponding with the seven unique notes of a major scale.  Each one of these notes was given a shape to represent it, and even though the shape note was printed on a staff, most people who learned to sing using shape notes had no idea what pitches they were singing.  They knew only what shapes correspond to the seven tones of a scale:  do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti.  While they may not have been musically trained, they were taught to sing with gusto!

Shape note schools were founded all over our country, even as far back as the 1700s, but through the years, many went by the wayside.  It seems that people of the South held on to this tradition and many are still active today.  In 1924, the Stamps-Baxter Music Company was founded in Dallas, Texas.  Familiar songs like If We Never Meet Again, I Will Meet You in the Morning and Just a Little Talk With Jesus were published by Stamps-Baxter.  One of the ways that folks heard these songs was by traveling quartets, usually four men, who sang these songs and others like them in churches throughout the South.  These quartets paved the way for the southern gospel music we know today. 

I’ll share more of the southern gospel music story soon.