Gospel Music Legend Jim Hill Passes Away

Earlier this morning legendary Gospel Music singer & songwriter Jim Hill passed away. The news was announced by a friend of Hill’s, Dean Hickman of The Guardians. Born in Pourtsmouth, Ohio, Hill got his start in Gospel Music in 1945,  when he along with Harold Patrick and John Conley organized the Campmeeting Boys. Two years later in 1947, the group would add another member and change their name to The Golden Keys Quartet. Hill served the group as their tenor singer & manager.

While with The Golden Keys, Hill wrote that would go to become a classic. “What A Day That Will Be” was written in the early 1950’s and has been printed in millions of songbooks. It would go on to bless the hearts of generations of believers. In 1965, Hill left The Golden Keys to join a household name in Gospel Music, The Stamps Quartet. Hill remained with the group until 1968, and was a key member of the quartet during its transition of management to J.D. Sumner.

In 1968, Hill joined another one of Gospel Music’s top quartets, Hovie Lister & The Statesmen. However this time around, Hill would switch from singing tenor to lead. The Statesmen recorded some of their finest albums during Hill’s tenure with the group as Rosie Rozell & Sherill Nielsen both sang tenor with the group during those years.

In his later years, Hill was a fixture of the Bill Gaither Homecoming Series and was prominently featured on many of  the videos. He was also inducted in the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2013. Jim Hill was not only an excellent songwriter, but a classicly trained vocalist. He had auditioned with several opera companies, but his passion was for Gospel Music and he made quite a mark on that industry. We offer our prayers and condolences to Hill’s family. Thank you Mr. Hill for a wonderful legacy that you left behind, your contributions to Gospel Music will never be forgotten.

Here are a few selections of videos featuring some of Hill’s finest singing.

One of my favorite Jim Hill songs that he wrote, “For God So Loved”, during his time with The Stamps.

Another one from his Stamps years, “The Homecoming Week”

One of my favorite songs from his time with The Statesmen, “God’s Not Dead”

A recent video of Hill onstage with The Guardians & The Booth Brothers, singing his signature song. “What A Day That Will Be”.

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Former Cathedral Steve Lee Passes Away

Former Cathedral Quartet baritone Steve Lee has passed away, according to reports from his family. Lee is most well known to Gospel Music fans for his tenure as baritone with The Cathedrals from 1979-1980. He initially joined the group as a vocalist/pianist, along with tenor Kirk Talley. Both Lee & Talley encouraged group owners George Younce & Glen Payne to hire a young pianist named Roger Bennett. After Bennett’s arrival, Lee would play the bass guitar in addition to his singing.

Prior to joining The Cathedrals, Steve had sang with his brother Richard in their group, The Young Deacons. After his stint with The Cathedrals, Steve returned home to North Carolina where he served as a music director at his church in Burlington, NC. While there, he formed a trio with the pastors son & daughter, Chris & Robin Allman. The Allmans recorded several projects in the 80’s, featuring songs written by another church member, Savanah Foust (writer of Somebody Touched Me, Blood Washed Band).

Steve would later reunite with his brother Richard in the 90’s to start a new quartet, Crimson River. The group would also include Gospel Music veterans Phil Barker & Bill Starling. Although the group wasn’t around long, they had one of the finest quartets of the 90’s.

Although Steve did not have the longevity of his predecessor in the Cathedrals (Mark Trammell), he was a fine singer who was an asset to every group he joined. I strongly recommend listening to any of his recordings with the Young Deacons, Cathedrals, or Crimson River. We here at Fuson’s Findings offer our condolences and prayers to Steve’s family. Here’s a recording of Steve with The Cathedrals singing “Beulah Land”.

 

Farewell Martin Cook, Welcome Back Archie!

It’s been the most talked about news item on Southern Gospel social media for the last week, and I’m not talking about Reggie Smith’s addition to the Gaither Vocal Band. The Inspirations announced a monumental change in their group, as founder/pianist/group co-owner Martin Cook resigned all of his roles last Wednesday. Taking over for Cook is another fouding member of the group, former tenor Archie Watkins. A link to the news story can be found here.

Watkins left the group in 2009, ending a 45 year career with the group.Non only was he an original member (along with Jack Laws, Ron Hutchins, Troy Burns and Cook) but his voice was a huge part of The Inspirations sound. He and Mike Holcomb had been anchoring the bass and tenor since 1972, an unprecedented feat for any group in the Gospel Music industry. His retirement was a huge blow to the group, and if you don’t believe that explain to me why 6 different men in the last 8 years (Dallas Rogers, Jodi Hosterman, Darrin Osborne, Mark Clark, Harold Reed, and now Casey Johnson)have tried to fill that position. In that time, Watkins recorded several solo projects and started a group, Smoky Mountain Reunion, with some of his friends and former Inspirations, Marlin Shubert, Eddie Dietz, Burns, and  Laws (before his passing).  Archie was the sound of The Inspirations, he deserves to be with the group again and I for one am glad he is back in his rightful place.

Cook’s “retirement” while although sudden, is very much deserved. For 53 years, Cook has been the only pianist the group has ever had. Not only was he a great musician, but he was a dynamic emcee and did a marvelous job leading the group onstage. For over 30 plus years, his son Myron accompanied his father on the upright bass. Unfortunately, the past several years have been challenging for Cook as he has had to deal with personnel issues in addition to his health. The trademark logevity that had been a staple of The Inspirations seemed to now be foreign. But he kept the group on the road and still deserves credit for his years of service.

With Watkins return to the group, personnel issues continue to be the hot topic. The first group picture that was released on social media saw Watkins, Burns, Dietz, and Shubert together with the current lineup of Matt Dibler, Roland Kesterson, Casey Johnson and Luke Vaught, who will be taking over on the piano. Absent from the photo was the group’s bass vocalist Joe Brown, no announcement has been made on whether Brown will return. While it is unfortunate that the group hasn’t released a statement about its members yet (Cook stopped making announcements the past few years as well), its even more unfortunate the behavior thats been displayed in the comments on Facebook posts related to the incident, which is another post for another time.

Only time will tell if The Inspirations will be successful, but I’m liking their chances so far. Archie will bring back the sound that has been missing since his exit and Luke Vaught will compliment the group’s sound in a way fans haven’t heard in years. But what remains to be seen is if the group membership will remain the same. For the most part, we never knew when it did over the past 9 years anyway so it’s not much different. I wish the group all the best and thank Martin Cook for his contributions to Gospel Music in the last 50 years. 

The Old Paths RETURN!

In one of the first major announcements of 2017, The Old Paths have announced they will be reforming. The lineup will include founding members lead singer Tim Rackley and baritone Douglas Roark, and long time bass vocalist Daniel Ashmore. Joining the group as tenor vocalist will be Steve Ladd. The addition of Ladd, a fan favorite from his years with the Anchormen and Gold City, guarantees this group will be just as dynamic vocally as they were previously.

The Old Paths of 2017 Back Row – Douglas Roark, Steve Ladd Front Row – Tim Rackley, Daniel Ashmore

In a press release posted by Crossroads Entertainment Tuesday morning, Rackley shared the following. “When extenuating family circumstances warranted our departure from the road last December, we didn’t know exactly what God had planned. After much prayer and with our families faring much better—along with their support—we have made the decision to come back on the road for select dates as a group. We are thankful that God has opened this door for us, and we are honored to be able to minister as The Old Paths once again. We appreciate the continuing support of the Crossroads family and Harper Agency that has helped make this return happen. We feel very blessed to share this new phase of The Old Paths with Steve and are excited to see so many of our friends back on the road.”

Ladd states, “I was excited when approached to be a part of The Old Paths return to Gospel music. I have always loved four-part harmony, and these guys are some of the best! I am so thankful for what God has done in my solo ministry. So, to be able to have a solo career still AND sing with these guys on select dates was a no-brainer for me”.

Crossroads boss Chris White shares in the excitement, “What a wonderful opportunity it is to re-unite with The Old Paths. Sonlite Records has had a great relationship with them and certainly look forward to continuing our partnership with them.  With the addition of one of the industry’s most prolific tenor singers, Steve Ladd, we feel the group will be stronger than ever.  We can’t wait to get started and be able to service their loyal fan base once again with more great music and performances.”

And the news gets even better, the guys are working on a new project to be released this Summer. It’s no secret to longtime readers of this blog that I was a huge fan of The Old Paths, there is no one more thrilled & excited about their reforming than me. The Old Paths have been sorely missed by the Southern Gospel industry; I absolutely cannot wait to hear the new sound with Steve and I believe they will quickly regain their position as one of the elite quartets in our field. Welcome back, guys!

Kingdom Heirs Announce New Baritone Vocalist

The Kingdom Heirs released an official statement today, the following reads,

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-11-42-35-amWith the sudden departure of former baritone Brian Alvey, the Kingdom Heirs were in search of a new baritone.  Andy Stringfield, piano player extraordinaire, 
stepped in vocally and has done an exceptional job doing double duty on the piano and the baritone part as we searched for just the right man for the job.
We are so proud and excited to announce that Loren Harris has accepted the position as the Kingdom Heirs baritone!  We welcome Loren, his wife Cindy, and their children Cameron and Kenidy to the Kingdom Heir family.  Help us make them welcome and show our love and support to this wonderful family.

It took a year and a half, but I’m glad to see The Kingdom Heirs hire the right guy. Loren is an incredible singer, he took part in the group’s audition process and seemed to be the best fit of those who auditioned. So needless to say, I was surprised when the group hired Alvey. Unlike his predecessor, Harris has a record of longevity with the groups he has sang with. He is best known to Gospel Music fans from his tenures with The Wilburns and The Perrys. I am very excited to hear The Kingdom Heirs with Loren, his addition makes this group even better!

RIP Steve French 1959-2016

EDITORS NOTE: As of July 2nd, the a news story was posted here by a North Carolina radio station. 

Former Kingdom Heirs co-owner, baritone and emcee Steve French has passed away at the age of 56. The following statement was released today by The Kingdom Heirs on their Facebook page,

Steve-FrenchIt is with heavy hearts that we regret to inform, former co-owner, baritone and emcee, Steve French has passed away. We are praying for comfort and Gods grace. We ask you to please respect the families privacy during this difficult time.”

We here at Fuson’s Findings join the Kingdom Heirs and Gospel Music fans around the country in prayer for Steve’s family and loved ones, and encourage you to do likewise.

In December of 2014 I wrote regarding Steve’s retirement and career, which can be read here. Though he was never recognized for being a great singer, French was a tremendous part of the success of the Kingdom Heirs. Certainly our music would be much different the influence of Steve French and the Kingdom Heirs. Thanks Steve for the great music and memories you’ve given Gospel Music fans, rest in peace sir.

 

Kingsmen Announce New Tenor

The Kingsmen announced the hiring of Joshua Horrell as their new tenor singer. Horrell replaces Chris Jenkins, who departed the group a few months ago to spend more time at home and is now with The Anchormen. The group released the following statement.

13344578_10154312416438939_6062694955053074696_n“Ray Dean Reese of The Kingsmen Quartet would like to welcome Josh Horrell of Rose Hill, North Carolina, to the Kingsmen family as the new tenor vocalist. Josh, age 24, is no stranger to Southern Gospel, coming from a family with a strong musical history. He has been traveling with the Kingsmen for the past month and will transition to a permanent member immediately. He has been received enthusiastically at concerts across the country. The Kingsmen would like to thank all who applied for this position and want to express gratitude to the “Little Giant,” Ernie Phillips for traveling with them and bringing back many old memories while the audition process was taking place.”

I’m familiar with Horrell from his days with Declaration (now Allegiance Trio) and Adoration Quartet, and this move is very surprising to me. In comparison to his predecessor, Horrell is not in the same ballpark as Jenkins as far as range is concerned; but in all actuality not many tenors are. Truth is, Jenkins set the bar incredibly high for the Kingsmen, as it should be in regards to a group of their stature in the industry, and whoever replaced him would have mighty big shoes to fill. I personally would liked to have seen The Kingsmen hire a more proven, veteran tenor with more range, but Horrell is the guy.

With the widespread acclaim that the group’s previous recording “Battle Cry” received from fans and the industry alike (including myself), it will be very intriguing to see what the group will do with their sound now. Here’s a taste of The Kingsmen with Horrell from a recent concert.

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