Brumley Gospel Sing brings back memories
LEBANON – We all have cherished childhood memories: A certain Christmas, our first puppy, or some special moment with family or friends.
One of my most vivid is of me sitting in front of the television at noon each weekday and at 8 a.m. on Sunday mornings to watch Southern Gospel groups perform their songs on “The Old Time Singing Convention.” I spent many nights with my ear against a small transistor radio listening to J. Basil Mull and Mrs. Mull on “The Mull Singing Convention.” The songs made me happy and help me further understand what Jesus had done for me when He saved me at age eight.
By 1964, Southern Gospel had made great strides in popularity despite its distinctly regional roots. Most historians point to the landmark appearance of The Blackwood Brothers Quartet on the immensely popular Arthur Godfrey Show in the 1950s as a turning point for the genre. It marked the first time Southern Gospel was experienced by Americans nationwide.
Southern Gospel has become more diverse in its presentation, but the four-part harmony quartets remain a staple. Featuring a tenor, lead, baritone and bass singers along with an accompanying pianist, the combination produces a unique blend of voices hitting the highest of high notes to the lowest of lows. For an impressionable tike from Tennessee like me, the sound was — and remains – sublime.
One thing that has remained constant in Southern Gospel’s history is the overwhelming number of songs dealing with The Cross of Christ; Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and His promised return; and various expressions of the joy and expectations of living eternally in Heaven. Even as a child, theologically rich songs like “Oh What a Savior” and “Heaven’s Jubilee” stirred my little heart. They taught me the basics of what it means to be “A Child of the King.” They were – and remain today – expressions of “the joy that fills my soul.”
The Bible is full of passages indicating how songs are acceptable ways for us to express our gratitude to God for what He has done. Among them: 1 Chronicles 25:3; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; Nehemiah 12:46; Isaiah 38:20; Psalm 42:4, 100:1, 33:2, 57:7-9, 92:1, 108:1, 144:1, 150:3.
All of this came to mind Aug. 3-4 as my family and I attended the 39th Annual Brumley Gospel Sing at the Cowan Civic Center in Lebanon. Over a two-night span (the event was actually Aug. 1-4) we heard a dozen of Southern Gospel’s best sing – and the memories became almost too many to count. The Brumley Sing is named in honor of the legendary Missouri songwriter Albert E. Brumley (“I’ll Fly Away,” “Turn Your Radio On,” are but two of his more than 800 songs). Though born in Oklahoma, Brumley moved to the southwest Missouri hamlet of Powell in 1931 and lived there the rest of his life. His son, Bob, now runs the family business there, the Albert E. Brumley & Sons Music Co., and the increasingly popular Brumley Gospel Sing. This year’s event drew more than 25,000 Southern Gospel fans, some from as far away as California and others as near as Jefferson City.
The sound and the focus of the songs remain just as both have for the past 60 years. Whether it was the lovable Dixie Echoes Quartet singing “If Jesus Is There” or the electrifying Dove Brothers Quartet belting out their current No. 1 hit “I Can Pray,” all of the songs pointed us to Jesus, the price He paid for our sins on the Cross and the promise of eternal life if we know Him as our personal Savior.
While Southern Gospel groups generally downplay their denominational standing so that it does not inhibit their evangelistic focus, it is well known that the genre has significant Southern Baptist participation – and the Brumley Gospel Sing was no exception. Perhaps one of the more humorous moments came when emcee Duane Garren looked off-stage at The Perrys, who appeared to be conferring just before they took the stage, and quipped, “Looks like those Baptists are having a business meeting.”
I think the highlight of the whole event was the spectacular singing of The Lesters, St. Louis’ “First Family of Gospel Music” who has long-time ties to Missouri Baptist Convention-affiliated Tower Grove Baptist Church. The group performed several new songs and fans should be on the lookout for their new CD. They seemed to sing with new-found energy with the return of Ginger (Lester) Pitchers, who just a year ago was working as the church secretary.
The Brumley Gospel Sing is held the first week of August every year. Ticket prices are very reasonable and you have plenty of chances to meet the singers at their various exhibits. It is an event for the whole family and one that continues to make memories and be a blessing to all who attend.