The Roots of CCM Music and the 1st GMA Awards Show; by Philip Mayaab
One of the highest compliments I have ever been paid professionally was made by Michael Lederer, my boss at CCM Classic, a little less than a year and a half ago. I had traveled to Nashville to meet him in person for the very first time, and while I was there, I had the distinct privilege of meeting and interviewing two individuals that I have admired since I was a teenager, Bonnie Keen from First Call, and John Schlitt from Petra. When Michael introduced me to John, he made the remark that I was someone who knows and appreciates the historical aspect of contemporary Christian music. I was very flattered...as someone who does not brag on them self, I was taken aback that someone else would view me in such a manner, and say it to no less than one of my favorite singers of all time, but Michael was not exaggerating. I do like to study the history of the music that we play on CCM Classic, and I have a healthy appreciation for not only the music, but the ministerial aspect, as well as the people who have performed it over the many years that I have enjoyed it. So with that in mind, I am taking all of you to school this week, as I give you a musical history lesson...it does come with a small caveat however, so let's get to it, welcome to CCM Classic University's Dove Awards 101 class.
Anybody who listens to Christian music (of any subgenre) with any degree of seriousness knows what the Dove Awards are. They are given each year in a special awards ceremony, held in Nashville, that recognizes the best in Christian music...they are Christian music's equivalent to the Grammys. Obviously, to those artists, writers, and anyone else who wins one, the Doves are a very prestigious award, and rightfully so, and while I sometimes do not agree with certain aspects of the Dove Awards (remember Whitney Houston?), they are a big deal in the Christian music community. The awards have not been without their fair share of controversy, such as the aforementioned Whitney Houston winning several Doves for the soundtrack to the movie The Preacher's Wife, the 1994 Michael English admission to an extramarital affair after winning several awards, the 1971 awards being ruled invalid due to ballot stuffing by The Blackwood Brothers Quartet, and just last year, Kirk Franklin boycotting the award show due to his unhappiness with the Gospel Music Association (who owns and operates the show) and TBN's editing of race related remarks he has made during past award shows. So while they are not perfect, the Dove Awards are Christian music's biggest event each year, and anyone who wins one, has received a prestigious award from their peers for musical excellence.
By now, you must be asking, what does all this have to do with CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival?, and now I'm going to answer that question. Since last year was the 50th anniversary of the very first Dove Award show, which was held at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis (yes, the one with the ducks), we are presenting you with your musical history lesson, and we are going to play the ten songs that were nominated for the very first Dove Award for Song Of The Year. Here's part one of your lesson...there really wasn't any organized Contemporary Christian music industry in 1969, and that means that all but one of the songs you will hear this week are Southern Gospel, the only exception being the Imperials' rendition of Dottie Rambo's classic If That Isn't Love (more on that shortly). The reason we've chosen this particular album is the historical significance that it has in Christian Music history. These were the first songs chosen to potentially win an award that has since been won by such iconic songs as Rise Again, Via Dolorosa, He's Alive, Praise The Lord, El Shaddai, and many, many other songs that are some of the building blocks of what we know as Contemporary Christian Music.
Now for lesson number two...there were a grand total of 42 award statues given out at the 2019 Dove Awards show, however in 1969, there were a total of 11 awards that were up for grabs, due to the fact that organized Gospel music consisted of nothing but Southern Gospel. Here is a complete list of the winners at the first Dove Awards Ceremony in Memphis, circa 1969...
TELEVISION PROGRAM OF THE YEAR - GOSPEL JUBILEE
DJ OF THE YEAR - J.G WHITFIELD
SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR - BILL GAITHER (almost seems Gloria should've been awarded too)
INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR - DEWAYNE FRIEND (former guitarist of the Happy Goodmans)
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR - JAMES BLACKWOOD
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR - VESTAL GOODMAN
SONG OF THE YEAR - JESUS IS COMING SOON
ALBUM JACKET OF THE YEAR - IT'S HAPPENING (OAK RIDGE BOYS)
ALBUM OF THE YEAR - IT'S HAPPENING (OAK RIDGE BOYS)
MIXED GROUP OF THE YEAR - THE SPEER FAMILY
MALE GROUP OF THE YEAR - THE IMPERIALS
It's obvious looking at those categories that the Dove Awards have came a LONG way in 50 years, but in 1969, that's all there was. So now, let's get to the ten classics that you will be enjoying on Vinyl Revival this week...each of these songs have ministered to untold numbers of people over the years, I myself have sang no less than nine of these songs in church. I'll give you the Reader's Digest description for each of them, and we'll go in the order that they appear on the album. Are you ready for your next lesson?
1. HAD IT NOT BEEN (THE HAPPY GOODMAN FAMILY) - in my humble opinion, this is one of the greatest Southern Gospel songs ever written. How it did not win the first Dove for Song Of The Year, I'll never realize, although I have no trouble with the song that did. The Goodmans were the premier mixed group in gospel music in the late sixties, and one of the top three overall, they sang with an anointing that nobody else in the industry could match...when they sang, you felt the spirit, as I believe you will as listen to this iconic song this week. It was written and sang by one of Southern Gospel's most beloved individuals, the late Charles Rusty Goodman.
2. HE LOOKED BEYOND MY FAULT (THE RAMBOS) - With the exception of Bill & Gloria Gaither, there is no more prolific songwriter in Christian music history than the late Dottie Rambo, it's that simple. She and Gaither were each responsible for three of the songs on this album, and this particular song, which many people believe is set to the tune of the Irish standard Danny Boy, is one of Dottie's signature tunes. For all of our CCM fans, listen closely, and you will hear Reba singing the soprano part on this beautiful song.
3. HE TOUCHED ME (THE BLUE RIDGE QUARTET) - This one is kind of a mystery to me...this is one of very few songs that Bill Gaither actually wrote by himself (Gloria wrote most all of their lyrics), it is the song he is most associated with (just ask Mark Lowry), and yet, instead of including the Bill Gaither Trio's rendition of this song, the GMA chose the Blue Ridge Quartet's recording instead. Not to say nothing bad about the BRQ's recording, they were a great group, but you would have thought they would go with the group that included the songwriter.
4. I BELIEVE IN A HILL CALLED MT. CLAVARY (THE REBELS QUARTET) - The Rebels did an outstanding job on the second of three Gaither tunes to make the original top ten. They were a quartet based out of Tampa, and were originally sponsored by the Dixie Lilly Flour Company (in those days, many groups had corporate sponsors, who would help them get a local radio or TV show to run commercials for the company). This particular lineup included Jim Hamill, who later became the long time lead singer of the Kingsmen, and John Gresham, who would later work with the Thrasher Brothers.
5. IF THAT ISN'T LOVE (THE IMPERIALS) - My all time favorite CCM act, who won the first Dove Award for male group of the year, were able to get in to the first top ten album, with a Dottie Rambo song, that was actually recorded live in my hometown of St. Louis, at a place where I used to go as a little boy to see many legendary Gospel music acts, The Kingsland Theater. The vocal arrangement on the Imperials' version of this song is nothing short of amazing, and it shows you why this iconic group is so highly regarded today. If you have never heard the Imperials pre Russ Taff, take a listen to this one!
6. JESUS IS COMING SOON (OAK RIDGE BOYS) - Long before they were singing about Elvira and Bobbie Sue, the Oaks were one of the finest male quartets in gospel music. From the 1940s until they defected to country music in 1976, this iconic group not only turned out some of the best albums in gospel music, they (like The Imperials) were a who's who of legendary singers who had passed through the group at one time or another. Not only did the Oak Ridge Boys win the Dove for Song Of The Year with this track, the album it came from, called It's Happening, won the awards for Jacket Of The Year (a gatefold jacket, none the less), and Album Of The Year. I have no problem with those awards, although as I stated earlier, had I been voting (at age two), my vote for Song Of The Year would have went to The Happy Goodmans.
7. THANK GOD I'M FREE (THE FOUR GALILEANS) - The Four Galileans were a group that consisted of four young Hispanic men that sang Southern Gospel music - an oddity in 1969. For all of you CCM fans, here's an interesting fact...the original lineup of the Galileans included a young man named David Velasquez, who is the father of 90s CCM artist Jaci Velasquez. Although David was gone by this time, the Galileans were one of the hottest young groups in gospel music, and in fact at the 1970 Doves, they would win the first award as the Best New Artist. This song is pure fun...the harmony is tight, and these guys could flat sing! Also of note, the small guitar solo in the middle of the song is played by none other than Jerry Reed (yes, that one - from Smokey And The Bandit).
8. THE NIGHT BEFORE EASTER (THE STAMPS QUARTET) - This song, which was written by JD Sumner's brother Donnie, has became an Easter staple over the years, much like Dallas Holm's iconic song Rise Again. Once more, great quartet vocals, combined with a beautiful song, made for an outstanding recording, and you will quickly see why this song was chosen as one of 1969's top ten gospel songs.
9. THE OLD RUGGED CROSS MADE THE DIFFERENCE (THE FLORIDA BOYS) - Okay, I don't make a habit of bad mouthing artists, or their music, but in this case, I'll make an exception. I have never been a fan of The Florida Boys, if you happen to be one, God bless you, but they have never done anything for me. This is Gaither's third and final song on this album, and once more, the Bill Gaither Trio's version would have been more than sufficient to shine on this collection, but when one of your members is the man who designed the original Dove Award statue, and he also owns the TV show that won the award as Television Program Of The Year, your group is going to be included in a collection like this, it's really that simple. It's an iconic song, but it's too bad that someone better was not performing it.
10. SHELTERED IN THE ARMS OF GOD (THE SPEER FAMILY) - The Speers were one of the first family groups in organized gospel music history, and have certainly earned their stripes over their long career. Again, they aren't really my cup of tea, but in the late 60s, they were still going strong, in fact as we mentioned earlier, they somehow or other won the award for Mixed Group Of The Year, meaning their group contained both male and female vocalists. Major disappointment to me...the Happy Goodman Family could sing circles around the Speers, but that is all ancient history. The Speers sing Dottie Rambo's final contribution to the original top ten, and you can decide for yourself on their singing abilities.
And there you have it...the original top ten, the original dream team of the Dove Awards. I was in a thrift store not too many days ago, and I saw this record, and I immediately grabbed it, not only to play on Vinyl Revival, and not only because it is a historical recording, but also because when I was a little boy, my older sister owned a copy of this album, and it is one of my earliest memories of Christian music. I used to sit by my sister's stereo, and play this album over and over again. In one way, this is one of the albums that made me such a fan of Christian music, and started me on my journey that has led me to do what I do for CCM Classic, and for me, those memories are a large part of what makes me love this music even now. It is my sincere hope that each of you feel the same way, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, these classic songs and albums have memories that are attached to them, and no other music can match those memories. So if you were raised on classic Southern Gospel music, as I was, I hope you enjoy each of these ten songs on the GMA Top Ten For 1970 album this week, and if by chance, you did not grow up listening to these artists and songs, let me be the one to introduce you to the songs that started an institution, that many, many legends of Christian music have been a part of over its now 50 year history. Enjoy the original Dove Award top ten songs on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival.
Side 1 -
1. Had It Not Been (The Happy Goodman Family)
2. He Looked Beyond My Fault (The Singing Rambos)
3. He Touched Me (The Blue Ridge Quartet)
4. I Believe In A Hill Called Mt. Calvary (The Rebels Quartet)
5. If That Isn't Love (The Imperials)
SIDE 2 -
1. Jesus Is Coming Soon (Oak Ridge Boys) - Winner of Song Of The Year
2. Thank God I'm Free (The Four Galileans)
3. The Night Before Easter (The Stamps Quartet)
4. The Old Rugged Cross Made The Difference (The Florida Boys)
5. Sheltered In The Arms Of God (The Speer Family)
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