Mark Lowry announced yesterday morning that he was leaving the Gaither Vocal Band because of the demands of the schedule. This confirmed what other fans had noticed about the GVB’s 2014 schedule, which didn’t include Lowry. However, Michael English then suddenly announced his own departure, which seems like it wasn’t similarly planned for since his name was in the schedule. However, a look at his twitter feed implies that perhaps there was some kind of emotional turning point for him about a week ago—details unspecified. His most recent comments are “I know everyone is wondering what’s going on with the GVB. It’s time for me to go. Way time. I’m tired of treading water. I’m moving on.” Then “I’ve been in a place for a while now where I knew it was time to go. I pray everyone will understand and move in with me.”
To have both of these changes come so close together is quite a shock, and it seems like Bill himself was somewhat shocked by Michael’s stepping down. You can read his official press release here.
I personally thought this was a strong incarnation of the Vocal Band even though not all the members’ individual styles were my preferred taste. Together, they had a powerful blend that enabled them to take their harmonies in creative directions. It’s also been noted that at five years, this is actually one of the longer-running lineups of the Band!
Though Lowry and English’s presences will be missed, I think this could be a good thing for the Band. To be honest, I think Lowry was a bit of a crutch for Bill in terms of putting on a show. And sometimes that worked out, but sometimes it felt stale. (Seriously, how many times did he do the motorcycle routine? I’ve lost count.) As for English, his production talent and soulful vocal flair were a valuable contribution, but at the same time, the group’s blend might be tighter if they replaced him with a cleaner vocalist.
So now, let’s open the floor for replacement suggestions. Do you think Bill will hire two replacements or acknowledge that the 5-man super lineup was a one-time thing and settle for one? And if so, who? Should he bring back Marshall Hall as a lead or baritone? Marshall could handle some of the newer English material and already has a good personal and artistic rapport with Hampton. What about Shane McConnell as a lead? He’s currently with Canton Junction and may enjoy the freedom of that schedule, but an offer from Bill if he got it would certainly be tempting, and he would fit right in.
Here’s a suggestion out of left field: What about Reggie Smith? He’s been a regular, dependable vocalist on multiple homecomings and has the stylistic versatility to adapt to the range of styles the Band offers. His performance of “Midnight Cry” on the Lari Goss tribute demonstrates that he’s no slouch when it comes to pulling out all the stops on the kind of big ballad Gaither is known for. But is he distinctive and powerful enough to be a GVB lead? Wesley Pritchard is another “stock” vocalist, but once again, he doesn’t seem distinctive enough to be a lead—a baritone, perhaps, but that would mean having either Phelps or Hampton sing lead. Come to think of it, Phelps on lead and Hampton on tenor might be an interesting sound…
Anyway, your thoughts?