Reminiscing, Part 2: “A Place Called Hope”

When I first started the blog, I promised a series in which I looked at some key moments in my discovery of southern gospel music. After providing my first entry on Wes Hampton’s duet of “It is Well” with Steve Green, I promptly left the series hanging and gave you no more installments. With my semester wrapped up, I’m going to (try to!) make up for that in the coming weeks. Here then, for your enjoyment, is part two of my stroll down southern gospel memory lane.

The little-known song “A Place Called Hope” was an important stepping-stone for me when I very first discovered gospel music. I first ran across it because I watched this popular Singing Success ad with Wes Hampton, and when they ran a clip of the climax from this song, I went ballistic. For some reason, the lyrics weren’t posted anywhere online, so I was crestfallen when I couldn’t find the name of the song or a full version.

So instead I began watching other songs from the Give it Away project, and interestingly they didn’t all click with me right away. I remember coming to really like a lot of them in time, but initially the individual vocals in particular didn’t reach out and grab me. However, the blend that was created when all four voices came together intrigued me. It wasn’t like I had never heard a southern gospel quartet before—I sometimes listened to a radio station that featured inspirational and gospel singing. But I hadn’t seen and heard one quite like this:

When I finally found the song in full on Youtube, I was very pleased. The combined power of the melody, the lyrics, and the delivery on the chorus captured everything I was coming to like about southern gospel music. In particular, the explosive climax made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, partly because it comes so unexpectedly in the song. Wes’s high power tag impressed me very much. But curiously, the voice that most pleased me in this song was Guy Penrod. In some notes I made at the time about the group, I said that Wes and especially Marshall were still growing on me, but Guy had a “nice, clear voice” that just immediately felt like a comfortable shoe. My readers might find this amusing since Guy is really most famous for belting out power tunes, but remember that all these songs and voices were completely new to me at the time. More on Guy later.

Most of all though, it was the song. Admittedly, it takes a little while to “kick into gear,” but it stirred something inside me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I’m actually a bit surprised that it never had much circulation and seems to have been forgotten.

Conclusion: Never underestimate the power of a good, strong ballad. When delivered with power and conviction, it will tap into the emotion of even a non-SG listener. It does things a toe-tapper just can’t do.


Reminiscing, Part 1: It is Well

As I revisit some songs and voices that caught my attention when I was first learning about gospel music, I’m going to try to do something a little different from simply talking about why I liked them. I will describe as best I can my initial thought process in reaction to these clips, but then I’ll draw some conclusions from my impressions that might be of promotional use to artists who want to draw in “newbies” like I was at the time.

I can think of no better way to kick off this blog than by revisiting the video that started it all for me: Steve Green and Wes Hampton singing “It is Well.”

I can vividly remember being in my mid-teens and listening to a cassette tape of Steve Green’s For God and God Alone. I’d listen to one side, then flip it over, then start at the beginning again when it was finished, and just keep that up for hours because I simply couldn’t get enough of that voice. But through the years that followed I didn’t get much more exposure to Steve’s music than that one album. It was only around a year and a half ago that I realized just how extensive his repertoire was and began finding more of his stuff. In the process, I found out that he had sung with the Gaither Vocal Band, which surprised me because I had always thought of him as a soloist.

When I found this duet in very early 2010, it encouraged me to find out more about the Gaither Vocal Band because I was so impressed by Wes Hampton. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth seeing again:

There are so many reasons why I liked this clip, not least of which was the fact that this is one of the greatest hymns ever written. And of course, both Steve and Wes are highly gifted singers who complement each other superbly. But I think what most appealed to me was simply the beauty of seeing a legend interact with a young up-and-comer. Cross-generational moments like that are always fun to watch. (Plus, neither of them is that bad on the eyes… okay, just kidding. 😉 )

Something else that really impressed me here was Wes’s presence and demeanor—not merely his voice, but his presence. From the moment he came on to the moment he stepped off stage, there was not even the faintest trace of arrogance or over-confidence. He was sharp and clean-cut. He was humble and classy. He didn’t try to push himself forward in any way. He sang clearly and powerfully, but not so as to “outdo” Steve. In fact, he even went out of his way to say, “If there’s a mistake, it’s my fault.” Everything about him said, “I can’t believe I’m singing with Steve Green—what an honor!” At the same time, Steve was genuinely excited to share the stage with Wes, and he treated him like an equal. Wes in turn proved that he had the talent to meet the challenge. A young singer with that much talent could have allowed it to go to his head and behaved like a little twerp. But Wes didn’t.

Conclusions: First, it’s a very good thing for established artists to recognize and include young up-and-comers. But not only is it good for the industry, it catches the attention of the younger demographic. Second, personal appearance matters. It’s the first thing people notice about you. If you walk out on stage put-together, modest, and classy, don’t think the audience won’t take note and appreciate it. They will.