GOGR Salutes Fallen Comrades

The Grand Ole Gospel Reunion is a one-of-a-kind event due to the fact that we never reassemble in the same way year after year.  Here we pay tribute to the legends of gospel music who have passed away since the 2008 GOGR.

James D. Walbert

James D. Walbert was an extraordinary pianist and composer.  For over seventy years, Walbert composed and arranged music; performed in concert halls, churches and other venues; and taught piano to people of all ages. In the course of his long career, he wrote over a hundred songs, both popular and spiritual, arranged over 600 songs for both beginner and advanced piano students, and recorded hundreds of popular, spiritual and classical songs and other musical works.

Known as the "wizard of the keyboard," he is related to two current members of the SGMA Hall of Fame. He was the son of W. B. Walbert and the grandson of James D. Vaughan. Walbert grew up in a world of music. As a child, he studied saxophone with his father and violin before beginning piano lessons at the age of ten. Then, beginning at age fourteen, he accompanied the popular Vaughan Gospel Quartets which performed internationally, and on Station WOAN.

James D. began teaching piano at the Vaughan School of Music in Lawrenceburg at the age of fourteen and has taught continuously since then, except for the three and a half years he spent at Fort Monroe, Virginia in the army during World War Two, during which time he played saxophone in the concert band and piano in the orchestra.

For several years, just prior to a tour of duty with the U.S. Army, James D. performed for Music Clubs across the U.S. with a program of classical works for voice and piano.

In 1947 he established a piano studio in Birmingham, Alabama where students from all over the United States have come to learn his special system of playing. Many pianists now teaching and playing professionally throughout the country began their musical careers studying with James D. Walbert. Among his students well known in the world of Gospel music, were Derrell Stewart of The Florida Boys, Gordon Stoker of The Jordanaires, and famous Blackwood Brothers pianist Jackie Marshall.

James D. was often chosen by the Musician’s Union to play for well known secular entertainers. He performed in concert with Liberace, Jerry Lee Lewis, Red Skelton, and Judy Garland, just to name a few. 

James D. Walbert’s hymns and gospel songs have been performed by the Statesmen Quartet, the Blackwood Brothers and the Vaughan Quartets, among others. Among the more popular are “Peace Like a River”, “Working on the Road”, “What a Change”, “Tell It, Sing It, Shout It,” “Lift Your Eyes Above,” and many others. He was also the author of many pop songs, such as “All My Days”, “When I Saw You Walking Down the Street, ” “Enchantment,” and “I’m Feeling Fine”.

He brought a flamboyant style to the Gospel Music stage, much to the chagrin of his father. He was a recipient of the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion's Living Legend Award, an inductee into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, as well as one of the charter inductees into the Piano Roll of Honor.

James D. Walbert passed away on June 7.  He was 91.

 

Bob Terrell

 

Bob Terrell was the dean of Southern Gospel Music journalists, having penned his first such article for publication in the 1940’s. He had been a writer for Singing News since its establishment in 1969 and penned the June 2009 cover story about Archie Watkins.  Bob wrote more than 75 books, including several about Southern Gospel Music and its personalities.  He wrote the first comprehensive history book of Southern Gospel Music entitled: "The Music Men-The Story of Professional Gospel Quartet Singing."

Bob was raised near Sylva, NC, and graduated from Western Carolina University. He was a sportswriter for the Sylva Herald and Ruralite weekly newspaper from 1945-49 and then became a sportswriter for the Asheville (North Carolina) Citizen-Times daily newspaper. Bob eventually became its Sports Editor and remained with the newspaper in various capacities before retiring in 1986.  He continued as a columnist for the Citizen-Times until April, 2009—- a span of 60 years.

He also worked for internationally-acclaimed minister, Reverend Billy Graham, for several years. Bob also helped organize and hosted scores of tours across America, to Europe and to the Holy Land.

Bob Terrell passed away on May 31, following a long battle with cancer.  He was 80.

Eva Mae LeFevre

Known as the First Lady of Gospel Music, Eva Mae LeFevre became the first living woman to be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1978. Ten years later, she was the first gospel music inductee into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. 

Eva Mae first began singing and playing the piano as a young child at her father’s church in South Carolina. In 1934, she married Urias LeFevre and began a 40 year journey leading The Lefevres, which became one of the most beloved groups in gospel music history. Eva Mae’s trademark alto voice and piano artistry became a defining influence for the LeFevres. The group became staples on WGST radio, based out of their hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. They later pioneered the gospel music television program, The Gospel Singing Caravan, while touring as many as 100,000 miles a year across North America.

After attempting to retire years ago, Eva Mae could never walk away from her love for gospel music. She continued to delight audiences across North America throughout her twilight years, both through Gaither Homecoming appearances and solo concerts. 

She was always a favorite at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, and her banter with Charlie will forever be remembered as some of the highlights of past Reunions.  She was a recipient of the Living Legend Award in 1990, and she was honored with a presentation of "This Is Your Life" in 1998.  

Eva Mae passed away at 7:30 in the morning on May 19, following a series of health complications.  She was 91.  Her spirit, her dignity, that flawless alto voice and contagious laugh, her quick sense of humor and unshakable faith in Christ was an inspiration to us all. She will be sorely missed.

(Special thanks to Eva Mae's website for the information.)

 

Loy Hooker

 

The last remaining member of the Stamps Quartet to have sung with V.O. Stamps, James Loy Hooker was a true pioneer in gospel music in numerous facets of the industry.  

He was born on November 16, 1915 in Nashville, Arkansas.  He originally went to Dallas to work with Stamps-Baxter Music Company.  Following V.O. Stamps's death in 1940, V.O.'s brother Frank Stamps began the Stamps Music Company in 1945.  Loy Hooker was an original stock-holder in the Stamps Music Company.  From the 1940s through the 1960s, Hooker sang with the Stamps Quartet in various capacities.  Joining Hooker through those years were several rising stars in the gospel quartet field, such as Glen Payne, Cecil Pollock, Harley Lester, Haskell Mitchell, Billy Grable, Jack Mainord, and Harvey Shelton.  He also was a songwriter of note, having penned "All On the Altar Lay" with Robert E. Arnold.

Following his singing career, he worked with Southern Methodists University, managing their printing department for several years.  He retired to Hot Springs, Arkansas until health concerns forced him to move to Houston, Texas in his later years.

Loy Hooker passed away on April 9.  He was 93.

 

Bobby All

 

Bobby All began his love of music on his third birthday when his parents gave him his first ukulele. His dad showed him three chords and he hit the ground running. At age eight his folks gave him a guitar for Christmas and his passion continued to grow.  His professional career began at 19 years of age when he played his first recording session in Kingsport, TN.  He eventually became one of Nashville's most in-demand studio musicians.  He has recorded many instrumental albums, produced and played on countless albums for various gospel and country recording artists including the Chuck Wagon Gang, the Hemphills, Kevin Spencer and Friends, and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Bobby All passed away on March 20, following an extended illness.  He was 57.

Everette Reece

 

Although Everette Reece may not be remembered as a household name in gospel music, his piano styling was heard with some of gospel music's most notable names.  He began his career by playing for three years with the Junior Blackwood Brothers, which featured Ron, Winston, and Jimmy Blackwood.  Brothers Ron and Winston renamed their quartet on a few occasions, and Everette continued traveling with the brothers under the quartet names - The New Harvesters and The Premiers.  Other groups Reece traveled with included the Prophets, the Blackwood Singers, London Parris & the Apostles, and the Singing Americans.

Reece passed away on December 2, after battling cancer for several years.

Billy Todd

Billy Todd was born on September 26, 1929.  He started singing with his family at the age of eight. In 1942, he sang with a group from his church called the Freewill Four. He remembers that they opened a concert for the John Daniel Quartet and he made five dollars! In 1946, he started singing with a group in his hometown called the Sylacauga Melody Boys. Then he sang in a barbershop quartet along with Jim Nabors, who we all know as Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith Show. 

The Florida Boys hired Billy in January of 1958. Billy immediately captured the hearts of thousands across the country with his strong bass voice, featured on some of the Florida Boys' most popular songs, such as "Farther Along", "Too Much to Gain to Lose", "God Made A Way", and "A Bible Loving Man".  Billy then left the Florida Boys in 1972 to become the principal at Berean Christian School in Pensacola (a school started by Billy's father in law Rev. B.H. McWaters).  He spent several years singing with a part-time quartet, The Songmasters.

When the Dixie Echoes were looking for a bass singer in 1996, Randy Shelnut called Billy to see if he would fill in. Billy Todd joined the Dixie Echoes on May 11, 1996 and he remained with them for 8 years.  Until his retirement, he was the oldest active bass singer in gospel music, often upstaging and astounding many bass singers less than half his age.

For many years, he was honored with a Billy Todd Day concert in his hometown of Sylacauga, Alabama. Billy won the first two Singing News Fan Awards for Favorite Bass Singer. In 1994, at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, Billy received the Living Legend Award. In 1999, he was inducted along with the Florida Boys Quartet into the Gospel Music Hall Of Fame.

After suffering several years from alzheimers, Billy Todd passed away on November 30 at the age of 79.

 

 

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