The Grand Ole Gospel Reunion is a one-of-a-kind event due to the fact that we never assemble in the same way year after year.  Here we pay tribute to the legends and various contributors of gospel music who have passed away since the 2010 GOGR.


Ray Burdett is perhaps best known in gospel music circles as the bass singer who had the daunting task of replacing Big Chief in the Statesmen, yet his career has been spent sharing the stage with some of the most popular names in the entertainment world. He was born on October 15, 1944. In his early years, he performed with his family in the Queen City Gospelaires, before serving his duty in the army. After the service, Burdett joined Whitey Gleason and the Jubilee Quartet.

In 1969, Ray joined Bob Wills and the Inspirationals, and was a prominent part of one of their most popular radio hits, "Let the Church Roll On". From there, it was on to the Blackwood Singers in 1971. When the Big Chief passed away in 1973, Hovie Lister chose Ray as Chief's replacement. While Chief's death cast a huge shadow over the remainder of the Statesmen's career, Ray did a tremendous job, remaining with the Statesmen until their disbandment in 1975. In the late 1970s, Ray sang with Willie Wynn and the Tennesseans, who eventually became backup vocalists for Billy "Crash" Craddock. It was at this point that Ray launched his career in country music.

Ray traveled as backup vocalist for Loretta Lynn during the 1980s. He joined the cast of Hee Haw in 1988, adapting the television name Ricochet Ray, and performed as a member of the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet and the Hee Haw Cowboy Quartet. During the 1990s, he performed on various shows in Branson, appearing with Wayne Newton, Barbara Fairchild, and the Brumley Music Show. Following his retirement from music, he worked at Big Cedar Wilderness Club until his death.

Ray Burdett died at his home in Branson, due to complications from cancer, on July 20. He was 66.


Seals L. Hilton was born on April 17, 1925, in Cedartown, Georgia.  After receiving his education, Hilton served his country in the United States Army from November 1944 until his honorable discharge in 1946.  Following his discharge from the army, Hilton joined the Harmoneers Quartet, where he remained until the group’s disbandment in 1963.  It was with the Harmoneers he earned his stage name, “Low Note” Hilton.  Although Hilton has had stints with multiple quartets, such as the Hi-Fi Quartet, Plainsmen, All-American Quartet, and the Rhythm Masters, Hilton’s career with the Harmoneers will always be his stamp on gospel quartet music.

The Harmoneers were at their peak during the early 1950s with Hilton, Fred C. Maples, Bob Crews, Happy Edwards, and Charles Key.  The best way to describe the Harmoneers’ song catalog is “varied”.  Their program contained gospel songs in the style of boogie-woogie to quiet hymns to upbeat convention-style music.  Hilton’s distinctive bass voice played a major role in the identity and success of the Harmoneers’ sound.

Following his retirement from gospel music, Hilton moved to Centerville, Iowa, in 1970 and began working for Fuller Manufacturing, and later would become the owner of the American Family Insurance Agency in Centerville for over 10 years.  He was a regular attendee and performer at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, and received the Living Legend Award for his contributions to gospel music in 1995.  He was inducted with the Harmoneers into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2002.

Seals “Low Note” Hilton passed away on June 8.  He was 86.


Harold Lane was a singer, songwriter, musician and arranger whose career in, and contributions to, Gospel Music spanned over 55 years. 

Born on February 1, 1929, Harold began his gospel music career in 1952 when he formed the Gospel Harmony Boys, This part time West Virginia quartet was on par with many of the top groups of the 1950s and 1960s. Harold’s writing and arranging made a great impact on the Gospel Harmony Boys' style. In 1953, the Gospel Harmony Boys began one of America’s first Gospel Music TV shows that played every Sunday for over 17 years on WSAZ-TV in Huntington, West Virginia. In April 1956, Harold Lane’s Gospel Harmony Boys sang to America on the Today Show with host, Dave Garroway. 

Harold left the Gospel Harmony Boys in 1956 to spend a short stint with Conner Hall and the famous Homeland Harmony Quartet, only to return to the Gospel Harmony Boys in 1957. He began writing early in his music career and authored many songs sung by the great quartets of the day including the Statesmen, Blackwoods, Wally Fowler and the Oak Ridge Quartet and many others. 

In 1967, Harold left the Gospel Harmony Boys to join the Speer Family replacing the family’s famous patriarch, Dad Speer. Harold became renowned for his arranging while with the Speers.  Some of Harold’s best known compositions are, “I’m Standing on the Solid Rock”, which was in the Top 20 Songs of the Year in 1978 by the Speers and the Florida Boys. “What Sins Are You Talking About” reached an esteemed level of notoriety as the theme song for a National Network TV show, “The Hitchhiker” during the 1990’s. 

For many years, Harold wrote a series of articles for Singing News magazine to help interested young artists learn the rudiments of music theory. He also edited a number of church hymnals and songbooks. Harold published a series of six books title “500 Hymns for Instruments”.

Harold passed away on June 6, following a long period of declining health.  He was 82.


Warren Lester Roberts was born on August 4, 1920, in Red Oak, Georgia. During the Second World War Warren served in the U.S. Army from 1942-1946. He married Margie Adams, now deceased, in 1942 and they had 3 daughters, Melodee Bonita, Marsha Warren and Marissa Ann. 

In 1946 he got his start in local theatre groups, such as Atlanta Theatre Guild, Atlanta Civic Theatre, Atlanta Civic Opera and Agnes Scott Blackfriars, playing both leading and character roles. Warren's early career desire while in high school was to be in radio. He started at WEAS in Decatur in 1947 and progressed to be a well known and respected "Disc Jockey" of various musical genres, but his primary interest was in Southern Gospel Music. This enabled him to do the two things he enjoyed the most - be on the air and communicate with people about Jesus through the music. In 1948 he took over the "Gospel Quartet Time" program and kept it on the air for over 40 years in the Atlanta area.

Charlie Waller said, "Roberts was a popular radio and TV icon in the Atlanta area for many years. He emceed the All-Nite Singings which were held at the Atlanta City Auditorium. Roberts' TV show, Warren Roberts Presents, was seen in the Atlanta area with great success. Roberts would invite the major groups passing through to be guests on his show. Not only did the group get exposure, Roberts always made sure each group got paid for their TV performance as well. According to Warren, his claim to fame was when he introduced Wendy Bagwell on the live recording of Here Come the Rattlesnakes. He loved quartet music, which he promoted proudly on his radio show. He was a good man and it would be nice if our industry had more individuals with the likeness of Warren Roberts.

Roberts also had a successful songwriting career, which began when his "Somewhere Along the Way" was recorded by George Beverly Shea on RCA Victor in the early 1950's. "May The Lord Bless You Real Good", recorded by Wally Fowler and several quartets, was also featured as theme music in the MGM movie "Ada" and was sung by Dean Martin. "God Bless You go with God" was recorded by 5 or more gospel groups and used as theme music for the Christian Crusade radio broadcast. Other recorded songs include "Everywhere You Go" and "You Can't Run Away From God." 

A member of the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the Singing News' Golden Mic Award, Warren Roberts passed away on April 5 at the age of 90, following a period of declining health.


Enoch Sullivan was born on September 18, 1931, in St. Stephens, Alabama.  Music was a big part of he early lives of Enoch Sullivan and Margie Brewster.  Enoch's father, the Rev. Authur Sullivan, played string band and dance music during the 1930s.  Enoch and Arthur patterned their music after Wade Mainer and the Mainer's Mountaineers, while Margie had followed the more country sounds of Molly O'Day, Kitty Wells, and Martha Carson.  Soon, what had been a fun recreational outlet led to a ministerial calling.  Upon a near-fatal illness, Arthur committed the rest of his life to preaching, praying, and singing the gospel.  Enoch and Margie were married on December 16, 1949, and weeks later, they, along with Arthur, began their first radio program on WRJW in Picayune, Mississippi.  

For over 50 years, Enoch, Margie, and the Sullivan Family carried their heartfelt bluegrass gospel music to governors, Congressmen, small churches, and large auditoriums.  They have performed on the Grand Ole Opry, as well as Bluegrass festivals in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands.  They are members of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Hall of Fame and the Alabama Country Music Hall of Fame.  Enoch and Margie were both recipients of the Living Legend Award at the 2001 Grand Ole Gospel Reunion. 

Enoch Sullivan passed away on February 23.  He was 79. 


Don Butler, while best remembered as the smooth baritone and emcee for the Sons of Song, has spent most of his career behind the scenes in gospel music.  He joined Atlanta-based quartet The Revelaires in 1956, where he remained until their disbandment a year later.  Shortly thereafter, he joined Calvin Newton and Bob Robinson in forming one of the most dynamic trios in gospel music history, The Sons of Song.  The Sons of Song became an overnight success, due to the members' seemingly endless vocal ranges, and their abilities to invert harmonies with ease.  Butler was voted "Mr. Gospel Singer of America" in 1958 at the National Quartet Convention.  

Tragedy soon struck the Sons of Song at the peak of their career in the form of a major automobile accident, after which the group never regained the momentum it once had.  Don recorded a solo record with the Statesmen Quartet serving as backup vocalists, entitled "Don Butler and the Sentinels", and worked within the Statesmen organization for several years.  Don Butler was one of the charter members of the Gospel Music Association in 1964, where he also served as Chairman of the Board in 1976.  He was president of Sumar Talent Agency for five years.  He produced the GMA Dove Awards, as well as the Singing Time In Dixie and Glory Road TV Shows, where he also served as the announcer.  He was a national officer and trustee of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), as well as on the advisory board of the National Music Educators Association.  He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1995.

Don Butler passed away on February 3, following a lengthy illness.  He was 80.


Mary "Alene" Lester was born on December 8, 1923.  She, along with her late husband Herschel, are best remembered as longtime members of one of gospel music's oldest names, The Lesters.

Known as "St. Louis's First Family of Gospel Music", the Lesters are now into their fifth generation of gospel singers.  Successful promoters of gospel music, as well as seasoned veterans, the Lesters have blessed many hearts with their camp meeting style singing and intricate harmonies.  Their music store and gospel sings at Meremac Caverns have also helped them in carving a place in gospel music history.  Mrs. Lester was a vital part of all chapters of the Lesters' success.  She was the recipient of the Miss Ina Award in 2005 from the Southern Gospel Music Association.  Her husband Herschel was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Alene Lester passed away on January 20, following a period of declining health.  She was 87.

 


Billy Grable was born on April 26, 1928, in Guy, Arkansas.  He began playing piano professionally with the Stamps Baxter Dixie Quartet at age 16, working daily with Frank Stamps and his quartets playing piano for live radio broadcasts from radio station KRLD in Dallas.

In the early 1950s, Billy joined the Friendly Four Quartet in Fort Worth, where they performed on KFJZ radio.  They also sang for a weekly television program on Channel 5 WBAP, which was the first television station in Texas.  They were regularly featured on WB Nowlin's early Battle of Songs concerts at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth beginning in 1956.

Billy remained active working in real estate, and promoting his Travis Avenue Gospel Concert series in Fort Worth until his death.  He was a regular attendee at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, performing at the Piano Roll of Honor for many years. He was inducted into the Texas Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1997.

Billy Grable passed away on December 30.  He was 82.


Sherrill “Shaun” Nielsen was truly one of gospel music’s great tenors, with one of the most varied careers of anyone in the entertainment world.  He was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on September 10, 1942.  Although his early home life was an unhappy one, he quickly found his place in life singing.  He went to live with his grandparents at 14 and soon began singing at revivals and churches.  Sherrill claimed that he was popular in school because he could outrun all the boys and sing higher than all the girls.

Sherrill began his music career in the early 1960s with California’s premier quartet, The Songfellows.  In 1963 when Dad Speer suffered a heart attack and was forced to cut back on his participation with the Speer Family, the group decided to embrace a newer sound and hired Sherrill to sing tenor.  Sherrill’s stay would be short-lived, as Jake Hess hand-picked him to be the tenor for his new group, The Imperials.  The Imperials quickly captured the hearts of gospel music fans with their intricate harmonies and arrangements.  Elvis Presley tapped the Imperials to sing back-up harmonies on his classic recording “His Hand In Mine”, and Sherrill began a friendship with Elvis that would play a heavy influence on his career.

Sherrill rejoined the Songfellows for a brief stay in 1966, and also served a short stint with the Plainsmen in 1967.  His next major career move came in 1970 when he joined Hovie Lister and the Statesmen.  Although the Statesmen’s glory years seemed behind them, Sherrill brought a new dimension to the quartet with his soaring Irish tenor, and the Statesmen continued to enjoy the musical excellence they always had.

In 1973, Sherrill joined Donnie Sumner, Tim Baty, and several of gospel music’s most prominent musicians in forming “Voice”.  Elvis named the group after a Christian Periodical he had read, and signed the group to travel with him on a contract he had written on a sheet of toilet paper.  Although Voice only remained together for two years, Sherrill continued to work with Elvis until his death in 1977.  Sherrill is prominently featured on Elvis’s posthumous hit, “Softly As I Leave You”, which rose to the Top 10 in the charts and was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Sherrill continued performing both gospel and secular music in various capacities until his death.  He served two different stints with The Masters V in 1983 and in 1988. 

Sherrill and Brenda Nielsen were a true example of an unfading love story.  They were married on December 12, 1963.  Due to the strains of Sherrill’s music career, the couple went their separate ways in 1967.  Sherrill never got over the loss of his marriage, and penned his first song, “Time’s Gonna Heal the Pain”.  They would each enjoy their own successes over the next four decades, but on June 28, 2004, they were remarried, and would travel together singing and ministering for the last six years of Sherrill’s life.

Sherrill Nielsen passed away December 10, following a long battle with lung cancer.  He was 68.


Clyde Edward Carter, better known as "Eddie", was born Nov. 15, 1919 in Noel, MO, and was the middle child of the Carter siblings. He met his wife, Carrie, in 1940, and recently the couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. 

After D. P. “Dad” Carter retired from active participation with the Chuck Wagon Gang in 1955, Eddie became his replacement. In the mid-50’s, the Chuck Wagon Gang headquartered in Knoxville, TN for a couple of years, and were promoted and booked by Rev. and Mrs. J. Bazzel Mull of Knoxville. Prior to this time, all recordings by The Chuck Wagon Gang were recorded in Texas. With the move to Knoxville, the Chuck Wagon Gang began recording all sessions in Nashville.

On October 6, 1956, Eddie recorded his first eight songs with the Gang, along with his sisters Rose and Anna, his brother Roy, and his brother-in-law Howard Gordon, guitarist and husband of Anna. Songs recorded were: I’ll Walk and Talk With My Lord”, “When I Looked Up and He Looked Down”, “Sing On The Way”, “I Know (Yes, I Know)”, “He’s My Lord and King”, “Inside the Gate”, “There’s Gonna Be Singing”, and “I’m Headed for the Promised Land.” While the songs were of the old-time flavor, they were different with the “new” Nashville Sound. They were released as singles to gospel and country music stations, and the songs dominated the airways.

Eddie’s time was short lived with The Gang at this time, but he later returned for some tour dates in the early to mid 70’s, and recorded on all Chuck Wagon Gang Columbia Records sessions from 1971-1975. The 1975 sessions marked an end to a 39-year association with Columbia Records. Eddie, along with his sister, Anna, made their final recordings with The Gang, on February 13, 1978, as “Old Fashioned Singing,” This was a collection of 20 greatest recorded for TV on an independent label, Tame Records.

Eddie retired in 1984 as service manager for Maynard Foods.  He made some later special appearances at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, National Quartet Convention in Nashville, and other events. He was on tour again for some special appearances in 1994 with Ruth Ellen Carter Yates, Roy Carter, Shaye Smith. He was present for The Chuck Wagon Gang’s induction into the GMA Hall of Fame in Nashville in 1998.

Eddie Carter passed away on December 6, following complications from pneumonia at the age of 91.  He was the last living son of Dad and Mom Carter.

*Special Thanks to Harold Timmons


Marion B. Snider was born in Collin County in 1914, but had moved into Dallas in 1934 so that he could attend one of the Stamps-Baxter music classes. The classes were held over the old Oak Cliff Drug Store located at Jefferson Blvd, and Beckley Ave. These classes were known as the Mid- Winter Normal Singing School which was an advanced class for music teachers.

Mr. Snider had made a trip out to the West Texas plains in 1936 to teach piano lessons. He and some of his friends were having lunch under an old oak tree near Lubbock when the Western Union messenger rode his bicycle up and handed him a telegram which requested that he come to Dallas and appear on KRLD Radio as the pianist for the original Stamps Quartet.

This group made its debut appearance in Dallas during the 1936 Texas Centennial celebration at the Texas State Fair where they broadcast two programs each day. The quartet was so popular that it became the first gospel quartet to have a daily radio show. During this time the quartet received as many as 5,000 fan letters per day.

He studied piano under the direction of Freddy Martin, an adopted son of gospel music legend V.O. Stamps and a member of the Cass County Boys, the band for Western movie star Gene Autry.

Snider organized the Imperial Quartet in 1946, which was featured five times a week on Texas Quality Network. He then produced, emceed and played piano for the "Songs of Inspiration" television show in Dallas. During this period he also emceed W.B. Nowlin's "Battle of Songs" presentations in Forth Worth, TX. He also composed the popular song "I've Got The Corner Turned Down", recorded by Hovie Lister and the Statesmen Quartet.

Mr. Snider was the last living member of the original Stamps Quartet. He was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2003 and was the oldest living member until his death November 14th.  He was 96.


 

Anthony Elden Greene, best known to his fans and friends as “Tony”, was born on October 17, 1968, to Everette and Carolyn Greene, the youngest of three children.  Beginning in the early 1980s, Tony was the lead vocalist for one of gospel music’s most popular family groups of the last quarter century, The Greenes.  Throughout their career they charted several hits such as “There’s A Miracle In Me”, “Stand By the River”, “When I Knelt the Blood Fell”, “Jesus’ Rocking Chair”, and others.

In addition to his singing abilities, Tony was also an accomplished musician, a comedian, businessman, and promoter.  His cruises, bus tours, and annual concerts were among some of gospel music’s most well-attended events.

In 2000, Tony proposed to The Greenes’ soprano vocalist, TaRanda Kiser, on the stage at NQC, and they were married on February 13, 2001.  On August 25, 2009, Tony underwent a successful kidney transplant, the donor being his wife TaRanda.  He quickly resumed his touring schedule and remained busy with the Greenes until his final hospitalization on September 21, 2010.

Tony Greene passed away following several health complications on September 28, with family and friends by his side.  He was 41.


 

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