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 2012 GOGR.


Furman Wilson
Primitive Quartet
1942 - 2013

Furman Roger Wilson was born in 1942 in Macon County, North Carolina.  Furman and his brother Norman grew up in a minister’s family, learning to sing shape notes from their father. 

In 1973, Furman and Norman went on a fishing trip with their friends, Larry and Reagan Riddle.  They took a guitar and a mandolin with them, and spent the evening singing around the campfire.  They realized that they had good four part harmony, and soon began singing at their home church and other local churches under the name Riddle-Wilson Quartet.  Eventually the group changed their name in honor of the old-time musical roots they wished to embrace, and The Primitive Quartet was born.

The quartet soon hit the road full-time, and Furman retired from the quartet, being replaced by Mike Riddle.  Furman was a charter member of Bethesda Baptist Church in Candler, North Carolina, where he served as pastor.

Furman performed with the Primitives at their Hominy Valley on Monday night, July 1, singing the song, “When I Get Home”.  He passed away in his sleep the following morning.  He was 71.


Harold Gilley
Palmetto State Quartet
1942 - 2013

Harold Gilley joined the Palmetto State Quartet in 1994.  During his three year tenure with the quartet, Harold established himself not only as one of the top bass singers of the day, but as one of the best bass singers of any era.

Born on January 8, 1942, Harold spent a lengthy tenure with the Landmark Quartet.  Upon joining the Palmetto State Quartet, the group quickly launched into the Top Ten of the Singing News chart with “Rainbow Avenue” and “Jubilee’s A Comin’”, both of which prominently featured Harold.  Harold was nominated for the Horizon Individual, as well as Favorite Bass Singer Award in the Singing News Fan Awards. 

Harold’s songwriting has been recognized by too few people.  Some of his more popular songs include “The Lord Is A Comfort to Know”, “All of This for Me”, “Good Old Gospel Song”, and “Somebody’s Knocking”.  In addition to the Palmetto State Quartet, his compositions were recorded by the Cathedrals, Happy Goodmans, Chuck Wagon Gang, and Greater Vision, just to name a few.

After the Palmetto State, Harold traveled primarily as a soloist.  He also served brief stints with several groups including Danny Funderburk and Mercy’s Way, The Blackwoods, The Songfellows, Master’s Music Men, and his own group, Southern Gold.  Harold's performance with the Un-original Masters V at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 2006 remains one of the most talked-about performances in Reunion history.  An ordained minister, Harold also served as chaplain for Norton Community Hospital in Norton, Virginia. 

Harold suffered a series of strokes in December 2012, and was soon diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  He passed away on July 2.  He was 71.


Sammy Hall
Sammy Hall Singers
1945 - 2013

 

Sammy Hall was born on August 9, 1945.  His musical talent was demonstrated at an early age, and he spent his teenage years playing in rock bands throughout the state of Florida.  During this period, Sammy became increasingly dependent on drugs and alcohol.  It was after watching a close friend die from a drug overdose that Sammy dedicated his life and talents to serving the Lord.

He formed the Sammy Hall Singers during the 1970s, one of gospel music’s most popular mixed groups of that decade.  Sammy’s program was not entirely focused on music, but he also served as a motivational speaker for troubled youth.  Through his ministry, Sammy ministered to over 1,500,000 young people, and saw more than 50,000 lives given to Jesus Christ.  Sammy traveled for over 45 years singing, writing gospel songs, preaching, and operating his anti-drug program, SchoolDaz.

Sammy Hall passed away following a lengthy battle with cancer on June 24.  He was 67.


Little Jimmy Taylor
Rebels Quartet
Singing Americans
CampBells
1934 - 2013

 

James A. “Little Jimmy” Taylor was born on April 4, 1934 in Hahira, Georgia, to A.B. and Eva Taylor.  His father A.B. was a quartet pianist, singer, and songwriter, composing songs including, “Good News” and "My Greatest Moment".  Jimmy began his professional career singing with his father in the Stamps Melody Quartet as a teenager.  In 1951 he joined the Rebels Quartet as their pianist.  With a lightning quick left hand, consistent tempo, solid arrangements, and crowd-pleasing turnarounds on songs such as “I Want to Get Closer” and “Jubilee’s A Comin’”, Jimmy quickly gained notoriety as one of gospel music’s very best rhythm pianists.

Jimmy remained a staple of the Rebels Quartet for almost two decades.  He left the quartet in 1970, only to return to the quartet two years later.  Jimmy remained with the quartet until they disbanded in 1975.  It takes an exceptional talent to fill a dual role of pianist and singer in a quartet, yet Jimmy did this on multiple occasions.  Jimmy served as pianist and lead singer for the quartet on at least three separate occasions during the late 50s and early 60s, and again in the 70s as pianist and baritone singer.  Jimmy had the longest tenure of any member of the original Rebels, having spent all but three years of the quartet’s 25-year career as their pianist.

Jimmy was also a founding member of the Singing Americans.  During the late 70s and early 80s, Jimmy performed with The Premiers and The Little Jimmy Taylor Family.  In 1987, Jimmy formed Little Jimmy Taylor and the CampBells, whom he performed with for the final quarter century of his life. 

Jimmy wrote many gospel songs including “Angels Will Stand”, “When I See Him Face to Face”, “The Angels Must Have Cried”, and “Ole Brother Noah”.  In 1954, Jimmy penned his most popular song, “Dear Jesus Abide with Me”, which has been recorded by the Rebels, the Blackwood Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, Couriers, Jimmie Davis, Wendy Bagwell and the Sunliters, and others.  In 1995, Jimmy received the Living Legend Award at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, and in 1998, Jimmy was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Piano Roll of Honor.

Little Jimmy Taylor contacted MRSA shortly following his 79th birthday in early April, and passed away on May 13.

 


George Jones
Country Music Legend
Grand Ole Opry Member

1931 - 2013

 

What more can be said about George Jones that hasn’t already been said by his millions of admirers since his passing?  The following paragraphs serve as a very brief tribute to a country music icon whose influence encompassed all genres.  Garth Brooks once said, “George Jones is the king of soul.”

George Glenn Jones was born on September 12, 1931, in Saratoga, Texas.  When he was seven years old, his parents bought a radio and he heard country music for the first time.  At age nine, he was given his first guitar, and he was soon performing on the streets of Beaumont.  Jones’ ambitions were interrupted by the Korean War, and upon his return, his career quickly took off.  His first hit, “Why Baby Why”, began a career which spanned over 80 albums, 16 #1 hits, and 150-plus hit radio singles.

Among George’s many hits include, “Tall Tall Trees”, “White Lightning”, “She Thinks I Still Care”, “A Picture of Me Without You”, “The Grand Tour”, “Same Ole Me”, "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes", and of course, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”.  George's duets with Tammy Wynette are legendary.  George released four albums of gospel music, and some of his most popular gospel performances included “Me and Jesus”, “Brush Arbors By the Side of the Road”, “Why Me Lord”, and “Angel Band”.

Among George's many accolades include membership into the Grand Ole Opry in 1956; induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992; numerous Male Vocalist of the Year honors given by the Country Music Assocation, Academy of Country Music, Billboard, and Cashbox; Living Legend Award by Music City News in 1988; the ACM Pioneer Award in 1993; #3 rank of CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country Music (just under Johnny Cash and Hank Williams), and the Grammy Hall of Fame Award for "He Stopped Loving Her Today" presented in 2007.  George has been labeled by many experts and fans as the greatest country singer of all time, and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" has been ranked by many as country music's greatest song.

Much has been documented of his personal struggles, yet in the marathon of life, George Jones finished well.  George passed away on April 26.  He was 81.

 


T.O. Miller
Venable Quartet
Melody Boys Quartet
1928 - 2013

 

Talmadge Oscar Miller was born on February 2, 1928 in Zion, Arkansas. Better known to his many friends as “T.O.”, he first came into prominence in gospel music after college, when he joined the Venable Quartet in 1957. Although the Venable Quartet had some early changes, the group settled with Jerry Venable, Gerald Williams, Fred Smith, and T.O. Fueled by their daily television program on KARK-TV, the group became very popular in Arkansas and surrounding states. Their sound was naturally similar to that of the Melody Boys, as three of them were former members of the group.  Their albums TV Favorites and Memories of Boyhood are tremendous. T.O. played piano, accordion, organ, and guitar, in addition to his superb tenor singing, and remained a part of the Venable Quartet for ten years.

T.O. and his wife Rachel later formed the T.O. Miller Trio, and are credited for helping launch the career of young soprano vocalist Sue Dodge. During the late 1970s, he joined Gerald Williams, Steve Williams, and John James in reforming the Melody Boys Quartet. This lineup of the Melody Boys remained active through the 1980s until increased bookings infringed on the full-time jobs of the group members. T.O. spent his later years serving in multiple Baptist churches through Arkansas as Minister of Music.

T.O. Miller passed away on May 6. He was 85.


George Beverly Shea
Soloist
The Billy Graham Crusades
1909 - 2013

George Beverly Shea possessed a remarkable talent, had a remarkable career, and lived a remarkable life.  His story begins with his birth on February 1, 1909, in Winchester, Ontario, Canada, the fourth of eight children to Rev. Adam Joseph Shea and Whitney Shea.  The Shea family moved frequently during George’s childhood, as his father served as minister of multiple Wesleyan churches through Canada and the northern United States.  Shea often said that he accepted the Lord at the age of six, but rededicated his life at age 18.

Taught to play violin, piano, and organ, Shea’s deep baritone voice caught early recognition and he sang frequently at his father’s church.  He studied under and opera teacher, and soon made his radio debut on Fred Allen’s amateur hour program on NBC radio in 1929.  Shea lost to a yodeler, but earned second place and a spot on Allen’s regular program.  However, it was singing the hymns that Shea soon found his place in music.  He quickly earned regular spots on Earling Olsen’s Meditations in the Psalms radio show on WMCA, and on WKBO’s Old Fashioned Gospel Hour.

By 1939, Shea had earned a recording contract with Decca Records.  In 1944, Shea became featured soloist on Billy Graham’s Songs In the Night weekly radio program.  Shea skyrocketed the recently-struggling radio program to immediate success.  He joined the Billy Graham Evangelical Association in 1947, and remained there for the next 66 years.  Graham, Shea, and Cliff Barrows became the nucleus of the association.  Barrows was the choir director, and Shea sang the solo immediately before Graham’s sermon, setting the tone for some of the most powerful messages preached before the world.

From 1951 until 2013, Shea recorded over 500 songs on more than seventy albums for RCA and Word Records.  Shea’s most popular recorded hymns were “How Great Thou Art”, “I’d Rather Have Jesus”, which Shea composed music to in 1932, and another Shea-penned classic, “The Wonder of It All”. 

During his career, Shea was nominated for ten Grammy Awards, receiving one Grammy in 1965, and was the oldest recipient of the Grammy Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to him in 2011.  He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1978, and the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1996, among numerous other awards and honors.

George Beverly Shea passed away on April 16, following a stroke the day before.  He was 104 years old.

 


Teresa McNeil Burrell
The LeFevres
1951 - 2013

 

Teresa Diane McNeil was born on September 15, 1951.  In the early 1970s, she performed in a concert with The Downings.  Through the recommendation of Linda Robinson Sholar, pianist for the Downings at the time, she joined the LeFevres as soprano vocalist in 1972, remaining there until 1975.

The LeFevres continued many successful years featuring the strong, captivating vocals of Teresa McNeil.  She was featured on their Grammy-nominated album, Stepping on the Clouds, released in 1974.  She also performed with the LeFevres on the final night of the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, and opening night at the new Grand Ole Opry House in 1974.

McNeil retired from the gospel music scene in 1975.  She married Stan Burrell, and never returned to full-time travel.  Fans of gospel music still remember her as one of the top female vocalists during the 1970s.  Teresa Burrell McNeil passed away unexpectedly on March 29.  She was 61.


Gordon Stoker
The Jordanaires
1924 - 2013

Born August 3, 1924, Gordon Stoker was a native of Gleason, Tennessee, where he grew up in a musical family. By age eight he was playing piano in church, and then performing at singing conventions. After high school graduation at age 15, he moved to Nashville to join the Daniel Quartet, which performed on radio station WSM. He served in the Air Force and then attended Oklahoma Baptist University before returning to Nashville and the Daniel Quartet. 

Stoker joined the Jordanaires in 1949, who at this time were becoming noted for their spirited renditions of songs associated with both black and white gospel traditions. They signed with Capitol Records in 1951, and began singing background vocals for such hit-makers as Elvis Presley, Red Foley, Eddy Arnold, Marty Robbins, Patsy Cline, Ferlin Husky, Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Connie Francis, Julie Andrews, and many others. Their appearances on the NBC Network portion of the Grand Ole Opry, and popular syndicated shows of the day such as Eddy Arnold Time and The Country Show, quickly made them a household name. 

The Jordanaires were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1998, the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. They received a Grammy for their contribution to the James Blackwood tribute album, We Called Him Mr. Gospel Music. It is likely that Gordon Stoker has appeared on more hits than any other artist in the music industry.

Gordon Stoker remained a member of the Jordanaires from 1949 until his death, an unprecedented 64 years. He passed away on March 27 after a period of declining health. He was 88.


"Mom" Kramer
The Encouragers
Great American Gospel
1928 - 2012

Lois Inez Kramer was born on November 17, 1928, in Halifax, Virginia. In 1945, she married Johnny Kramer. In 1963, she helped form the Encouragers, and remained the patriarch and an active part of this ministry for 50 years. She ministered to hundreds of thousands across America, and was a partner in beginning the popular television program, Great American Gospel, which is currently seen in over 200 countries across the world.

“Mom” Kramer often said that she wanted God to call her home while singing His praises. On December 18, while performing and helping to raise food items for needy families in Coastal Georgia, she passed away during a concert at the historic Ardsely Park Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia. She was 84.


 

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