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Through the years, my writings have seemed to feature male quartets and trios, but I also have a secret love in my heart for a few select mixed groups. My favorite mixed group is the Speer Family. They were featured on the first gospel concert that I ever attended, and I fell in love with their classic sound. That night, the group consisted of Brock and Ben Speer, Jeannie Johnson, Harold Lane, and Ann Sanders. This was shortly after Jeannie Johnson had joined the group, and I remember that she was featured quite prominently that evening.

The members of Speer Family have had a great impact upon the history of gospel music. Five of them are members of the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. George Thomas Speer was a noted gospel songwriter and teacher. He married the love of his life, Lena Brock, in Athens, Alabama February 27, 1920. Lena and Tom (who will forever be known as Mom and Dad Speer both in their professional life and in my writing) shared a love of gospel music, and were raised in singing families. Dad Speer often said, "I met a singerís daughter at a singing convention, got married in a singerís home, and raised a singing family." Nothing could better express the life of Mom and Dad Speer.

Although Dad pretended to be a farmer in Alabama, his avocation was singing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Dad made a deal with God that he would never walk behind a plow again if He would allow Dad to make a living in gospel music. Soon his vocation and avocation became one. God and Dad were both true to their promise as Dad sold the farm and began a lifetime of service to gospel music. Mom and Dad joined forces with his youngest sister, Pearl Claborn and her husband Logan to form the Speer Quartet in 1921. This family tradition continued for more than 75 years.

Logan and Pearl were wonderful singing mates and the quartet performed all over the southern part of the United States. They spent many hours each week performing gospel songs and they spent even more time as singing school instructors. During this time, Mom and Dad became parents of several precocious children. Brock was their first child followed by Rosa Nell and then Mary Tom. Ben was the last of this generation of Speer children. As the Speer Quartet performed, the Speer children soon began stealing the show from their elders.

The Speer Quartet continued to sing and Dad began to hone his writing skills. He joined the staff of the James D. Vaughan Music Company as a writer and teacher. He began to teach harmony, sight singing, and conducting in the Vaughan Singing Schools. He soon became known as leader in the Vaughan organization.

The Claborns retired from the Speer Family Quartet, but Mom and Dad had young Speers in line to replace their aunt and uncle. In addition to their singing skills, all of the Speer children learned to play various instruments. Soon the Speer Family was made up of Mom, Dad, Brock, Mary Tom, Rosa Nell, and Ben. Rosa Nell was the pianist for the group. Dad said that it was difficult to find a capable pianist, so he decided to grow one of his own. Nobody could have picked a better pianist than Rosa Nell!

After logging many miles for the Vaughn Music Company, the Speers felt a need for a change in their direction and moved to the Stamps-Baxter Music Company. The Speers continued to sing to great radio audiences in Alabama during World War II. However, Brock was not with the family, for he was serving in the armed forces. During this time, the family incorporated several patriotic numbers in their program in honor of Brock.

Soon after the War ended, the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville had become the center of gospel music, so the Speer Family felt they belonged there. Brock began his studies at Trevecca Nazarene College and the family continued their service to God through their music.

The Speer Family soon became noted for their recorded efforts. They recorded several sides for Columbia and Bullet records. Mom, Dad, Brock, Ben, Mary Tom, and Rosa Nell made quite a few memorable recordings during this time frame, although their sound in those days was much more primitive than the music you heard from them only a few short years later.

Brock and Faye Ihrig soon became an "item" and they married in 1948. This was not only great for Brock, but it also gave the Speer Family a wonderful singer and supporter that would remain in the family until her husbandís death. This added voice was quite necessary, for Rosa Nell soon married Edwin Powell and left the group to "raise a husband and a family" as Brock would often say.

At this time, the Speer Family consisted of Mom, Dad, Brock, Faye, Ben, Mary Tom. This group set the world of gospel music on its heels! Not only were they great in the studio, but they also were great on the stage.

Changes in the family were soon to come. Join us next month as we discuss those changes and the effect they had on the Speer Family as they ascended to the top of the gospel music field.

If you have any questions or comments, please post them at this web site or send them to me at the following address: john@grandolegospelreunion.com.

 

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