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GOGR Music History -
The Speer Family

The Speer Family had become a household name among gospel music fans. They had performed on the biggest stages in gospel music and they were one of the most loved groups in gospel music. However, there are few things as certain as change, and time was making a change in the Speer Family.

Ginger Smith left the family to wed Wally Laxon who was singing first tenor with the Tennesseans Quartet. The family wasnít very happy to have to replace their bubbly female vocalist, but they found a new treasure in Mississippi when Ann Sanders joined the Speer Family. Ann had a great career with the Speers and went on to found her own group, the Downings, after leaving the Speers.

Dad Speer was never one to complain, but as the years rolled by, he was beginning to feel the effects of many years on the road. For several years, Dad had realized that age was creeping up on him, and he slowly shifted his responsibilities to his boys. Brock had already taken over the emcee duties, and he also began to handle the quartet bookings. After an extremely busy weekend of singing, Dad admitted to his sons that he wasnít feeling well. By the time they got him to the hospital, they realized that Dad had experienced a massive heart attack which heíd conveniently ignored for several days.

Seeing the physical trouble that her dear husband was experiencing, Mom Speer told Brock that she wouldnít be on the bus that weekend and asked Faye to join the group for the upcoming dates. Ever the trouper, Faye arranged to have the children cared for and climbed aboard the Speer Family bus.

Ben, Brock, Dad, and Mom - 1963

This was the beginning of a new chapter for the Speer Family. Faye accepted the challenge of singing alto for the family for quite a few years. The boys also began to search for someone to sing Dadís part. They knew that nobody could replace Dad, so they looked for a different sound for the group.

Ron Page filled the vacancy for a short time before the Speers decided to offer Sherrill Nielsen a full-time job with the family. Sherrill had been a featured soloist during his time in the Air Force in the Strategic Air Command Band. The Speers had considered becoming a male quartet when they hired Sherrill. However, Nielsen left the Speers after a few months to join Jake Hess in his new group called "Jake Hess and the Imperials". Nielsen recorded a great album with the Speers called "Garden of Melody." The Speers, especially Mom Speer, were none to happy with Jake Hess for proselytizing their star tenor, and have gone on record as saying so.

Speer Family - 1963
Ben Speer, Sherrill Nielsen, Brock Speer
Ann Downing, Faye Speer

Well traveled gospel music tenor Jerry Redd replaced Nielsen for a short time, but like most of Reddís positions, he didnít stay very long. Although he was pictured on the cover of some versions of "Garden of Melody," Redd never recorded with the Speer Family. He was replaced by Charles Yates. Yates had sung in several groups including the Prophets and the Foggy River Boys. Brock, Faye, and Ben Speer along with Ann Sanders and Charles Yates became a very viable group on the gospel circuit. This group released several fine albums on the HeartWarming label that were among the best selling releases on their new label.

When their health permitted, Mom and Dad Speer would join the children. When the elder Speers were able to travel, their audiences experienced a real thrill. Mom would generally sing with the group and Dad would come on stage and sing several of his classic songs. The highlight would always be their famous duet, "Wonít We Be So Happy." This became so popular that the Speers released an album with that title. It would prove to be the last album Dad would record with the Speer Family.

Speer Family - 1964
Brock Speer, Dad Speer, Ben Speer, Jerry Redd,
Faye Speer, Mom Speer, Ann
Downing

Time finally stilled the voice of George Thomas Speer September 7, 1966. His family was at his bedside as this gospel music pioneer slipped into his seat in the Heavenly choir. Next to his God, his wife and his family, there was nothing Dad loved more than singing gospel music. He sang songs such as "Iím Bound for that City," "Heaven Will Surely Be Worth it All," and "Iím Nearing the Ending of my Journey" with such fervor that his audience never doubted his sincerity and desire to meet his Master.

Speer Family - 1965
Faye Speer, Ann Downing, Mom Speer,
Brock Speer, Dad Speer, Charles Yates,
Ben Speer

Soon after the death of her dear husband, Mom Speer began to experience some health problems. She could obviously foresee what was waiting for her in Glory and knew her earthly time was growing short. The Speers released one of their best loved albums, "Rejoicing with Mom" just prior to her diagnosis of a rare form of cancer. Mom joined Dad in the Heavenly choir in 1967.

By now, Charles Yates had left the Speer Family and was replaced by Harold Lane. Harold was a great musician, writer, singer, and arranger. This West Virginia native had spent many years with the Gospel Harmony Boys and also sang with the Homeland Harmony Quartet. Gospel music has known few men with the musical capabilities as Mr. Lane. He remained with the Speer Family for many years and was responsible for writing some of their best loved songs.

Faye Speer soon felt the need to leave the Speers so that she could concentrate on raising their family. Faye wouldnít be gone for too many years, for she would again return to the fold again when she was able.

Next month, we will see how the Speers prospered through several other personnel changes and we will see the impact of the third generation Speers.

If you have any comments or questions, please email me a john@grandolegospelreunion.com.


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