It all began for Bill Gaither when he formed the Bill Gaither Trio 60 years ago with his brother, Danny, and sister, Mary Ann, while still attending Anderson College in Indiana trying to earn a teaching degree.
Little did he know that first trio performance in 1956 would lead to a gospel music empire called Gaither Music Company based in Alexandria, Ind.
It includes a record company, concert booking, television production, copyright management, retail store, recording studio and telemarketing department.
Gaither, who is returning to Augusta to Augusta’s Bell Auditorium on Friday, Nov. 11, told this writer in 1998 that his love for gospel music came early in childhood.
“When I was a boy in Indiana I listened to WSM radio in Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry for the gospel songs,” Gaither said. “I heard them announce they were going to have an all-night gospel sing in Ryman Auditorium.
“This was in 1948, when I was in the seventh grade. My dad was a nonmusical person, but I talked him into driving us the seven- or eight-hour ride to Nashville for that all-night sing.
“I remember about 2:30 a.m., a lot of people had left and my dad said to me, `Are you ready to go?,’ but I said, `No,’ and we stayed until the last act.”
Gaither did go into teaching English for almost a decade, but he and his wife, Gloria, whom he had married in 1962, decided to leave the public schools system in 1967 and try building on their growing gospel music performances.
Their songwriting collaborations would result in either solely or jointly writing close to 800 songs many of which have become famous around the world including Because He Lives, The King Is Coming, Something Beautiful, He Touched Me, It Is Finished, There’s Something About That Name, Let’s Just Praise The Lord and Loving God, Loving Each Other.
Recordings of the songs have earned the Gaithers eight Grammy Awards, more than two dozen Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association and GMA’s Songwriter of the Year award eight times.
Elvis Presley even recorded the Gaithers’ He Touched Me which also was the title for his 1972 all-gospel music album.
Being frequent guests on Billy Graham’s crusades also added to the popular of the Bill Gaither Trio.
In 1980, Gaither added a new dimension to his musical legacy in forming the all-male Gaither Vocal Band in 1980.
The present line-up coming to Bell Auditorium includes Gaither singing bass and also David Phelps, Wes Hampton, Adam Crabb and Todd Suttles.
Gaither’s real enormous popularity has come from his many Gaither “Homecoming” live concerts that have sold out major auditoriums and arenas worldwide and have been turned into videos that have sold millions of copies and turned into dozens of TV specials.
Gaither in 1998 told this writer that his first such video produced with gospel music legends totally happened unplanned.
“The first happened because of my inviting some of my favorite boyhood gospel heroes to join the Gaither Vocal Band in a recording of Where Could I Go But To The Lord in a little audio recording studio in Nashville.”
Among those present at that recording in 1991 included Eva Mae LeFevre, some of the Speer family, Jake Hess, Hovie Lister, J.D. Sumner and Howard and Vestal Goodman. Also there were country stars Larry and Rudy Gatlin, who had been doing inspirational recordings.
“We got around the piano to take some promotion pictures and some advertising video. Eva Mae was sitting at the piano and, to look natural in the photos [and video], Larry Gatlin asked her to play something. She started playing, and everybody starting singing.
“That went on for three hours. Nobody wanted to stop singing, even after the photo and video crew got all they wanted. The crew was going to throw all their unneeded video footage away. The more I looked at it, the more I realized how good it was.
“I took it to a friend at Anderson College, and he and I put the bits and pieces together to put the video out for sale. There were some whole songs and a lot of talking. I didn’t think it would be a big mass-selling thing, but I thought it would be as meaningful to a few other people as it was to me. Then it exploded.”
Gaither related that the producer of the 700 Club Christian TV show saw it and wanted to air it. That led to another such gathering of gospel greats filmed in the Grand Ole Opry’s historic home of Ryman Auditorium.
He and his corporation Spring House bought an hour of advertising on the then existing The Nashville Network because the network didn’t want to air it as one of their programs.
But the popularity of the promotional advertising sales pitch led to TNN running other Gaither shows as TNN specials.
So six decades after Bill Gaither formed his first music group, the world continues to enjoy the live concerts of the Gaither Vocal Band and the scores of CDs and DVDs produced by this gospel music impresario.