Chances are, if you’ve been in church, you’ve heard Bill Gaither’s music. On Wednesday, this Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee brings The Gaither Vocal Band to Saratoga Performing Arts Center to offer its message of grace, hope and redemption.
Gaither formed his first musical group in 1956 when he was in college. He married his wife, Gloria Sickal, in 1962, and the pair worked as public school teachers until they could launch a full-time music career in 1967.
The couple have composed more than 700 gospel songs, including favorites like “Because He Lives,” “The King is Coming,” “There’s Something About That Name” and “Loving God, Loving Each Other.”
Gaither is a prominent force in gospel circuits as a six-time Grammy award winner in the categories of “Best Inspirational Performance” and “Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album.” The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers named Gaither and his wife as Christian Songwriters of the Century.
Since it was formed in 1981, 16 men have been part of the Gaither Vocal Band. The current members who accompany Gaither to SPAC are Mark Lowry, Michael English, David Phelps and Wes Hampton.
“I seem to have attracted some pretty great vocalists — some of the best that we have had,” Gaither said.
The current Gaither Vocal Band is what he describes as the centerpiece of the Homecoming Series, a tour that began with a video he produced that honored some of the veteran artists in the gospel music field. The Homecoming Tour has attracted more than 1.1 million people worldwide and is ranked among the top concerts for tickets sold in any music genre during the past decade. The group’s 2011 tour included 50 stops in the United States as well as appearances in Europe, South America and South Africa.
The band’s performance in the Capital Region will not only draw locals, but those from other areas. Wade Tours has two bus tours bringing people to the concert. One bus makes three stops in the Capital Region in Schenectady, at Crossgates Mall and in Latham Another bus tour is scheduled to bring people to SPAC from Clinton in Dutchess County.
Faith Baptist Church in Clifton Park will be bringing a group of more than 50 people to the concert. Dale and Carolyn Norris of Clifton Park will be among them. The couple heard Bill and Gloria Gaither in concert at the Palace Theatre in the mid-1970s and have remained fans ever since. The couple make DVRs of Gaither’s television show and listen to the music while they’re doing things at home. “Bill Gaither wrote some of the most invigorating Christian music in the last 40 years,” Dale Norris said.
What matters most
Gaither has always contended that his performances are not just about the music. “I still love the music, but it’s always been more than that for me,” he said. In fact, he authored a book with Ken Abraham titled “It’s More than the Music: Life Lessons on Friends, Faith and What Matters Most.”
The “what matters most” or “eternal truths,” as Gaither describes them, are what he wants to communicate in his music and performances. Those include themes like “You are important,” “You matter,” “What is our responsibility to our brother?” and “How are we going to live while we’re here [on Earth]?”
The result is that his concerts end up being more than just musical performances for those in attendance. “It’s a worship experience more than entertainment,” Carolyn Norris said. Fans like Gaither’s work because many of the lyrics come right from the Scriptures.
Rita Drew of Glenville, choir director at First Baptist Church in Ballston Spa, has seen Bill and Gloria Gaither in concert a few times. “They’re marvelous musicians who love the Lord and want to serve,” Drew said. She uses their music at her church regularly. She likes it because she says it’s “musically sound and it presents the Gospel.” The Gaithers have composed several cantatas, collections of musical pieces with narration, that are popular with church choirs. The first one Drew presented at her church was “Alleluia.”
At SPAC, attendees will hear classic favorites in addition to many of the songs on Gaither’s newly-released album “Pure & Simple.”
The Gaithers’ music has wide appeal. Gaither said he had a marketing firm do a study to find out who was purchasing his videos and following the group. Baptists came in as No. 1 with Methodists second, and there was also a big Catholic audience.
Even 57 years into the gospel music field, Gaither seeks to keep his music fresh by collaborating with other artists and producing new work. After the interview with The Gazette, he was scheduled to go to his studio to work with the gospel bluegrass group The Isaacs. “I’m still excited about the sounds — new sounds — different harmonics and stuff that is saying some wonderful things,” he said.
Gaither hopes that people will come out for the concert and have a lot of fun. “It’s a time when people need songs of hope, encouragement,” he said. “We’ll celebrate and have a great time together.”