The Gaither Vocal Band is coming back to Dothan Jan. 20. When it does, it will bring a group that has remained popular in Christian and gospel music for decades due to two reasons, neither of which can be understated.
"We believe what we're singing," group founder Bill Gaither said recently in an interview with the Dothan Eagle. "I'm not so sure everybody does."
Second, although the group has had dozens of iterations (as a trio and a vocal band) over its 37 years, there has been one constant — Bill Gaither.
Considered one of the greatest Christian songwriters of the modern era, Gaither has been the driving force behind a band that has seen numerous Christian artists come to spend a few years, then move on to wildly successful solo careers.
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Michael English, Steve Green, Mark Lowry, David Phelps, and Guy Penrod are just a few band members over time who have enjoyed successful solo careers. Gaither's ability to plug in new talent and create a harmony people love to hear is unprecedented considering how many different combinations the band has included.
Gaither said the group's harmony is enjoyable to hear, but the message of the songs is what connects the group to its fans.
"We've never tried to sugarcoat things," Gaither said. "One of the reasons we have been able to stay around is that we've been honest with people. Bad times are going to be with them. We believe there has been a fall of the human race and we are all trying to find our way back and there is a Savior that made it possible.
"So we believe what we're singing. We're honest with people, and I believe in the art form," he added.
When the Gaither Vocal Band comes to Dothan, the group will include Gaither on bass, longtime tenor Wes Hampton, along with newcomer Reggie Smith on tenor as well, Adam Crabb of the popular Crabb family on lead, and Todd Suttles on baritone, now going into his fourth year with the band. Matthew Holt, going into his third year, is on piano.
"You never quite know what a new group is going to sound like, but those voices are so good together," Gaither said. "No group is the same as the other. So you just go with it and you say 'My lands, it's different and I love it.'"
Gaither, an Indiana native, said he loves the crowds in the South.
"It has a lot to do with what we might sing. If we're in Dothan, we are going to be expecting a lot of Baptists and Pentecostals, and they really respond," Gaither said. "If we're in Minneapolis, we might expect a lot of Lutherans and Catholics. It's not as loud but they love us just as much."
Fans who attend the Jan. 20 concert will hear a lot of the old classics, plus some new songs from the band's most recent release, "We Have This Moment."
Despite the band's longevity, first-timers continue to discover the Gaither Vocal Band. Gaither said many newcomers tell him they didn't get what they were expecting.
"A lot of people tell me they thought there would be a lot of preaching and condemning," Gaither said. "I don't think a lot of people want to spend two hours being condemned. A lot of what we do comes out of John 17, where Jesus himself is praying and he is praying to the Father that his people become one."
It is no surprise that a band like the Gaither Vocal Band uses a prayer for harmony as a standard for its music and ministry.