Gaither Celebrates 20 Years of 'Homecoming'

By Deborah_EvansPrice
Posted: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 11:09

album promo image for Gaither Celebrates 20 Years of 'Homecoming'

By Deborah Evans Price, senior editor,


Back in 1991 when Bill Gaither gathered a few friends around the piano to sing some of their favorite gospel classics and enjoy a little fellowship, he had no idea the low-key event would give rise to one of the most successful brands in any genre of music. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Gaither’s popular “Homecoming” series and fans can expect two new titles to add to their collections this month, with the release of Alaskan Homecoming and Majesty, both recorded during a cruise to Alaska.
“We filmed it on the back of the ship,” Gaither tells “You have never seen such a backdrop in your life. It's beautiful mountain scenes and streams. It comes out the last week of January and it’s pretty fantastic!”
Looking out the window at the snowy landscape outside his Anderson, Indiana home, the southern gospel patriarch muses on the passing of time and how pleasantly surprised he’s been at the popularity of the video series.

“All we were going to do was the one video,” he says. “We didn’t know it was going to turn into any kind of series or television series, but it has and for that we are very grateful.”
Gaither’s love of southern gospel began at an early age. “I was so impacted as a kid. It all happened in ’47 or ’48 when I turned on the radio and heard ‘Give the World a Smile’ and ‘Turn Your Radio On” and realized there was a world I didn’t know existed,” he recalls. “Little by little I started uncovering that world. I’ve saved many of my souvenirs and memories. I still have the first 8x10 glossy black and white signed by the first quartet I heard on the radio.”
Gaither immersed himself in the music and that love has continued to grow. “I don’t think [there’s] anybody who appreciates it historically more than I do,” he says. “I got into it quickly and started ordering the song books and tried to learn how to read it. I found out there was about another 40 years of history before I was involved so I started researching. It started with V.O. Stamps and before him it was James D. Vaughan back in the early 1900s doing publishing. In all fairness, I don’t think any other genre of Christian music can claim that much history because I don’t think it goes back that far.”
Started in 1911, the Vaughan School of Music was instrumental in the growth and development of southern gospel music, a genre that celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. With the launch of the Homecoming series in 1991, Gaither has done his part to expose and grow the genre, yet he’s modest about his impact on the music he loves.

“1991 is when I did the first video and we found there was a whole new audience,” he says. “Probably about 15 to 20 percent were people who knew something about the music, but there are now 21 million videos out there. A whole bunch of people, including folks in England and Europe didn’t know this existed. What they couldn’t hear with their ears, they could see through their eyes and liked what they were seeing, so in our situation, TV has been the best way to communicate to a larger audience. If it is presented in an attractive way, we find out the audience really likes what we do.”
In addition to exposing southern gospel via television, Gaither’s Homecoming tours also take the music to audiences around the world. Gaither and crew have a busy schedule in 2011.

“We are going to do a California run the end of January and then in February we go to South Africa. In March we go to Great Britain and Europe and all over and then we come back and go down to Brazil. Physically it’s not as easy as it was when I was a little younger, but I enjoy it.”
To Gaither, the audience makes up for the challenge of international travel.

“Americans are spoiled because they get to hear this all the time, so we have to work harder here at home,” he says, “but when we go over there, they are just thrilled to death that you came and it’s pretty exciting. The last two years in Romania, about 8,000 people were there and half of them were 30 and younger. They were just kids. They were swarming the stage and we don’t get that over here. They were quite excited.”
Among the other projects coming in 2011, Gaither says he and the Gaither Vocal Band are working on a children’s album, which will likely be a summer release. He’s also continually writing new songs.
“Sonya Isaacs and her husband Jimmy were up here yesterday and we wrote a wonderful new song,” says the man who penned such classics as “Because He Lives” and “He Touched Me.” “When you get a bunch of new songs written, then you want to make a record, but we just let that kind of stuff build up rather than put deadlines on paper.”
As for what he’ll do to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the “Homecoming” series, Gaither says there aren’t any concrete plans. Though he’s been credited with almost single-handedly revitalizing an entire genre, Gaither modestly deflects any credit. “I started out as a teacher and I’m still a teacher. In all fairness I think we have brought some younger people along now who have helped,” he says. “I just point people in the right direction.”


About the Writer

Deborah Evans Price has covered Christian/Gospel music for Billboard magazine since 1994. She also contributes regularly to CountryWeekly, CMA Close Up, Devo’Zine, Christian Single, HomeLife, BMI Music World, and other publications.

A Nashville resident since 1983, Deborah has held editorial posts at Radio & Records, Country News, American Songwriter and Billboard. Amy Grant, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, 3 Doors Down, Third Day, Don Henley, Bon Jovi, Chris Rice, Sandra Bullock, Mercy Me, Alan Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Steven Curtis Chapman are among her many interviews. Additionally, she's a sought-after music industry analyst who has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, TNN, The Today Show, and ABC PrimeTime Live, among other outlets.

Deborah is a member of the Gospel Music Association's board of directors and a graduate of Leadership Music. She resides south of Nashville with her husband, Gary, and son Trey.

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