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Fondly Recalling the Lives of Beloved Gaither Vocal Band Members
Jonathan Pierce, a cherished member of both The Imperials and the Gaither Vocal Band, passed away at the age of 49, leaving behind a lasting impact on the Southern Gospel community. His contributions to Contemporary Christian Music and his memorable voice on GVB’s “I Believe In A Hill Called Mt. Calvary” are still celebrated today. Pierce also briefly graced television screens as the lead of the Country Music Television program Ultimate Country Home.
In addition to Jonathan Pierce, the Gaither Vocal Band has bid farewell to several other talented individuals. This article aims to celebrate the lives and music of these extraordinary members. Though it isn’t possible to individually list every member, we will delve into the careers of four notable men who have left a lasting impression on the band.
Remembering the Unforgettable Vestal Goodman
The loss of the renowned ‘Queen of Gospel Music,’ Vestal Goodman, is deeply felt. Goodman peacefully passed away at the age of 78, after falling ill with influenza prior to the Christmas holidays. Beginning her gospel music journey in the 1940s with her family, Goodman became an iconic figure at “Gaither Homecoming” concerts. She was instantly recognizable by her striking beehive hairstyle, elegant full-length gowns, and white handkerchief.
Born in 1921 in Sand Mountain, Alabama, Goodman initially aspired to be an opera singer but found her calling in gospel music. She met Howard “Happy” Goodman in the late 1940s, and together they formed a family quartet. The group performed in tent meetings and on the radio, eventually getting married in Tupelo, Mississippi. Since her passing, mourners have found solace in singing along with recordings by the Goodman family.
Another unforgettable member of the Gaither Vocal Band, Jake Hess, also joined the ranks of the departed. Known as the “Queen of Southern Gospel Music,” Vestal Goodman was celebrated for her unique handkerchief style. Alongside her husband, Howard Goodman, she was inducted into the GMA Hall of Fame in 1998. Goodman went on to collaborate with other esteemed gospel artists, captivating audiences with their heartfelt performances.
Gary McSpadden: A True Vocal Legend
The Gaither Vocal Band has also bid farewell to another remarkable member, Gary McSpadden. McSpadden, known for his exceptional vocals, was a former member of the Oak Ridge Boys and performed with various groups, including the Statesmen, Oak Ridge Boys, and Imperials. This multitalented artist was not only a vocalist but also a successful soloist, songwriter, and television host. Apart from his contributions to the band, McSpadden served as a pastor at the Faith and Wisdom Church in Branson, Missouri. In loving memory of her late husband, Carol McSpadden has shared a heartfelt tribute, while his sister Cheryl Kartsonakis has offered words of remembrance.
Originally a pastor, McSpadden began his musical collaboration with the Gaithers in 1977, joining the Gaither Trio alongside Bill and Gloria Gaither. In 1981, the group evolved into the Gaither Vocal Band, welcoming Lee Young and Steve Green. Despite his pastoral responsibilities, McSpadden dedicated himself to his music career and eventually stepped down from his position as the church’s co-pastor.
After parting ways with the band in 1967, McSpadden became a pastor at a prominent nondenominational church in Fort Worth, Texas. For 13 years, he worked alongside his father, spreading faith, wisdom, and the teachings of the Bible. Following his departure from the Gaither Vocal Band, McSpadden continued to shine as a solo artist, garnering induction into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame on three occasions. He also graced television screens with his talents, appearing on shows like “Jubilee” and the PTL Club in Branson. Prior to joining the Gaither Vocal Band, McSpadden had been a member of the Jake Hess Imperials, recording three albums with the group. He later joined the Oak Ridge Boys before reuniting with The Imperials, during which time he also served as Jake Hess’ backup singer.
Jonathan Pierce: A Remarkable Journey
Jonathan Pierce, known for his association with the Gaither Vocal Band and The Imperials, had a truly unforgettable encounter with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. As a seven-year-old, Pierce’s mother encouraged him to learn songs, leading to his performance of “Cup of the Cold Water” at church. His talent subsequently landed him opportunities to tour with bands, and he even had the honor of performing in front of the Iron Lady herself.
A Christian musician based in Nashville, Jonathan Pierce grew up in Odessa, Texas. He gained recognition in the music industry while singing with the Christ Church Choir in Nashville, catching the attention of Naomi Judd. Pierce later formed the CCM group The Imperials and briefly joined the Gaither Vocal Band before embarking on a successful solo career under Curb Records.
The Gaither Vocal Band has bid farewell to several members over the years. Jonathan Pierce, formerly of the Gaither Vocal Band, passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2010. Mark Lowry, the original tenor of the Bill Gaither Trio, also departed the group. David Phelps recently left the band to pursue a solo career, and his album “Homecoming” achieved great success, earning a Grammy Award for Best Southern Gospel Recording.
Stephen Hill: An Unexpected Loss
In a tragic turn of events, Nashville native Stephen Hill passed away unexpectedly during his final concert. Hill, a former member of the Gaither Vocal Band, was not only a solo artist but also had the privilege of performing alongside country and gospel icons like Marie Osmond, Jake Hess, and Dolly Parton. Originally from Greenville, North Carolina, Hill relocated to Tennessee in the 1980s, captivating audiences with his performances in numerous churches and revivals. He is survived by his widow, Kathy, and their children.
Jonathan Pierce was also a member of the Gaither Vocal Band who has since passed away. With his background in the Southern Gospel group The Imperials and his contributions to the Gaither Vocal Band, he also pursued a solo career, briefly venturing into contemporary Christian music. Additionally, Pierce starred in the country television series Ultimate Country Home. His passing occurred shortly after successful heart surgery.
Sadly, the Gaither Vocal Band has endured the loss of many members throughout the years. Born on October 2, 1956, in Kirksville, Missouri, Stephen Hill completed his earthly journey at the age of 55 on August 5. His unexpected departure has left a void in the Gaither Vocal Band family, and the music community mourns the loss of such a talented individual. However, Stephen’s legacy lives on through the singers he shared the stage with.
Danny Gaither and Bill Gaither were the other members of the group. They performed at an evangelistic service in Alexandria, Virginia, and traveled extensively throughout the surrounding area. Danny was a college student at the time, and Mary Ann was in the sixth grade. The music they created was deeply influenced by the Southern gospel tunes they grew up listening to. Danny and Mary Ann had three children together. Tragically, Stephen Hill later succumbed to breast cancer.
In loving memory of the Gaither Vocal Band members who have passed away, their contributions to gospel music will always be treasured. Their remarkable voices and talents continue to inspire and uplift audiences, ensuring that their legacy lives on. For more information about the Gaither Vocal Band and their journey, visit 5 WS for an in-depth exploration of their remarkable story.