“Passin’ the faith along" : a sonic history of the Gaither Vocal Band.

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This dissertation presents a “thick history” of the career of Bill Gaither, to use Jennifer Lena’s term. While examining the Bill Gaither Trio and the Gaither Vocal Band, the principal performing groups founded by Bill Gaither, this dissertation seeks to not only highlight Gaither’s own work, but to connect it to the social systems that helped to produce this work. While Bill and Gloria Gaither, his wife and songwriting partner, have been prolific as songwriters, recording artists, entertainers, and producers, their careers have been underexamined, which is unsurprising given the dearth of scholarship regarding southern gospel. Because of their impact in the broader development of Christian music, their association solely with southern gospel by gospel music historians is misplaced. The primary tasks of this dissertation are to present an historically accurate narrative of the history of the Gaither Vocal Band from 1980 to the year 2020 and to seek to examine how the Vocal Band has negotiated the sonic boundaries between Contemporary Christian Music and southern gospel. This dissertation demonstrates that the sonic lineage of the Vocal Band is not as straight-forwardly tied to southern gospel as the narrative presented by the Gaithers in their numerous videos, books, and recordings would lead the casual observer to believe. In order to provide a thick history of the activities and sonic characteristics of the Vocal band, the same had to be done with The Bill Gaither Trio, the ensemble which prepared the way for the formation of the Vocal Band and ultimately laid the foundation for any success Bill Gaither would find with the Vocal Band or the Homecoming franchise. This dissertation functions as the first scholastic account of either of these prolific ensembles and contributes to the study of gospel music by providing foundational work for further study.

Bill Gaither. Gloria Gaither. Gaither Vocal Band. The Bill Gaither Trio. Southern gospel.