Christmas Is “Coming Home” for Gaither & Crew

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

Gaither Vocal Band fall2019Gaither Vocal Band (from l.) Wes Hampton, Reggie Smith, Bill Gaither, Todd Suttles, Adam Crabb Singer Reggie Smith is having the time of his life as part of the Gaither Vocal Band.

"Talk about a band of brothers...it's like we're in ninth grade again," beamed Smith, 53, from his Nashville area home.

Smith has been part of the legendary Southern Gospel quintet for nearly three years and worked with them for many years previously. But he still takes inspiration from the group's founder and senior member, Bill Gaither.

"His motor is second to none, and he's been a mentor to all of us with his attitude, creativity and brilliance," he noted of Gaither, 83.

Gaither leads his vocal band and a stable of other music artists in a "Christmas Homecoming" tour which stops at Grand Rapids First on Dec. 5.

A COMBINATION

At press time the tour had not yet begun rehearsals. But Smith says has a good notion of what will happen. "It'll be a great mixture with the second half probably all Christmas music," he noted. Artists such as The Martins, Lynda Randle and others all have Christmas recordings in their catalogs.

"It excites us Southerners to see a little snow... but not too much," smiled the Mississippi native.

One song he promises they'll perform is the tender ballad co-written by former Vocal Band member Mark Lowry, "Mary, Did You Know?" "We have a little different twist on it, with all the harmonies and all of us take the lead (vocal) at different times," Smith said. "And we'll do a lot of those old Homecoming singalong songs."

Nevertheless, on stage the singers aren't always sure where their leader will go. "Bill is predictably unpredictable and we love it because he likes it fresh and sometimes we don't know what's coming. All of a sudden he turns a corner."

     
 

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Vocal versatility is a trademark of the long-running Gaither Vocal Band, launched in 1981 and now in the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. Some noted alumni include Michael English, Russ Taff and Guy Penrod.

The current line-up includes another well-honed collection of singers.

"Really, we have three tenors," he noted of fellow tenors Wes Hampton and Adam Crabb. "Literally it's so crazy that in any song I might go from tenor to lead (vocals) to baritone and back to tenor."

Each of the five singers takes turns with the lead. But harmonies are always under the spotlight. "Bill taught us the power of harmony – a lead singer is a piece of string by himself but you put all the strings together and it's really powerful."

WORKING HIS WAY

Smith and his wife Lady Love (also on the Homecoming bill) have been part of the Gaither entourage for more than 20 years. Reggie, a former music teacher, left the classroom to join gospel singer Larnelle Harris (also a former Vocal Band member) on the road. After the couple moved to Nashville they began studio session work, eventually for Gaither. He asked them to join his crew of homecoming artists in recordings and in concerts. Over time as needed, Smith would fill in for other Vocal Band members. In 2017 when singer David Phelps left the band, Gaither asked Reggie to officially join. It was a smooth transition.

Smith has several personal favorites within their song list. The new "This Is The Place" could be a another Gaither classic. "It refers to the church and many of us grew up there," he said. "And for those who did not... it's still a place for everyone to come."

"Goin' Up Yonder" featuring singer Todd Suttles is another of Smith's favorites.

He has recorded two studio albums with the group and was part of a 2018 grand reunion of former Vocal Band members which yielded both DVD and CD projects.
"I was just in awe of that incredible group of singer and learning the stories and connections in those incredible times."

Smith sings lead on several of the group's newer songs – one of them "Hymn of Praise," an old English melody set with new lyrics.

But one of his favorites is a simple one sung by Gaither himself to guitar accompaniment. "Tho' Autumn's Coming On" is a reflective ballad observing life events that shape our experiences through the years.

"It's really is a big honor for me to be a part of this," Smith concludes. "The songs of Bill and Gloria (Gaither's co-writer and wife) are timely. They're not old or new, they're now and right in what they're saying."

Details:
"Gaither Christmas Homecoming," featuring Bill Gaither and the Gaither Vocal Band with special guests The Martins, Lynda Randle, The Nelons, Lady Love Smith, Charlotte Ritchie, Gene McDonald and Kevin Williams.
7pm Thurs. Dec. 5 at First Church, 2100 44th St. SW, Wyoming (doors open at 6pm)
Tickets begin at $28.50, ($24.50 for seniors 60+ and children 2-12), with group rates for 10 or more. Higher ticket levels also available. Online or call 855-484-1991.
     
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Author Information
Terry DeBoer
About:
Terry is journalist who writes for newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites. His most frequented “beat” is arts and entertainment. He is married with two children and lives in Grand Rapids.

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