Gaithers Bring History Full Circle

By   •   May 3, 2011

On May 3, Bill and Gloria Gaither, along with the “Homecoming” family, took a musical journey back in time and relived the spirit of early tent revivals, where countless souls were impacted for eternity, and where Billy Graham’s public ministry took root in 1949.

This outdoor “Homecoming” Tent Revival took place in a huge open-air tent on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library.

More than 100 artists were on the roster for this live taping. Along with the Gaither Vocal Band, other well-known artists included: The Crabb Family, Michael English, David Phelps, Guy Penrod, Mark Lowry, the Gatlin Brothers, Buddy Greene, Larnelle Harris, and our very own George Beverly Shea.

About the Gaithers

The Gaithers, who will celebrate 50 years of marriage next year, have been in the gospel music industry for more than 40 of those years. The couple spent the first several years of their married life juggling teaching jobs, writing, singing, recording and publishing. By 1967, they were making music full time.

By 1991, Bill had formed a group called the Gaither Vocal Band and had been performing with them for several years. He pulled together some of his gospel music heros to record a song for what he thought would be their final album. What took place that day was very special, and it was captured on video.

Thus, the “Homecoming” series was born.

Over the decades, the Gaithers have won top honors in gospel music, including more than two dozen Dove awards, several Grammy awards, and receiving the Gospel Music Association’s “Songwriter of the Year” distinction multiple times.

Many of the songs we sing in our churches today have been written by Bill and Gloria Gaither, including: Because He lives, There’s Just Something About That Name and He Touched Me. In fact, together, the Gaithers have penned hundreds of gospel songs still used in worship settings today.

A History With BGEA

The Gaithers have a relationship with BGEA that extends decades, having sung at about a dozen Billy Graham Crusades, including his last one in New York City (2005). Even before they were touring and singing as a group, Bill Gaither recalls his very first experience with Billy Graham.

“I can remember the first Crusade I saw, back in the 50s, Bev (George Beverly Shea) was singing How Great Thou Art, and the choir was singing along.”

In 2001, the Gaithers released a “Billy Graham Homecoming” DVD, which included the music sung at Crusades and stories of God’s goodness. In this video, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows, and Franklin Graham share moments in the history of the ministry. Michael W. Smith and CeCe Winans are among the artists who joined them for that taping.

Not only have the Gaithers served alongside Billy Graham, they have a great respect for him and his ministry.

“We’re here to celebrate what the Billy Graham ministry has brought to all of our lives,” explained Gloria. “Not just going to the Crusades, but the way his ministry has changed the tone of people’s desire to serve God.”

While Billy Graham’s ministry originated in the tent revival setting, it is special to many of the homecoming singers, as many of them grew up going to these meetings.

“It’s a perfect place for us. A lot of our folks grew up singing in tent meetings, and going through the Library, you’ll see that one of the exhibitions is that of the old tent in Los Angeles,” said Bill. “And, so to have an entire evening, singing songs about Jesus, singing songs about the cross, singing songs about invitation, I think is a great thing.”

Back to Our Roots

Gloria was also excited to come to a place that reminds her that God puts us in our generations for the specific purpose of reaching those among us. She believes that Billy Graham was strategically placed by God in his particular generation to proclaim the name of Jesus, and that he is a key person in our history as a church.

“We wanted to be here, in this historical setting. The Billy Graham Library piece of the puzzle is the sense of preserving the heritage that we have,” she explained. “The Billy Graham Library is, of course, an experience–an experience of the eras and the places and times and themes that Billy Graham preached and taught.”

She also wants to celebrate their beginnings, as many of the singers actually received Christ as young people at tent meetings.

“This is a perfect setting to do on the hill, and in the context of a young man named Billy Graham. He didn’t all of a sudden become the ‘Pastor to the Presidents,’ as he is often referred. Like us, he had roots, a history, and a beginning. I want to celebrate that.”

Note: As of May 4, the Billy Graham Library is now reopened to the public.

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