Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Cathedral Quartet

I grew up in a small Chicago Lutheran Church, moving to 2 other Lutheran churches as an adult. Then 30 years later, I attended a Presbyterian church for a decade. I sang in church choirs all those years and loved the hymns and anthems, but knew nothing of gospel music. Then a decade or more ago, while in choir at my Evangelical Free church, Doug, my buddy in the bass section, discovered I liked male quartets like the Oak Ridge Boys and the Stattler Brothers, and inquired if I liked the Cathedrals. I responded that I was unfamiliar with them, and the next week he had a CD for me to borrow. I listened to it on the drive home and instantly became a fan.

Over the years, I've acquired several dozen of their albums as well as several of their DVDs. Unfortunately, they retired just as I was learning about them, so I was never able to see them in a live performance, but they remain my favorite group and their bass, George Younce, remains one of my favorite bass singers.

The group began in 1963 as the Cathedral Trio comprising Bobby Clark, Glen Payne, and Danny Koker and conceived by evangelist Rex Humbard, pastor of the Cathedral for Tomorrow in Akron, Ohio. In 1964, they added bass George Younce and became a quartet. After seven years at the Humbart's Cathedral, they left to become their own business entity and travel on their own.

In 1999 they retired after 35 years due to George's health issues. Over those decades, the group membership changed often, with over 20 different members assuming the roles of tenor and baritone, but George and Glen were the mainstays holding the group together and maintaining the level of excellence which was the basis for their immense popularity and their copious awards. George successfully served as emcee and comedian of the group, with easy-going Glen the usual object of his barbs.

In the photo below are (l to r) tenor Ernie Haase, baritone Scott Fowler, lead Glen Payne, bass George Younce, and pianist Roger Bennett.

These five were the group during the last decade of its existence. Ernie met and married George's daughter, Lisa, after joining the group, and now sings with Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, and Scott co-founded Legacy Five with Roger. Unfortunately, Glen, George, and Roger are deceased.

Something I really loved about the group was how they shared the role of being "out front" and singing lead. All had ample opportunities for solo verses and solo lines, in true Christian spirit of sharing.

Their discography lists over 100 albums, including compilations and reissues, and they made about 20 videos/DVDs, attesting to their long-term popularity and appeal.

George and Glen co-authored an autobiography in 2000, The Cathedrals, first with chapters as each grew up and began their careers, then merging as they met and began the quartet.

Talking about the group is a poor substitute for listening to them, so here are some videos of their work (unfortunately the video and audio are a bit off sync), beginning with We Shall See Jesus. These are from the earlier days of the group...

Here they sing the clever Can He, Could He, Would He...

In the early part of the 1900s, many Southerners learned music using "shape notes."In this clip the Cathedrals demonstrate by singing the name of the note (i.e. do, re, me) instead of the lyrics, making for an unusual performance...

And here is the group in their Farewell Concert before retiring, singing a song written especially for them by Bill and Gloria Gaither, based on a testimony the Gaithers heard George Younce give -- the inspiring and beautiful "I'm Just A Sinner Saved By Grace"...

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