A thoughtful examination of the clashes among nostalgia, evangelism, and marketing
In The Gaithers and Southern
Gospel, Ryan P. Harper examines
songwriters Bill and Gloria Gaither's
Homecoming video and concert
series—a gospel music franchise
that, since its beginning in 1991,
has outperformed all Christian and
much secular popular music on the
American music market.
The Homecomings represent
"southern gospel." Typically that means a musical style popular
among white evangelical Christians in the American South and
Midwest, and it sometimes overlaps in style, theme, and audience
with country music. The Homecomings' nostalgic orientation—
their celebration of "traditional" kinds of American Christian
life—harmonize well with southern gospel music, past and present.
But amidst the backward gazes, the Homecomings also portend
and manifest change. The Gaithers' deliberate racial integration of
their stages, their careful articulation of a relatively inclusive evangelical
theology, and their experiments with an array of musical
forms demonstrate that the Homecoming is neither simplistically
nostalgic, nor solely "southern."
Harper reveals how the Gaithers negotiate a tension between
traditional and changing community norms as they seek simultaneously
to maintain and expand their audience as well as to
initiate and respond to shifts within their fan base. Pulling from his
field work at Homecoming concerts, behind the scenes with the
Gaithers, and with numerous Homecoming fans, Harper reveals
the Homecoming world to be a dynamic, complicated constellation
in the formation of American religious identity.
Ryan P. Harper, New York, New York, is visiting assistant
professor in New York University's Religious Studies Program.
272 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, bibliography, index