Bill and Gloria Gaither are definitely a favourite of many Christians. I got to love the music of the Gaithers as early as 1991 and since then I have been hooked to the Gaither Homecoming Series. When I got married to Enid, this was one of those habits that just grew into our new home. The Gaither Homecoming are a part of our home music and family.
Because of the love of their music which I find very inspiring. I embarked on finding out the biography of this couple and their music. I may not be able to dig and find out in detail about how each song was written, but their life has impacted many including myself. Here now is what I have found out about this favourite artist and his wife.
Bill Gaither was born in Alexandria, Indiana, around which is about 40 kilometres northeast of Indianapolis, in 1936, the son of George and Lela Gaither. He formed his first group, the Bill Gaither Trio (consisting of Bill, his sister Mary Ann and brother Danny), in 1956 while a college student at Anderson College. After graduating from Anderson in 1959, he worked as an English teacher. He married the former Gloria Sickal in 1962. After a few years of trying to manage both a music career and his full time teaching job, he quit his teaching job in 1967 and worked full time in the Christian music industry. ” He Touched Me”, which he recorded in 1964, was his breakthrough song. Gaither was influenced by southern gospel singers like Jake Hess and Hovie Lister and by groups like the Speers, the Statesmen and the Happy Goodmans most of whom have since died and he has given tribute to them on his homecoming videos.
Bill Gaither the Man
The pages of history have been written by ordinary people who had something extraordinary to say with their lives. Bill and Gloria Gaither are just such an individuals… an Indiana-born man with an insatiable love for music who grew to become an industry leader who would change the course of gospel music history through the songs he has written and through his influence as a mentor for other artists.
An avid fan of gospel quartets throughout his childhood, Bill founded his first group, The Bill Gaither Trio, in 1956, while he was a college student. He began teaching English in 1959 because his musical aspirations couldn’t support him full-time… yet.
In 1962, Bill did one of the best things he has ever done. He married Gloria Sickal, who became the best writing partner Bill could have found anywhere. The couple spent the first five years of their married life juggling full-time teaching jobs, writing, singing, recording and publishing until music became their full-time career in 1967.
The collaborations of Bill and Gloria have resulted in more than 600 popular gospel songs, including the hymnal standard “Because He Lives,” “The King Is Coming,” “Something Beautiful,” “He Touched Me,” “It Is Finished,” “There’s Something About That Name,” “Let’s Just Praise The Lord,” and “Loving God, Loving Each Other.” They recorded more than 40 albums, won eight Grammy Awards and more than a dozen nominations and received more than two dozen Dove Awards from The Gospel Music Association, earning the title of Gospel Music Association’s “Songwriter of the Year” eight times.
In 1996 Bill and Gloria Gaither were the first musical artists to be inducted into the Christian Booksellers Association’s Hall of Honor. Only three people have been previously honored with this distinction: Reverend Billy Graham, Dr. Kenneth Taylor (author of The Living Bible) and Dr. Richard Halverson (former U. S. Senate Chaplain). Their album, Alleluia: A Praise Gathering for Believers was the first inspirational album ever to achieve gold status by the Recording Industry Association of America (R.I.A.A.).
The Indianapolis Star named “He Touched Me” among the Top 10 Songs of the Century written by a Hoosier. Clearly, many others agree because in end-of-the-millennium honors, Bill and Gloria received the surprise of their lives when the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) named them Songwriters of the Century, based on the impact their work has made on American culture in the 20th century. His Spring House Music label was named the top video company of 2000 by Billboard Magazine, placing 20 titles on the chart that year, with Gaither-produced projects spending more than a dozen weeks at the top of the music video chart Bill and Gloria are members of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, as well as the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and they were most recently honored with the Living Legend Award in 2006 by the Indiana Historical Society.
In the early ’80s Bill and a few of his friends were harmonizing around the piano and were pleased enough with their sound to try it out on an audience at the next Bill Gaither Trio concert. After the hearing enthusiastic response from the audience at that concert, the Gaither Vocal Band was born. The group’s tight four-part harmonies, commanding presence and, of course, great songs has forever raised the bar for gospel groups who would follow them. The Vocal Band has touched audiences all over the world for more than twenty-five years and has never been better. In 2006, as a result of the Gaither Vocal Band’s harmonic sound and musical excellence, Bill was presented an honorary membership to the Barbershop Harmony Society. There have been numerous opportunities for the GVB to sing at Billy Graham Crusades and group members past and present often name those crusades among the highlights of the lives.
Throughout his years in the music industry, Bill has had many opportunities to meet artists with a quality he believed audiences needed to hear, so he has eagerly shared his stage with countless fledgling artists who, as a result, became defining influences in their field, including Don Francisco, Mark Lowry, Sandi Patty, Steve Green, Michael English, Cynthia Clawson and a host of others.
In 1991, Bill was in his mid-fifties and was grateful to have had the opportunity to do what he loved, full-time, for so many years. He gathered the Vocal Band together with a few of his gospel music heroes to record a song entitled, “Where Would I Go?” for what he thought would be the Gaither Vocal Band’s final album. Something very special happened that day… and someone captured it all on a home video camera. That rough recording marked the birth of the Homecoming video series, which has now sold 18 million copies and has grown to more than 100 titles strong. By Spring of 2006, ninety-nine of the Gaither Homecoming videos had achieved precious metal status, with four certified multi-platinum, 45 certified platinum, and 50 certified gold.
From a little log cabin studio to world-renowned venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, The Sydney Opera House, and a host of others around the globe, the Homecoming series has taken on a life of its own. The award-winning series now airs weekly on television networks all over North America and Europe, and the Homecoming concert tour celebrates more than 10 years of live events that bring gospel music to major arenas across North America. Now more than 70 years of age, Bill is still going strong touring with the Gaither Vocal Band and the Homecoming artists, releasing new Homecoming video titles each year, and he still has much to say to the loyal multi-generational following of listeners that have latched onto the down-to-earth yet truth-filled songs that have become his trademark.
Bill’s first-ever solo recording was released in 2005 when he finally felt there were some things he wanted to say himself, from the perspective of someone who has lived a little and has learned a lot. Another avenue through which Bill shares his unique perspective on life and music is through his autobiographical book published by Warner Faith called, It’s More Than The Music.
After decades of unprecedented musical successes, Bill and Gloria still operate their business from Bill’s home town of Alexandria, Indiana, and they dwell in the same home in which they raised their family. They live a lifestyle focused on investing all of their resources into eternal things.
“Our calling is not just making music… but communicating the reality of Christ. That might mean birthing a song about Him or simply offering a cup of cold water to someone who needs it. Gloria and I have never claimed to have God figured out, but we do know that if He could use two imperfect people like us to communicate His Truth to the world, He can use everyone sitting in the audience, working on our staff or singing with us. If we have done anything right over the years, I hope we have built bridges where people could connect with God and with each other. That is what started us writing and what will keep us writing for the rest of our lives.”
Day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment living is the theme that frames the canvas of Gloria Gaither’s life. It is a life lived out of a sincere belief that being available to the wonder of each day’s unexpected twists and turns is a gift from God to be responded to with tenacity, joy, and excellence. This value has allowed Gloria to explore a wide spectrum of creative, artistic and academic worlds. Despite a staggering list of awards from her peers in all of these venues, she continues to invite new challenges with open arms, and an insatiable desire to grow and to have influence for God’s kingdom. Gloria’s commitment to her family is a brush stroke that colors every aspect of her choices and gives definition to every endeavor she has pursued.
Married for more than forty years to her soul-mate and writing partner Bill Gaither, Bill and Gloria’s life together has been an adventure. They have shared a mutual commitment to a “larger purpose” and to that which is lasting. As a result of this philosophy, their union has produced over 700 songs, hundreds of recordings, numerous awards, a dozen musicals, a collection of books; and best of all, three children and five grandchildren. In affirmation of Bill and Gloria’s vast contribution to the gospel music industry they have been recipients of many Grammies and Dove Awards, the ASCAP Songwriters of the Century Award and have been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Gloria’s writing spans a wide range of subjects and genres; from children and family themes to devotional encouragement for women; from social commentary to scripts for video format; from song lyrics to magazine interviews. A lover of words, all of her written offerings grow out of an irrepressible habit of journaling. Gloria has always been a student of literature, with special interest in the works of John Steinbeck, and has contributed papers and reviews on his writing in a variety of academic settings. She has written over 40 books including titles for adults and children and created scripts for over 100 videos. All of these pursuits have won her the respect of the academic community with Honorary Doctorates from six universities. Out of a sincere heart to help young adults pursue excellence in their respective fields through Christian education, she has been a dynamic voice serving on the Board of Directors for both the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the United Christian College Fund. Gloria maintains an extensive speaking schedule. As an advocate of family preservation, living in the moment and unadulterated discipleship, Gloria has touched the hearts of audiences everywhere with her simple, yet profound message.
Gloria’s love for creating moments has been the seed for the creation of Gaither Family Resources, an innovative gathering place and Latte CafÃ© that showcases the Homecoming Friend’s videos and recordings and includes a wide variety of hand-picked life-issues resources, art, books and gifts for people from every generation. Now in its ninth year, GFR continues to offer stimulating events and experiences to its visitors.
Whether she is writing, speaking, or giving birth to a new idea, those who really know Gloria know that no achievement or work schedule is worth the sacrifice of a relationship. For Gloria nothing is more important than building a history around the things that are priceless, or, as she expresses in Things that Last Forever;
I will give myself away for the things that will never die…the simple joys of living–my family and my friends, relationships that go on after space and time shall end.