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The Gaithers and Southern Gospel - Homecoming in the Twenty-First Century

The Gaithers and Southern Gospel

Homecoming in the Twenty-First Century

By Ryan P. Harper
Series: American Made Music Series

Paperback : 9781496823403, 328 pages, March 2019
Hardcover : 9781496810908, 328 pages, April 2017

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.


"The Gaithers and Southern Gospel is a fascinating and absorbing study that will appeal not only to Gaither Homecoming fans, but also to those who want to learn more about Bill, Gloria, and their Indiana-based Gaither media empire. And, as it is an excellent reflection on the sociological changes taking place in twenty-first-century America, students of social science will find its reflections revealing."

- ARSC Journal

"Fandom, southern masculinity, nostalgia, and a text known as Gloria 3:16 (I won't explain; you'll have to open the book to discover what that means): these are just a few of the many perches on which Ryan Harper lands, and which he illumines, in The Gaithers and Southern Gospel. Harper is a wonderful writer and a winsome narrator."

- Lauren F. Winner, Duke Divinity School

"In this well-written, well-researched study, Ryan Harper explores the work of singer-songwriters Bill and Gloria Gaither in developing a powerful musical and Protestant subculture in American popular entertainment. Harper's insightful analysis tells the 'Gaither story' within the context of evangelical piety, gospel hymnody, old-time religion, and entrepreneurial media know-how."

- Bill J. Leonard, Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Church History, Wake Forest University

"From small concerts to large praise gatherings, from the first Christian 'Gold' album in Alleluia! A Praise Gathering for Believers, to leadership roles in the Gospel Music Association and the Christian community, to their Homecoming concerts, Bill and Gloria Gaither have written songs that are Christian classics, and their partnership in the Homecomings is the story of a true marriage team. This book is the story of the Gaithers' 'Homecomings,' from backstage to out front, a remarkable story about a remarkable duo."

- Don Cusic, Curb Professor of Music Industry History at Belmont University and author of Saved by Song: A History of Gospel and Christian Music