On Perfect Blends

Hearing the Colonial City Quartet’s smooth blend last Saturday got me to thinking. Every now and then, a quartet will assemble four voices that harmonize perfectly as one. Quartets with what I describe as “perfect blends” have singers who individually have strong voices, but can blend those voices to produce a distinctive group sound much greater than the sum of the components.

Of course, it isn’t just a certain combination of singers. Even once a group has the right combination of singers, it often takes several years before they sing as one.

Not every quartet ever achieves this perfect blend. (Not every quartet tries; the Kingsmen and Gold City, for example, make a point of spreading the harmony parts octaves apart for the big endings. And mistake me not; I love that form of Southern Gospel as much as any other fan.) But when it happens, it is something worth remembering and preserving.

If I had to make a list of ten of the ten best blends I’ve ever heard, the following groups would almost definitely make that list:

1. 1959 Weatherfords (Lily Weatherford / Glen Payne / Earl Weatherford / Armond Morales). I am not the only one to rank this group as quite possibly the smoothest of all time. I have one album recorded by this group (The Finest in Gospel Singing), and I have to agree with others who place this group at the head of their list.

2. 1964 Cathedral Quartet (Bobby Clark / Glen Payne / Danny Koker / George Younce). This is the first of three Cathedrals lineups to make my top ten. I have several records by this lineup, and I must agree with others that this is probably the smoothest blend they ever had.

3. 2000 Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet (Robbie Hiner / Wyatt Wilson / Jeff Stanley / Christian Davis). I imagine I will raise a few eyebrows by putting this quartet so high on my list, but in my opinion the original Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet deserves it. Unfortunately, they only recorded two CDs (The Lamb is King and The Return), both of which I have. This lineup of the group was a short but bright spot in the history of smooth quartets.

4. 1975 Cathedral Quartet (Roy Tremble / Glen Payne / George Amon Webster / George Younce). This lineup’s best project from a vocal standpoint was 1975’s Plain Ole Gospel.

5. 1995 Cathedral Quartet (Ernie Haase / Glen Payne / Scott Fowler / George Younce). These four singers could sing so that each voice was heard individually, but on songs like “Wedding Music” their smooth harmony was unbeatable.

6. 1940s Stamps-Baxter Quartet. Various songs I’ve heard on several different compilations show a group with a very smooth sound.

7. 1956 Statesmen (Denver Crumpler / Jake Hess / Doy Ott / Big Chief Wetherington). This lineup had a very smooth blend. Smoothness is not necessarily the first quality that comes to mind when thinking of the Statesmen, but their blend was smooth nonetheless.

8. 2006 Signature Sound Quartet (Ernie Haase / Ryan Seaton / Doug Anderson / Tim Duncan). I might take some criticism for this, but I’ll do it anyhow. This is the only current group lineup I’ve placed on my top ten. I do not think that Ernie will ever assemble another lineup of voices that can beat this one. (Of course, should the need arise, I hope that I will be proven wrong!)

9. 2004 Dixie Melody Boys (Dan Keeton / Dustin Sweatman / Andrew King / Ed O’Neal). Ed O’Neal has assembled quite a few excellent lineups, and this was one of the smoothest.

10. 1968 Imperials. This group had a very smooth blend and deserves to be in the top ten.