IF YOU GO
What: Gaither Homecoming.
When: 6 p.m. Saturday.
Where: McKenzie Arena, 720 E. Fourth St.
Admission: $19.50, $24.50, $34.50 and $72.50.
Bill Gaither says he's gathered an all-star lineup for his Homecoming concert in McKenzie Arena this weekend.
"Saturday night, we've got some of the top names in gospel music," said the seven-time Grammy winner in a phone interview. "The Isaacs are one of the greatest bluegrass gospel groups going right now. Many of the secular groups are asking The Isaacs to come in and sing background for them. The Martins have great family harmony."
But the big draw to the Homecoming faithful is the Gaither Vocal Band. Known as much for its humorous banter as for its lush harmony, the quintet is always a crowd favorite.
Gaither said in its 30 years, the Gaither Vocal Band has only had 16 singers rotate through it. The GVB's star-studded lineup Saturday night will feature Gaither, Michael English, David Phelps, Wes Hampton and the irrepressible Mark Lowry.
The Homecoming singers just returned from a Caribbean cruise on Sunday, one of two homecoming cruises they make annually, said Gaither.
"There were about 2,000 people on the ship, and everybody is a gospel-music freak," Gaither said. "They love to hear four-part harmony, they love the rhythms and they love the message."
Gaither said the same singers who were on the ship are the ones cruising into McKenzie Arena on Saturday to perform, along with a half-dozen musicians to accompany them.
"We sing songs of forgiveness, redemption, unity, love of God, love of each other," he said. "That's what we want the audience to take home from our shows: hope, joy, patience, an attitude of gratitude."
Gaither formed his first ensemble, The Bill Gaither Trio, in 1956 while he was in college. The aspiring musician and songwriter was an English teacher for many years to support himself and wife Gloria, whom he married in 1962.
In 1967 the couple made music their full-time career. They have collaborated on more than 700 gospel songs, many of them standards in hymnals of many denominations.
Between them, they have eight Grammy Awards, two dozen Dove Awards and eight Gospel Music Association's Songwriter of the Year awards.
Before there was social media, Gaither was pioneering the use of technology to spread his message of God's love. He said every show is taped; many are sent on to the archives, others made into videotapes and now CDs and DVDs.
Since creating his first Homecoming video in 1991, almost every volume has gone gold or platinum with sales in excess of 100 million volumes. Additionally, his Homecoming shows appear regularly on multiple television networks.
So what's let for him to accomplish? Are there any goals he hasn't met?
"I'm 75. I don't even buy green bananas anymore," he joked. "I don't have any big-league, long-term plans. If I just make it through Chattanooga this week, that's pretty good for me."
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...