James Buford Abner

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James Buford Abner (1917 –  2011)
Inducted in 2002

James Buford Abner was born November 10, 1917 to Dave and Ovelia Abner in Lineville, Alabama. He was the child of sharecroppers, and like many children in that part of the country, he was raised in a Christian home with lots of singing present, and like so many of his childhood friends, was a part of “singin’ school” every summer and spent many a Sunday at “all day singin’ and dinner on the ground” events.

And like a select few other southern boys, his singing voice was his way out of the fields and into the world. 15-year old Buford joined his brother Merle in the Pepperel Manufacturing Company Quartet in Columbus, Georgia.

Both Abner boys stayed with that quartet until they left to join their Uncle Stacy in the Vaughn Four on WNOX radio in Knoxville, Tennessee. And by 1938, the Abner boys and Billy Carrier formed what they named The Swanee River Boys. The new quartet used their smooth sound and musicianship to land a job at WDOD radio in Chattanooga, Tennessee where they became part of an entire network of radio stations in the South. The quartet became popular quickly throughout the Southeast.

Not only did Buford find fame and recognition, Chattanooga was where Buford found the love of his life. Dorothy Jean Dalton was singing with her sister Mildred as the Sunshine Sisters along with famous country entertainer Archie Campbell on the same radio station. Buford and Dorothy got married in 1941, and had a daughter, Pamela, in 1943.

Also in 1941, The Swanee River Boys moved to Atlanta, where their program “The Little Country Church” was aired on 50,000 watt powerhouse WSB radio. Their smooth, rhythmic style and flair with black spirituals got them booked into black churches to sing, where they were quite a pleasant surprise to the congregations there, proving that music can be a bridge between black and white, young and old, and rich and poor alike.

But The Swanee River Boys didn’t sing only gospel music. Like many of their contemporaries at that time, they also included popular, folk, and western songs in addition to their gospel quartet numbers and the black spirituals they so excelled at. In the early 1940s, it was estimated that about 52% of their songs were gospel or religious in orientation. They also mixed comedy routines in with their music, making them just as suitable for schools and civic organizations as for churches and concert appearances. They exemplified “family entertainment” at its best.

But still, The Swanee River Boys loved their gospel music best, and with Buford’s many original songs and innovative vocal arrangements, they were always a major force and influence on gospel quartets.

R. W. Blackwood

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R. W. Blackwood (1921 – 1954)
Inducted in 2002

One of the founding members of the famous Blackwood Brothers Quartet along with his father and two uncles, R. W. Blackwood succeeded in pioneering Southern Gospel into new mediums and into new heights of professionalism.

Born October 23, 1921, he entered the day-to-day world of Southern Gospel at the tender age of 13. His smooth baritone voice anchored that part of the group’s famous sound from its origins in 1934 until his tragic death twenty years later.

Killed in a plane crash along with bass singer Bill Lyles, R. W. lived long enough to see Southern gospel achieve unprecedented popularity on radio and on the new medium of television.

His pioneering spirit and drive paved the way for the success of modern-day Southern Gospel performers.

Jerry Goff

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Jerry Goff (1935 – )
Inducted in 2002

Born May 1, 1935 in Greenwood, South Carolina, few individuals touched more aspects of Southern Gospel in the second half of the twentieth century than Jerry Goff.

A talented singer, musician, and songwriter, he also helped pioneer some of the most successful ventures into television in the 1960's. Behind the scenes of the popular Gospel Singing Caravan, he stepped forward with his own popular Gospel Music program several years later under the title America Sings, where his musical abilities earned him the unofficial title of “Mr. Gospel Trumpet.”

Jerry also formed Jerry and the Singing Goffs, a group that traveled and sang throughout the decades of the 1970's and 1980's.

In the 1990's, he also became well known as a Gospel Music emcee. A talented performer, speaker and promoter, Jerry Goff always represented Southern Gospel with class and dignity.

Vestal Goodman

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Vestal Goodman (1929 – 2003)
Inducted in 2002

Born December 13, 1929 in Fyffe, Alabama, Vestal Freeman became a Southern Gospel legend.

Reared in the rich Gospel Music tradition around Sand Mountain, she married Howard Goodman in 1949 and joined the Singing Goodman Family. She became best known to fans across America through the group’s subsequent appearances on the Gospel Singing Jubilee and on the PTL television network.

Distinguished by her strong powerful voice, Vestal reached the tops of the Southern Gospel Music industry with the Happy Goodmans’ popular rise in the mid-1980's and remained the “Queen of Gospel Music” in the minds of many for the remainder of the twentieth century.

Alphus LeFevre

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Alphus LeFevre (1912 – 1988)
Inducted in 2002

Born March 2, 1912 in Smithville, Tennessee, Alphus LeFevre began singing with his brother Urias and his sister Maude while still a boy of nine years old.

He quickly earned a reputation as a master musician, seemingly comfortable on any instrument. He was particularly adept at strings and, throughout his career, was sought as a music teacher by aspiring Gospel musicians.

With Urias and sister-in-law Eva Mae, he formed the LeFevre Trio – a group whose popularity and success was rarely matched ruing the middle decades of the twentieth century. Popular with other performers, “Uncle Alf” achieved a reputation as one of the most accomplished craftsmen of Southern Gospel.

William Morgan Ramsey

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William Morgan Ramsey (1872 – 1939)
Inducted in 2002

Born in Bell County, Texas, on August 24, 1872, William Ramsey began his career as a shape-note teacher and singer while still a teenager.

Especially prominent in singing school circles throughout the South, he became president and owner of the Central Music Company of Little Rock, Arkansas, one of the early leaders of shape-note material in the region.

The author of several hundred Gospel songs, including the popular “He Whispers Sweet Peace to Me,” Ramsey edited and published more than thirty song books and helped pioneer and industry that would shape the future of American Gospel Music.

Robert Emmett Winsett

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Robert Emmett Winsett (1876 – 1952)
Inducted in 2002

An early pioneer of shape-note singing and music publishing, R. E. Winsett became one of the most revered teachers of the musical style that dominated the early decades of Southern Gospel.

Born in Bledsoe County, Tennessee, on January 15, 1876, he devoted his life to the spread of Gospel Music. His music publishing company, headquartered in Dayton, Tennessee, stood as one of the strong holds of Southern shape-note publishing for most of the first half of the twentieth century.

The author of more than a thousand Gospel songs, Winsett penned the words and music to the perennial favorite “Jesus Is Coming Soon,” the winner of a Dove Award for Gospel Song of the Year in 1969.

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