Inducted in 2014
Rev. Colbert Croft For many songwriters, songwriting is their passion and pursuit. But for some, the songs are an overflow from dedicated ministry of the Gospel. Such are the songs of Rev. Colbert and Joyce Croft, which number over five thousand.
Rev. Colbert Croft was born on May 4, 1941, in Berlin, Georgia. He was not a Christian until after he began dating Joyce. After telling Joyce that he couldn’t marry her because she needed to marry a preacher, Rev. Croft went to the First Baptist Church in Jasper, Florida, where he was saved and called to preach. They were married in 1964. He began his ministry as a pastor, but entered full-time evangelism when he and Joyce sensed the call from God on the same day. Without telling anyone of their call, they booked nine revivals the first week. God was ordering their steps.
The Crofts were married for forty-nine years, and were a ministry team. Rev. Croft would write the lyrics, and Joyce would pen the music. They wrote one of the best-known songs today, “I Can’t Even Walk (Without You Holding My Hand).” The most popular version was recorded by “Charles Johnson and the Revivers.” Other songs include, “I Believe When He Died, He Died for Me,” “Is That Footsteps I Hear?” and “Flow Through Me.”
For over twenty-five years, they hosted the annual “Labor Day Singing” in Valdosta, Georgia, which featured many of the top groups in Southern Gospel.
Rev. Colbert Croft passed away January 1, 2014. It was said of him, “His life was a life of proclaiming the cross and blood of the Savior through songs and sermons. Ministry was not his vocation, it was his life.”
(Inducted in 2014)
Eddie Crook began his career in 1961 as the pianist for “The Tennesseans.” He soon began session work at the famed RCA studios on Music Row in Nashville. In 1964, he joined “The Plainsmen Quartet,” and toured with Governor Jimmie Davis. Tenor, Howard Welborn, said he remembered “Eddie” being so frugal that “he could squeeze the buffalo off of a nickel!” The group also worked in crusades with Evangelist Billy James Hargis. Mr. Crook went on to play for country music legend, Marty Robbins, on the “Grand Ole Opry.”
From 1967-1970, Mr. Crook played for “The Sego Brothers and Naomi.” But, he was probably best known for his time as pianist for “The Happy Goodman Family.” During this time, he and fellow member, Aaron Wilburn, co-wrote the well-known Southern Gospel songs, “Just Any Day Now” and “What A Beautiful Day.”
In 1977, Mr. Crook started the “Eddie Crook Company,” becoming one of the most recognizable producers in the industry. He helped launch the careers of many notable groups including “The McKameys,” “The Bishops,” “The Perrys,” “The Wilburns” and “The Mid-South Boys.” Other recording labels developed from the parent company were Morning Star, Cross & Crown Records, 4 Square, Renaissance and Cedar Hill. Eddie Crook has the distinction of producing more number one Gospel songs than any other producer. At the 2009 National Quartet Convention, a tribute to the Eddie Cook Company brought together a “who’s who” of Southern Gospel.
Even though he was a successful producer, Mr. Crook returned to the road in 2008 when he joined SGMA Hall of Fame member, Ed Hill, and “The Prophets Quartet,” In 2010, he joined “The Southmen Quartet.”
Along with “The Happy Goodmans,” Mr. Crook was inducted into the “Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame” in 1998. He was awarded “The Marvin Norcross Award” in 2004 along with his wife, Janice, and the “Piano Roll of Honor” in 2005.
Claris G. "Cat" Freeman
In 1951, he joined Hovie Lister and “The Statesmen Quartet” during the “glory days” that took them to the top of gospel music. He was with them until 1953. He returned to that group in 1957 following the sudden, and unexpected passing of Denver Crumpler. In addition to “The Blackwood Brothers”, Mr. Freeman also sang for the “Oak Ridge Quartet”, “The Revelaires Quartet”, “The Melody Masters Quartet”, “The Deep South Quartet” and “The Jubilee Quartet”.
Mr. Freeman spent much of his time in his later years teaching others through the old fashioned singing schools that went from church to church and home to home. After his death on March 21, 1989, “The Premiers Quartet” of Rainsville, AL established the “Cat Freeman Foundation” in 1990. The foundation would assist aspiring young artists to attend Southern Gospel music singing schools, such as the Alabama School of Gospel Music, the Steve Hurst School of Music Ministries and the Stamps-Baxter School of Gospel Music. The “Cat Freeman Memorial Scholarship Fund” awarded more than $10,000 in scholarships each year to young artists.
Mr. Freeman was known for his humorous antics and showmanship on stage. In his time, he was considered to be the best at relating to an audience, and then capturing the song that would stir them out of their seats.
Paul Heil (1947-12/27/20)
Inducted in 2014
Every week, hundreds of thousands around the world tune in to hear the familiar chorus of “The Gospel Greats,” followed by the mellow voice of Paul Heil. However, this is only one of the many achievements of this 2014 inductee.
Paul Heil grew up in York, Pennsylvania. As a pastor’s son, he came to faith in Christ at an early age. He and his family moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania when his father was called to pastor a church there. He developed his love for Southern Gospel music by hearing “The Couriers” in concert. While in high school, he became interested in news media, and was hired by a local radio station. He became an award-winning radio news director. Mr. Heil later moved into television, where he was a TV news director from 1977-1979. He was always interested in syndication and was inspired by the top-forty chart in the Singing News and other popular countdown-type radio programs. This laid the foundation for “The Gospel Greats,” and the first broadcast aired in February 1980 on five or six stations. Today, the program is heard on over two hundred stations. The program features a “top twenty” countdown for the month, interviews with the featured artists, and the “headline update” with news from the world of Southern Gospel. In 1986, he started Springside, which is one of the largest on-line catalog sites for Southern Gospel music.
Mr. Heil was a founding member of the Southern Gospel Music Guild and served as president for nine years. He was vice-president of the Gospel Music Association and served on the advisory board of the SGMA. For fifteen consecutive years, “The Gospel Greats” was awarded the “Favorite Syndicated Program” by the “Singing News Fan Awards.” In 1991, he was awarded the “Marvin Norcross Award,” in 2004, the “James D. Vaughn Impact Award” by the SGMA, and “The Lifetime Achievement Award” by the “Southern Gospel Music Guild” in 2009.
Of all his achievements, Mr. Heil said the most exciting is hearing from listeners who have been saved and touched by the Lord. He reminded us all that “The Gospel Greats” is “the greatest songs about the greatest message… the Gospel.”
Claude Daniel Hopper
Inducted in 2014
Claude Daniel Hopper was born the son of a sharecropper on a tobacco farm in Madison, North Carolina, October 8, 1937. He was saved as a teenager, and enjoyed listening to Gospel music on the radio. In 1956, he attended his first Southern Gospel concert, and it changed his life. Along with four of his seven brothers, he started “The Hopper Brothers” in 1957. His future wife, Connie Shelton, joined as pianist in 1958. Mr. Hopper remembers how he saw her stopped at a traffic light. He walked up and asked if she would be their pianist. She told him she would think about it, but when the light changed, she said, “Yes!” Mr. Hopper joked that she “taught us how to sing parts.” It was the beginning of what would be known as “America’s favorite Family of Gospel music.” Mr. Hopper married Connie in 1961, and have two sons, Dean and Michael. When Connie became a vocalist in 1970, they became “The Hopper Brothers and Connie.” Dean married Kim Greene, and she joined the group in 1989. They became known as “The Hoppers.”
Mr. Hopper’s legacy is entwined in the success of “The Hoppers.” In 1981, they were honored to sing for the inauguration of President Reagan. They are favorites on the “Gaither Homecoming” video series. Combined, they have won over sixty awards for mixed group, vocalists, favorite musician and website. At the “National Quartet Convention,” Mr. Hopper and Les Beasley team up as “Frick and Frack,” to the delight of the crowds. In September 2011, the “Southern Gospel Music Guild” board recognized Mr. Hopper and Connie's significant contributions to the music industry with the “SGMG Lifetime Achievement Honor.” In 2012, “The Hoppers” were inducted into the “GMA Hall of Fame.”
In addition to performing, Mr. Hopper is a respected businessman who started “Hopper Brothers and Connie Publishing,” a leader in the industry. He serves on the Board of Directors of the “National Quartet Convention.” Over fifty years ago, Mr. Hopper began the “Hopper Heritage Foundation,” which offers scholarships to future singers, ministers and businessmen. It is funded by proceeds from Mr. Hopper’s books and sales from his line of chocolates, “Claude’s Choco Candy.”
When Mr. Hopper was asked about retirement, he said, “Well, I don’t see it in the future now because I am enjoying it more now than I ever have… because I love people and I learn from people.” In an interview, Mr. Hopper thanked the many people that had helped them throughout their career, including Roger, Debra and Kirk Talley, who sang with them. He said his lifelong philosophy is reflected in the song, “If I Can Help Somebody,” which he called his testimony. “By helping others help themselves, then you have already achieved what you wanted in life.” In recognition of his leadership in Southern Gospel music for over fifty years, Mr. Claude Daniel Hopper joins his wife, Connie, in the “Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame.”