Songbook Review: Convention Hallelujahs (Gospelfest Ministries)
In 1910, the first Southern Gospel male quartet was sent on the road by a songbook publisher, James D. Vaughan. For the following thirty or forty years, the genres of participatory convention singing and male quartet performance intersected so closely that they supported and were supported by the same business infrastructure and leading characters.
Through the 1930s and 1940s, this began to change, as a few groups found a level of popularity independent of songbook publishers’ sponsorships. The rise of the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen, All-night sings, and the Southern Gospel circuit helped complete this transition. For the last sixty or more years, though convention singing and convention songbook publishing has continued, it has existed as a largely separate and independent genre.
Partly for this historical reason, and partly because of a decline in musical literacy among casual and professional Southern Gospel singers, there are surprisingly few Southern Gospel songbooks released. In fact, the two best sellers are probably still the 1973 Great Inspirational Songs songbook (available from Springside) and the classic 1951 red-back Church of God Church Hymnal (available from the Kingdom Heirs).
With the publication of Convention Hallelujahs, we have a new entrant in the field. This songbook, published by Shawn Degenhart of GospelFest Ministries (available here), contains around fifty convention-style standards, as well as a half-dozen numbers too new to appear in either Great Inspirational Songs or the red-back. The selection is strong; if you were to purchase this songbook and learn every song, you would know at least half of the songs on most Southern Gospel table projects, and you would be reasonably conversant with the classics of our genre.
This, in fact, is probably the book’s strongest selling point. It’s not the most expansive collection; both of the two best-sellers have at least three times as many songs. It is more a collection of the very best, the songs every Southern Gospel fan should know.