Saturday, October 29, 2011

Retro SGM Radio: Top 20 Pianists circa May 2006

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time once again for SGM Radio’s Monthly Top 20 List! This month, I have compiled a list of what I would consider to be the Top 20 Piano Players in Southern Gospel Music- both past and present pianists included.

Whether they’re playing along with tracks, with a live band, or as the sole means of accompaniment, the pianist helps to set the tone for how the group sings their songs. In many cases, the pianist is one of the people who help arrange the music that the vocalists sing. A group with a gifted pianist is truly a blessed group.

Once again, let me refresh your memory about how I do these lists. The names on the list will be in alphabetical order. Trying to say that one is “better” than another one is pretty much impossible. This list will also contain a mixture of older singers as well as current ones. Finally, I will comment on the ones that I know some pertinent information about.

Now- on to the names and comments!

Top 20 Pianists
1. Lee Roy Abernathy (Atco Quartet, Electrical Workers Quartet, Rangers, Homeland Harmony Quartet, Miracle Men Quartet): Mr. Abernathy was known for helping introduce sheet music to Gospel music. He was also a recognized songwriter.
2. Roger Bennett (Cathedrals, Legacy 5): Mr. Bennett joined the legendary Cathedral Quartet in 1979, and he was their pianist until their retirement in 1999. He is also one of the founding members of Legacy 5. His attitude and faith in the Lord during his battle with cancer have been an inspiration to many.
3. Earl Brewer (Carolinians, Gethsemane, Harvesters): To quote Roger Bennett, “Earl Brewer should be required listening for anyone interested in becoming a southern gospel pianist.” From one great pianist about another, I think that’s enough said.
4. Anthony Burger (Kingsmen, Gaither Vocal Band, Gaither Trio, Gaither Homecomings): Mr. Burger was one of the best pianists Gospel music has ever seen, in my opinion. The Singing News has an award for pianists that is named after him.
5. Martin Cook (Kingsmen, Silvertones, Inspirations): Mr. Cook was the original pianist for the Kingsmen Quartet. He then went on to found the Inspirations.
6. Channing Eleton (Poet Voices, Gold City, Second Mile): Mr. Eleton is a very gifted arranger. He has been a great asset to every group he’s been with.
7. Hilton Griswold (Blackwood Brothers): Mr. Griswold was a longtime member of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. When needed, he could also double as a vocalist. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Griswold play the piano a few years ago, and he hadn’t lost the touch.
8. Andrew Ishee (Dixie Echoes, Masterpeace, Kingsmen, Palmetto State): Mr. Ishee has got to be one of the most “active” pianists I’ve ever seen. His stage antics provide a lot of comedy in Palmetto State’s program. He is also an excellent pianist and vocalist.
9. Garry Jones (Gold City, Signature Sound Quartet, Mercy’s Mark Quartet): Mr. Jones is best known for his tenure with Gold City. He was the pianist during the years of Brian Free, Ivan Parker, Mike LeFevre, and Tim Riley- the Gold City lineup that many still consider the best ever. He, along with Ernie Haase, founded the Signature Sound Quartet. After leaving Signature Sound, he founded another group that has quickly become one of the rising stars of Southern Gospel, the Mercy’s Mark Quartet. His skills as a pianist and an arranger have been an asset to every group that he’s been associated with.
10. Eva Mae LeFevre (LeFevre Trio): In a time where Southern Gospel was somewhat dominated by male groups, Mrs. LeFevre was a breath of fresh air. Her piano accompaniment helped lay the foundation for the LeFevre Trio sound.
11. Hovie Lister (Homeland Harmony Quartet, LeFevre Trio, Rangers, Statesmen): Mr. Lister is probably best-known for being the founder of the legendary Statesmen Quartet. His arrangements and accompaniment were a large part of the Statesmen’s success and quality.
12. Joe Moscheo (Harmoneers, Prophets, Imperials): Mr. Moscheo is probably best-known for his time with the Imperials. He is one of the first Gospel pianists to record an album of instrumental arrangements.
13. David Reece (Blue Ridge Quartet, Rangers Quartet, Imperial Quartet, Deep South Quartet, Harvesters, Rangers Trio): Mr. Reece was another versatile man. He was a songwriter, pianist, and vocalist. He was the foundation of the Rangers Trio, a group that has quickly become my favorite trio.
14. “Smilin’” Joe Roper (Happy Hitters Quartet, V.O. Stamps Quartet, Blackwood Brothers, Stamps-Baxter Melody Boys, Prophets, Stamps Quartet): Mr. Roper is said to be one of the most influential pianists in Southern Gospel history. He was a pianist, music teacher, composer, and arranger. He was the original pianist for the Blackwood Brothers.
15. Jonathan Sawrie (Melody Boys): With a style similar to that of Joe Roper, Mr. Sawrie’s piano work was an excellent complement to the wonderful sound of the Melody Boys.
16. Henry Slaughter (Weatherford Quartet, Imperials): Mr. Slaughter was hand-picked by Jake Hess to be the first pianist for the Imperials. His skills as an arranger and pianist helped the Imperials to enter Gospel music as one of the top groups.
17. Derrell Stewart (Dixie Rhythm Quartet, Florida Boys): To quote Roger Bennett again, “Derrell Stewart has no equal.” Famously known for always wearing red socks, Mr. Stewart has been a Florida Boys mainstay for 50 years.
18. Jeff Stice (Nelons, Perfect Heart, Kingdom Heirs, Integrity/Triumphant): Another versatile musician. Mr. Stice is a talented pianist along with being a skilled arranger.
19. Stewart Varnado (Dixie Echoes): One of the younger generation of pianists, Mr. Varnado is a talented pianist, and the Dixie Echoes are blessed to have him.
20. Wally Varner (Homeland Harmony Quartet, Deep South Quartet, Melody Masters, Blackwood Brothers): Mr. Varner was known for two things: his songwriting and his “lightning fast” fingers.

Honorable Mention
1. Roy Webb (Ernie Haase & Signature Sound)
2. Ken Eubanks (Heaven Bound)
3. Adam Harman (Kingdom Heirs)

In 2006, Chad Hayes authored a monthly "Top 20" list on SGM Radio. We hope you enjoyed this look back at the Top 20 Pianists in Southern Gospel! For more great features and monthly columns, log on to

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