First Published March 2007 in SGM Radio
Allen Smith: The Man Behind the Diamond Awards
By Lorraine Walker
Every year during the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, a special event occurs. In the midst of showcases, media interviews and listening parties, attendees and fans alike pause for a moment to give honor to the main influence behind Southern Gospel Music. At the Diamond Award ceremonies the Lord is honored first, and in the middle of this afternoon of praise, those who are involved in His music are thanked for their dedication to His purpose. For the last few years, the man behind these awards has been Allen Smith.
A Pastor with over 40 years in the ministry, Rev. Allen Smith became involved in Southern Gospel music through concert promotion in the churches where he was ministering. In the mid-90’s he began to DJ in a radio station in Desoto, Missouri. He and his church started a southern gospel magazine in 1996, which grew quickly and became the Southern Gospel News Magazine. A weekly email newsletter followed, SGN Scoops Ezine. Today the magazine publication is known as SGN Scoops and the daily email newsletter is SGN Scoops Today. Allen is seen as an industry innovator, a man who is finding ways to continuously promote Southern Gospel music.
Allen Smith recently talked with SGM Radio about his involvement with the prestigious Diamond Awards. “They were started about 16 years ago by the Gospel Voice Magazine”, Allen explains. “As you know, they went out of business a few years ago, and the Diamond Awards lay dormant for about two years. One day about four years ago I realized that I knew the owners of the Gospel Voice… I had been praying for some time about the possibility of our magazine having an awards program. But, I did not want to just start a new awards show that very few people knew about, and that no one would attend. Feeling the direction of the Lord in the matter, I spoke with the owner of Voice Magazine that I knew, and asked if it would be possible for us to take over the Diamond Awards. He told me he would have to talk it over with his partner, and get back to me the next month. He did get back to me, and the rest is history. They just handed the Diamond Awards over to us.”
In an industry that currently has many award ceremonies occurring throughout the year, Allen explains why the Diamonds are special. “The Diamond Awards are unique in many ways. First of all, they were resurrected from the grave, so to speak. Secondly, they are truly fan-based. The fans even select the nominees. Third, we knew that once again that we would be innovative when it came to balloting. You see we do not have a really large subscription base. So, in order to make the balloting realistic and legitimate, we made the decision to let every Southern Gospel fan vote if they wanted to. So, in addition to a printed ballot, we also made an electronic ballot available on the internet. We were the first to do this, and it has worked quite well for us.”
Allen explains that safeguards are put in place to prevent people from voting more than once, to retain the integrity of the awards. The Diamond Award ballots can be accessed online and submitted in two different ways. Artists can print off the hardcopy ballots found at www.sgnscoops.com and have them available for fans at their product tables. Fans can also vote online at www.diamondawardsonline.com.
Electronic access to voting is not the latest innovation to the Diamond Awards. Allen explains, “We introduced a category a few years ago called the Favorite Artist/Industry Website Award. This past year, we split it into two different awards. We now have the Favorite Artist Website Award and the Favorite Industry Website Award. It is interesting to note that this past year, the Singing News Fan Awards has also introduced a website award. That is not all, for we introduced a duet award four years ago. The 2007 Singing News Fan Awards will has a duet award for the first time in their history.”
There is always a lot of discussion and rumour among fans and artists about alterations in the long-running Singing News Fan Awards. Allen comments, “Many people in the industry are now talking about the changes that are being made in the Singing News Fan Awards this year. It is being said that they are dropping several of their categories. I want to make this clear, that as far as I know, they have not yet officially announced these changes. But if this information is correct, then The SGN SCOOPS DIAMOND AWARDS will still have the categories, and will still be recognizing those artists that the Fan Awards will no longer be recognizing.”
Through their commitment to recognizing the work accomplished by Southern Gospel artists and industry personnel, the Diamond Awards encompass regional groups as well as those that are nationally known. Regional groups do appear on the nominating ballets, and occasionally receive enough votes to win the award.
“We also have regional groups performing during the Diamond Awards”, says Allen. “This gives them a platform to be seen and heard by not only fans, but also top industry personnel. We receive reports from these regional groups that we spotlight each year. Some have had promoters see them who then have provided many new dates for them. Some have been seen by major record companies and received contracts. Some have been nominated for Singing News Fan Awards, and they have told us that it is because of the exposure they received at The Diamond Awards.”
The Diamond Awards are seen as a true reflection of the fan’s favourites in Southern Gospel. Allen commented on the ratio of fan vs. industry respondents. “ It is very hard to determine. Of course, there are many more fans that vote than those in the industry. However, you would probably be surprised by the industry names that appear on our ballot registrations. There are a lot of industry people who do vote. The Diamond Awards have become very prestigious, and almost everyone wants to be involved in some way or another.”
“As far as how this compares with other awards in Southern Gospel, I am not sure”, Allen continues. “What is being said is that The Diamond Awards are at the very least the second largest and second best award program in the industry. I am very humbled by this, and I want to state for the record that I want to make sure that God gets all the glory for this, if it is correct.”
The ultimate mission of the Diamonds is to lift up the Lord, the Source of the Gospel the music promotes. Allen comments, “We never want to have just an awards program. We want God to feel welcome.In other words, in addition to handing out awards, we also have church. This is our mission, to allow the Holy Ghost to change lives during The Diamond Awards.”
“The vision of The Diamond Awards, is to continue to grow”, states Allen. “This year the room we will be in will be twice the size of former years. That is just part of the vision. We desire to continue to recognize people for the work they do. We desire to provide a platform for regional groups. But most of all, we desire to reach hearts with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is first and foremost. I am a pastor, and I have a pastor’s heart. We want to do all we can to help the industry, but the greatest way we can help the industry is to allow God to be real in all that we do.”
This Pastor with a heart for the lost recognizes the need reach out to others both in the pew and outside of church. Beginning to preach at age 15, with experience on the mission field and in prisons, he has been pastoring his current church for 25 years. Southern Gospel has always been a major part of his life.
“I can remember the first Southern Gospel group I ever heard. It was a regional group, not a national group. I do not remember the name of the group, but I was blessed by the tenor they had. His name was Junior South. I was probably about 13 or 14 years old”, Allen recalls.
“Down through the years, I have been blessed by many groups. Groups like The McKameys, The Bishops, The Kingsmen, Tony Gore & Majesty, The Perrys, and the list actually goes on and on”, Allen explains. “Just a few years ago, I was especially blessed by a song The McKameys sang. It was written by a friend of mine, Barbara Huffman. Barbara is a writer for the Singing News, as well as a songwriter. At this point in time, I cannot even remember the name of the song, but it really blessed me and I knew I had to learn it.”
Allen continues, “I learned it and sang it at our church about three times. The burden I had for that song then lifted. A few days later, I found out that one of the young ladies in our church was going through something in her life that was really hard. When she heard me sing that song, the Spirit of God lifted her up and set her free from what she was going through. I believe that is what Southern Gospel music is all about.”
“Southern Gospel has changed a lot in the last few years,” says Allen. “I believe it has become more industry, and less ministry. I believe this is very sad. Do not get me wrong; I am not opposed to business. In fact, a ministry that is not run as a business will die. But, on the other hand a ministry whose focus becomes business and not ministry, is dead to begin with.”
Allen believes that the industry does not have to keep going in that direction. “As far as a positive change, I believe we need to get back to the roots of Southern Gospel. What are those roots? True Southern Gospel music and words, and allowing the Spirit of God to have His way in the hearts and lives of everyone, fans and industry personnel.”
This gentleman who loves Southern Gospel music and whose innovative direction has lead the Diamond Awards to their current prestigious status, is still a Pastor whose main goal is to reach the lost. This is emphasized when he shares what the Lord has been speaking to him about lately: “Being all I can be for Him. Doing all I can to reach souls for Him.”
“If you look in Southern Gospel News Magazine on page 4 every month, you will find the Plan of Salvation. We call it The Priceless Corner. If you go to our website (www.sgnscoops.com), you will also find The Priceless Corner.” And that gift of salvation, truly priceless, is worth more than any award.