Since their wedding in 1962, Bill and Gloria Gaither have lived in the same house in Andersonville, Ind., about 30 minutes northeast of Indianapolis. It’s home, it’s comfort, it’s stability.
“I feel secure there and safe there,” Gaither said in an interview this week from Nashville, where he was doing radio spots.
As he did here last year, Gaither headlines the Gaither Homecoming Tour next week. It’s Friday at the Columbus Civic Center. Gaither has emotional ties to Columbus, through the Jake Hess family. Hess died in 2004, and the two were friends for 55 years. His funeral was at Morningside Baptist, and he is buried in Talbot County.
An avid fan of gospel quartets throughout his childhood, Bill Gaither founded his first group, The Bill Gaither Trio, in 1956, while a student at Anderson College. He began teaching English in 1959 because his musical aspirations couldn’t support him full-time, according to his bio. In 1962, Gaither married Gloria Sickal, who also became a songwriting partner.
A year later, Hess asked Gaither if he were interested in singing with a group called the Imperials. Gaither jumped at the chance.
The Gaithers spent the first five years of their married life juggling full-time teaching jobs, writing, singing, recording and publishing until music became their full-time career in 1967.
Despite his lifetime of success, Gaither always urges young people interested in music to work.
“I say, ‘Get a day job.’ I think it’s wise. It’s a very unpredictable occupation,” he said.
The couple have three children and seven grandchildren.
The collaborations of Bill and Gloria Gaither have resulted in more than 700 popular gospel songs, including the hymnal standard “Because He Lives,” “The King Is Coming,” “Something Beautiful” and “He Touched Me,” their breakthrough hit from 1967. The Gaithers have collectively won eight Grammys, in addition to more than two dozen Dove Awards from The Gospel Music Association.
Gaither said he didn’t start out to win awards, nor does he see them as the point now.
“I don’t think any creator — whether you’re doing music or writing novels — does it for the awards,” he said. “When you get them, that is all a bonus.”
His business ventures include the Gaither Music Company, under which the functions of record company, concert booking (Gaither Management Group), television production, copyright management (Gaither Copyright Management), store, studio (Gaither Studios, formerly Pinebrook Studios) and telemarketing for the Gaither organization reside. Gaither also runs a retail center called Gaither Family Resources. Gaither-themed products are now on Cracker Barrel shelves. Son Benjy runs an animation company called Live Bait Productions.
In all this, the 74-year-old musician sees his craft as a way to further the Gospel, not as a means to an end.
“Music is just a tool we use. Obviously the central message is the Gospel, and we do that through music,” said Gaither, who has a high bass voice (or low baritone), and would often sing while playing a guitar with the Bill Gaither Trio. He also plays the piano.
Gaither’s Homecoming tours, which started in 1991, have brought together stars of the Southern gospel and contemporary Christian music industry, sparking a revival of the genres. The tours have sold more than 1.1 million tickets around the world, and have included such venues as the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall.
An elder statesman in the business, Gaither continues to be a mentor to those seeking guidance. Among the stars he’s helped promote: Mark Lowry (who currently performs with him), Amy Grant, Sandi Patti and Michael English. Many still seek out his advice.
“It’s nice that young people care,” he said.
In addition to Hess, other influences for Gaither include Hovie Lister, the Speers, the Statesmen and the Happy Goodmans.
Gaither said he’s looking forward to his stop here — a gig sandwiched between Winston-Salem, N.C., today and Chattanooga a week from today.
“Tell all the folks we look forward to being there,” he said.