This Friday, legendary gospel music pioneer Bill Gaither (“Because He Lives,” “He Touched Me,” “There’s Something About That Name”) will present a new Christmas television special, “All Heaven and Nature Sing with Bill Gaither & Friends” on TBN. In addition to Gaither and his Gaither Vocal Band, the special will feature singer-songwriter Mark Lowry (“Mary, Did You Know?”), Gospel Music Hall of Fame group The Nelons, and gospel music artists Ladye Love Smith, and Gene McDonald.
In this exclusive interview, the GRAMMY and Dove Award-winning artist dubbed Christian “Songwriter of the Century” by ASCAP, talks about the new Christmas special, how God has used the popular “Gaither Homecoming” series to honor and promote veteran gospel artists, how he and his wife Gloria approach songwriting, and why the Christmas season makes him think of a barn.
What can you tell us about the TV special “All Heaven and Nature Sing”?
We’ve been doing this Christmas program for several years. And it just keeps getting better all the time. They can’t (show) all of it, but they’re going to pick out some of the best of the program and show it on Friday night. We taped it about a month ago. It’s gonna’ be a whole lot of fun. Mark, in all fairness, helps make us special too, because he is half of the writer of “Mary Did You Know?,” which is the newest big Christmas classic that most radio programmers now have to include if they’re gonna’ do anything on Christmas. And Buddy Greene is on the special, he wrote the music. The song was created pretty much on our bus, at least put together. I think Mark had already had the lyric, but he met Buddy on our traveling program and had given it to several musicians but didn’t like what they came up with. But he liked what they came up with.
Your songs are in the hymn books, so it’s amazing to see you pay tribute to another revered classic now.
You know, any writer, whether he’s a Christian writer or a secular writer, just a good writer, even if nobody hears, they just love what they do and love what they create. But it’s really great when somebody outside the city limits says, “Hey, this is good. Would you come to our community? Or would you come to our TV network, and do it?” All I can say is we have really been blessed and we’re grateful.
Bill, I was working at a Christian bookstore when that first “Reunion” video hit. It just started this avalanche of new energy behind the “Homecoming” music, the brand that you created. When you look back at that, what are your thoughts?
I’d like to say I was a genius and sat down and said “We ought to get these people together.” We only did it because we wanted to honor them, and say, “Hey, there’s a lot that’s gone on before we ever came on the scene. And these guys paved the way, riding in the backseat of cars all night, going to dates, early morning radio programs.” Now everybody writes in nice, air-conditioned buses, and they don’t have to get up to do early morning things. So, we just wanted to say, “Thank you,” never realizing that it was going to take on a whole life of its own and did it ever. The last I heard there were about 40 million of those videos out there somewhere. All we wanted to do was to honor our friends. God’s kind of got a weird sense of humor. He said, “I think I’ll bless him.” But we’re grateful, and we have been blessed.
Well, there’s a sermon in there, that you were really serving these other people, and you were blessed through that servanthood.
Well, we know why we did it. We know what our motive was. Our motive was to honor them and give them due honor. To see them come alive again, and many of them started touring again, was kind of exciting for us. Most of them are gone now. There is there isn’t a night where I say, “Boy, I was Jake could hear this, he would love this,” or “I wish George could hear this.” They were some of the great patriarchs and matriarchs of the past.
You’ve released so many great songs through the years. Are you still intentional to sit down and write? Or is it something that just comes to you as you go through your daily schedule?
It’s about the same as it’s always been. We have never written just to a point of time. We just go along, and we think of an idea, and we say, “This is amazing.” For instance, the TV program is called “All Heaven and Nature Sing.” And we did this because we said, “Man, you can say what you want to think, but when Jesus was born, the angels started singing, and they never quit singing.” Christianity is the most singing religion of all the major world religions. I would be a little bit envious if I were on the other side, looking at Christians who love to sing. Gloria and I started thinking about that, how the song goes on and on and on and on. And it started back then, “Glory to God in the highest peace on earth, peace, goodwill to men.” The angels were saying. And then down through the ages, Handel comes along, and “He shall reign. He shall reign forever and ever.” And then, Buddy Greene, and Mark Lowry come along and says, “Mary, Did You Know? So the theme of the program is “All Heaven and Nature Sing.” And the song goes on and on and then we go into “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” To answer your question, yes, we still write but we write only when we have got an idea that we think is very driving, and we sing it every night. And when people just love it, we’ll sing it on the TV show.
What are your memories from when you were a kid at Christmas?
A farm. It is very easy for me to identify with Jesus being born in the stable and with the livestock all around. That’s an easy trip for me. Because I don’t know how many Christmas Eves we have been at my dad and mom’s house, 62 years in a row at their house on Christmas Eve before they passed away a few years ago. Those are just wonderful memories, but it was all involved in a rural farm. Gloria and I wrote a song “Come and see what’s happening in the barn. I’ve seen nothing like this since I’ve been on the farm. Those strangers that camped out here have a baby in their arms. Come and see what’s happening in the barn.”
“All Heaven and Nature Sing with Bill Gaither & Friends” featuring Bill Gaither, the Gaither Vocal Band, Mark Lowry, The Nelson, Ladye Love Smith, and Gene McDonald, will air Friday, Dec. 11 on TBN.