Close Harmony

A History of Southern Gospel

By James R. Goff Jr.

416 pp., 6 x 9, 88 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5346-7
    Published: March 2002
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-1688-9
    Published: February 2014

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Comprehensive and richly illustrated, Close Harmony traces the development of the music known as southern gospel from its antebellum origins to its twentieth-century emergence as a vibrant musical industry driven by the world of radio, television, recordings, and concert promotions.

Marked by smooth, tight harmonies and a lyrical focus on the message of Christian salvation, southern gospel--particularly the white gospel quartet tradition--had its roots in nineteenth-century shape-note singing. The spread of white gospel music is intricately connected to the people who based their livelihoods on it, and Close Harmony is filled with the stories of artists and groups such as Frank Stamps, the Chuck Wagon Gang, the Blackwood Brothers, the Rangers, the Swanee River Boys, the Statesmen, and the Oak Ridge Boys. The book also explores changing relations between black and white artists and shows how, following the civil rights movement, white gospel was influenced by black gospel, bluegrass, rock, metal, and, later, rap.

With Christian music sales topping the $600 million mark at the close of the twentieth century, Close Harmony explores the history of an important and influential segment of the thriving gospel industry.

About the Author

James R. Goff Jr. is professor of history at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. He also serves as the chief historical consultant for the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and is a regular columnist for Singing News magazine.

For more information about James R. Goff Jr., visit the Author Page.


"The combination of academic research and good journalistic footwork rounds out the book and makes it relevant to a wide readership…. Goff has managed to make the worlds of academe and gospel music a little more comfortable with each other in this history of southern gospel. He presents solid facts and interpretations that will please the academic community without abandoning the core beliefs of the southern gospel world."--American Historical Review

"Goff has produced a compelling narrative spiced with arresting anecdotes. Close Harmony succeeds admirably as a history of southern gospel."--Randall Balmer, Journal of American History

"Goff's effort is a well-documented and much-needed piece of work on a brand of music that has proven both entertaining and inspirational."--Journal of Appalachian Studies

"With the arrival of Goff's well-written and well-researched history, the southern gospel tradition finally receives its due."--Southern Cultures

"His enjoyment and respect for southern gospel shines through in this book, which stands as the definitive book on the subject to date."--American Music

"[Goff] gives important insights into one of the most intriguing aspects of southern gospel music, its existence as both a spiritual and an entrepreneurial phenomenon."--Journal of Southern History