Gospel music's Jake Hess leaves wide-ranging legacy

by Laura Erlanson, posted Monday, January 05, 2004 (14 years ago)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Gospel music veteran Jake Hess died early Sunday, Jan. 4, at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Ala. He was 76.

During his 60-plus years in the business, Hess achieved legendary status for his unmistakable voice, captivating stage presence and innovative music. He won three Grammy Awards for solo recordings and one Dove Award.

The youngest of 12 children, Hess was born in Mt. Pisgah, Ala., on Christmas Eve 1927. According to the jakehess.com website, he began singing with his family at the age of 5 and left home at 16 to join the John Daniel Quartet.

In 1948, the late Hovie Lister selected Hess as the lead singer for his newly formed Statesmen Quartet. Throughout the 1950s, the Statesmen became a mainstay on the many gospel music radio shows, television programs and sold-out concerts that permeated the South. They, along with the Blackwood Brothers and a handful of other quartets, became famous in both Christian and secular circles.

The Statesmen's music had a major influence on a young Elvis Presley, who was a regular at Statesmen concerts, according to jakehess.com. Presley said that Hess was the singer he most wished to emulate. Hess later provided background vocals on several of Presley's recordings and sang at Presley's funeral.

Hess solidified his place in gospel music in the 1960s when he formed the Imperials. The group's use of drums and electric guitar and their pop sound paved the way for modern contemporary Christian music.

In later years, according to singingnews.com, Hess joined the Masters V, a quartet made up solely of gospel music legends, including Hovie Lister, Rosie Rozell, J.D. Sumner and James Blackwood. Hess was the last surviving member of that quartet which won a Grammy Award in 1982.

The Statesmen, the Imperials and the Masters V all are in the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Individually, Hess was in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Due to many chronic health problems, Hess retired from the road to Columbus, Ga., in 1993. However, by that time Bill Gaither had begun his popular "Homecoming" video series, many of which featured Hess. The videos and supporting concert tours gave Hess an opportunity to sing long after his "retirement." According to jakehess.com, he often credited the videos with saving his life.

Despite his many health problems (which he called his "isms"), Hess never complained. When asked how he was doing, he would say "nothin' but fine." In fact, the slogan became his trademark and was the title of his 1996 autobiography.

According to singingnews.com, Hess was preceded in death by his wife Joyce in 2000 and is survived by three children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 7, at Morningside Baptist Church in Columbus, where Hess was a member.


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JAKE HESS.

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