GOGR Music History -
Jim Hill & the Golden Keys Qt
The Golden Keys Quartet was a long-standing "weekend" quartet. This group from Portsmouth, Ohio was formed in 1945. They were originally known as the Campmeeting Boys. The original members were Jim Hill, Harold Patrick, and John Conley. In 1947, a fourth member was added to the group and they became known as the Golden Keys Quartet. The quartet was a very popular group in and around the Ohio area for many years.
First tenor Jim Hill and second tenor Harold Patrick were soon joined by baritone Pat Duncan and bass Clarence Claxon. Harold Patrick also played the piano for the quartet. This personnel began to expand their music outside their home area and become well known in the gospel music circles. Except for a short time that Hill spent with the Ambassadors Quartet, this lineup remained intact for many years.
The Golden Keys Quartet soon grew from a local part-time group to one that became quite active in the gospel music field. They were one of few part-time groups invited to perform at the National Quartet Convention. Their vocal arrangements were not extremely challenging, but the emotion with which they presented their songs made them a very exciting group from the stage.
Jim Hill, manager of the quartet, grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio. Jim studied opera and auditioned with the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and the Metropolitan Opera Company. However, his background in church music prevailed, and he continued in his quest to perform gospel music.
The Golden Keys Quartet continued with the same personnel for several years. This led to an outstanding vocal blend and a great working relationship. Their programs often showcased the exciting tenor vocals of Jim Hill on sacred classics such as "The Ninety and Nine," "I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked," "God Bless America" and "The Stranger of Galilee."
The group performed many top gospel songs of the day, but their real forte was performing the new compositions of Jim Hill. Jim Hill wrote the gospel music classic, "What a Day That Will Be" in the early 1950s. It was first presented by the Golden Keys Quartet and first recorded by the Homeland Harmony Quartet. Jim is a very humble man and at first didn't realize the impact of this great song. It became one of the most requested songs by the Golden Keys Quartet. Soon many other professional gospel quartets added the song to their programs. The Speer Family had a very popular arrangement of the song and Ben Speer eventually published it. It will forever be associated with Jim Hill.
The Golden Keys Quartet not only furthered the writing career of Jim Hill, but they also were responsible for bringing the songs of then fledgling songwriter Bill Gaither to the gospel music community. The Golden Keys Quartet often performed in concert with the early version of the Gaither Trio consisting of Bill and his siblings, Danny and Mary Ann. This association led the Golden Keys Quartet to introducing many new Gaither compositions on their albums and concert appearances.
Not only did the Golden Keys Quartet appreciate the writing abilities of Bill, but they also recognized the vocal talents of Bill's younger brother, Danny. After Danny Gaither graduated from college, he moved to the Portsmouth area to begin his teaching career. Recognizing this nearby talent, Harold Patrick relinquished his role as lead singer for the Golden Keys Quartet and Danny Gaither moved into this position which he held until 1966. With Patrick able to concentrate on the piano and Gaither's Hess-like vocals, the Golden Keys Quartet continued to polish their sound and continued to be in demand by the gospel quartet circuit.
The popularity of the Golden Keys Quartet may have eventually led to their disbandment. All of the members had full time jobs, but the requests for bookings continued to come in. Although they were in great demand, it still wasn't enough for the group to become a full-time quartet. However, Jim Hill felt the calling to full time gospel music, and accepted the call from Doyle Blackwood to join the "New" Stamps Quartet in 1962. Jim's dynamic vocal talent led the Stamps to even greater heights in the gospel music community. It has been said that the Stamps first Skylite recording with Jim Hill, "What a Day That Will Be," was by far the biggest selling album at the 1963 National Quartet Convention when it was first released for sale.
Jim Hill continued his career with the Stamps Quartet for several years before joining Hovie Lister and the Statesmen Quartet as lead singer. He brought several of his top songs to the Statesmen Quartet. They soon became some of the most requested songs on the Statesmen Quartet programs.
Jim was replaced in the Golden Keys Quartet first by Al Harkins and later by Dean Hickman. Danny Gaither left the group in 1966 and Harold Patrick again resumed double duty as pianist and lead vocalist with the quartet before the Golden Keys Quartet retired their name. After the Golden Keys Quartet disbanded, Harold Patrick joined the Gospel Harmony Boys as pianist and played for them for several years. He also was a member of other groups including the Sentries and the Guardians.
Bill Gaither has often given the Golden Keys Quartet credit for bringing his songs to the gospel music forefront. One of the first Gaither songs ever produced on sheet music featured a picture of the Golden Keys Quartet on the cover page. The Golden Keys Quartet introduced several Gaither songs such as "I'm in Love with Jesus," "Have You Had a Gethsemane," "I've Been to Calvary," "Old Fashioned Meeting," and "Lovest Thou Me" to the gospel singing world.
May I step on my soapbox for a moment? If I were "King for a Day," there are three gentlemen I would immediately induct into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Those gentlemen are Joe Roper, Bill Shaw, and Jim Hill. I have discussed the talents of Mr. Roper in an earlier history lesson about the Melody Boys Quartet and will discuss the talents of Mr. Shaw in an upcoming lesson.
Jim Hill certainly belongs among the elite in gospel music. His talents as a singer and song writer certainly merit his inclusion in the SGMA Hall of Fame. Songs such as "Each Step I Take," "For God So Loved," "No One Ever Cared So Much," and "I'll Make it to Heaven" are gospel music classics. "What a Day That Will Be" is one of the most popular songs in the history of gospel music. He was nominated for a Dove Award as Songwriter of the Year in 1969. Mr. Hill's great tenor voice and stage presence made him one of the finest communicators in the history of gospel music. Let's hope that he will soon be included as a member of the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Jim continues to be a crowd favorite when he performs at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion and on selected Gaither projects.
The Golden Keys Quartet should also be remembered as a group that demonstrated that hard work and dedication can make for an outstanding career for the "weekend warriors." This fine quartet helped chart the course for several elite gospel music artists. They created a great beginning point for several that have affected the gospel music industry in an important way.
I'd like to thank my friend and fellow historian, Dean Adkins, for providing indispensable information for this lesson. When I have questions about gospel music, I turn to Professor Adkins for the answers. Thanks, Dean!
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Well Pat died about five or six years ago sad to say. However Clarence is my grandfather and is now 80 years old and still singing at the Paint Valley Jamboree on Saturday night in Bainbridge Ohio. He still lives in Vanceburg KY, while I now reside in Dallas TX. Feel free to e-mail me if you would like any info.
Any idea what happened to Pat Duncan and Clarence Claxon?
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