Earl Smith “Smitty” Gatlin
Earl Smith “Smitty” Gatlin (1935 – 1972)
Inducted in 1999
Born and reared in Pulaski, Tennessee, Smitty Gatlin became one of the smoothest and best-loved lead singers in Southern Gospel by the mid-1960s.
He broke into the business in 1956 when promoter Wally Fowler initially chose him to form and manage a new backup group called the Country Boys. Impressed with the young singer’s remarkable voice and his sincerity, Fowler then convinced Smitty and his recruits to form a new version of the recently-disbanded Oak Ridge Quartet. The new group debuted at one of Fowler’s all-night singings in Birmingham, Alabama, on New Year’s Eve, 1956.
By 1958, Smitty Gatlin had purchased the group outright and had set out to turn it into one of the best groups in the gospel music industry. Suffering several lean years in the late-1950s, Gatlin and the Oaks persevered and, by the early years of the 1960s, began to emerge as one of the most popular and dynamic young groups in Southern Gospel. With Smitty’s direction, the Oaks experimented with the “Nashville Sound,” adding new instrumentation to create a fuller sound on their recordings.
A committed Christian, Gatlin’s struggle to serve his Lord ultimately led him to leave the Oaks in 1966 in order to accept a position as minister of music at the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas. A few years later, he formed the Smitty Gatlin Trio and resumed some professional work though he continued to concentrate more on church revivals and his own music ministry.
One of the genuine combinations of outstanding talent and Christian dedication, Smitty Gatlin left the gospel music world prematurely. On March 20, 1972, he passed away after a bout with cancer.
Adger McDavid Pace
Adger McDavid Pace (1882 – 1959)
Inducted in 1999
Born August 13, 1882 near Pelzer, South Carolina, Adger M. Pace soon gained a love and appreciation for music that characterized the remainder of his life.
He sang bass for seventeen years as a member of the Vaughan Radio Quartet, singing over WOAN–one of the South’s first radio stations. He was also active in singing conventions, serving as one of the organizers and the first president of the National Singing Convention in 1937.
Pace’s most significant contribution was as a teacher of gospel music. He taught harmony, counterpoint and composition in the Vaughan School of Music in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, educating the first generation of Southern gospel Music leaders. Beginning in 1920, he served for 37 years as Music Editor for all Vaughan publications.
He was also a notable songwriter–composing more than a thousand songs in his career. Among his many popular contributions were “That Glad Reunion Day,” “Jesus Is All I Need,” “The Home-coming Week,” “The Happy Jubilee,” and “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.”
Rex Lloyd Nelon
Rex Lloyd Nelon (1932 – 2000)
Inducted in 1999
Born January 19, 1932 near Asheville, North Carolina, Rex Nelon fell in love with Southern Gospel quartet singing as a young boy. After service in the Marine Corps in the early 1950s, he began singing with local, part-time groups in the Asheville area.
By 1955, he had made a mark for himself and secured a position singing bass for the Homeland Harmony Quartet. In 1957, Rex accepted a job singing and playing guitar with the LeFevres and, over the next two decades, became one of the best known personalities in the industry.
In the mid-1970s, Rex gained ownership of the LeFevres and, after the retirement of Eva Mae LeFevre in 1977, changed the name of the group to the Rex Nelon Singers. Surrounding himself with a talented group of young vocalists and musicians, he took the group (subsequently known as the Nelons) to the top of the Southern Gospel Music industry.
Rex was also influential as a gospel music publisher. By the 1990s, his publishing interest comprised one of the largest holdings of Southern Gospel Music material.