This week I am featuring one of the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame members and this feature will be a tribute to his life. Harold Lane is his name and he is from Huntington, West Virginia, and he now makes his home in Heaven. Harold was promoted to the Heavenly choir in June of this year.
Like many youngsters in that part of the country, church was a very big part of his life. And it’s certainly not a long stretch to go from church to music, and young Harold fell in love quickly with the music of the church. It didn’t take Lane long to decide that music would be his calling. He spent a lot of his youth learning how to sing and play a variety of musical instruments. When he entered the service, he continued to study music in Germany during his military stint. Since he loved the gospel quartet music of his home country, he developed a dream of forming an outstanding gospel group that would be unique and distinct from other groups of his time and place.
So when Lane returned to Huntington in 1952, he set about forming such a group. Joining forces with area friends Leonard Adams, J.B. Short, John Embry, and a pianist, Don Owens, Lane formed the Gospel Harmony Boys. Almost immediately, the fledgling group garnered a lot of acclaim and popularity in that portion of the country. Lane had already acquired considerable arranging skill by that time, and was continuing his musical education at Marshall University, earning his Masters degree by 1954. It was unusual then as it is now for members of gospel groups to have such broad formal education and training in music, and Lane used that background to make the Gospel Harmony Boys one of the more interesting groups in the gospel music world.
Lane’s unusual talents attracted the attention of one of the most renowned gospel quartets of all time. The Homeland Harmony Quartet offered Lane a job in 1955, so Lane went to Nashville and stayed with that famous quartet for a year, where he did all the arranging for the group. The Homeland Harmony Quartet was well-known for its difficult and advanced arrangements, and Lane continued in that vein with the group. Lane left the group in 1956 and return to Huntington and rejoin the Gospel Harmony Boys. Nevertheless, Lane continued writing the arrangements for the Homeland Harmony Quartet from West Virginia, and mailed the sheet music south to group manager Connor Hall who as you know was from Greenville.
By this time the Gospel Harmony Boys were becoming a well-known group in the gospel business, and Lane was attracting more attention as a singer, writer, and arranger. By 1961, the group recorded its first LP, I’m Redeemed. By 1963, the Gospel Harmony Boys were becoming seasoned, popular recording artists. They were regulars first on WSAZ-TV and later WHTN-TV in Huntington, and entertained TV audiences in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio for the next 17 years. Also, Lane was beginning to make his mark as a writer, his “I’ve Done What The Lord Said ‘Do’” was recorded by the Prophets and a number of other top quartets of the day. By 1966, the group scored again with Lane’s arrangement of “Love Lifted Me.”
Then, in Nashville, G.T. (Dad) Speer passed away, an event that would alter the course of Harold Lane’s life and career. As the founder of the oldest and most successful mixed gospel group of the era, “Dad” Speer would not be an easy person to replace in the Speer Family. Besides being a very popular singer and personality, it was “Dad” that taught all his children to sing and play a variety of instruments. Clearly then, the replacement for “Dad” had to be not only a gifted singer, but an equally gifted all-around musician. Brock Speer, who by this time had assumed management of his family’s group, knew that the best man for the job was up in West Virginia, so he contacted Harold Lane, and offered him the job in the Speer Family. And in 1967, Lane joined the Speer Family, setting in motion a 22-year stint that would not only add to his considerable reputation that he had already earned, but his joining the group helped the Speers hit their commercial peak as a gospel singing group.
During the next few years Lane wrote such classic gospel songs as “Thank You, Lord” (popularized by the Couriers, but arranged for them by Lane), “Touring That City” (a huge #1 hit in 1973 for the Inspirations), “What Sins Are You Talking About?,” “I’m Standing On The Solid Rock” (a big hit for the Speers and the Florida Boys), “The Next Time He Comes,” “But By Me, Saith The Lord,” “He Was Willing,” and many more. Brock Speer would introduce many of Lane’s songs as “old-sounding new songs,” acknowledging their musical roots in the historical tradition of gospel music, but sounding simultaneously fresh and up-to-date. In that sense, Lane’s work foreshadowed the work of songwriters such as Phil Cross, Daryl Williams, and Rodney Griffin. Lane was certainly an important transitional figure in gospel music’s development from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Lane stayed with the Speers for 22 years, finally retiring from the road in 1989. But like most gospel music personalities, even in retirement, their work doesn’t end. Lane has appeared since then on some of the Bill Gaither Homecoming Videos, and continued to write and arrange music for many of the leading artists. He was a part of the faculty of the Stamps-Baxter School of Music, now being run by Ben Speer, for many years but due to health issues was no longer involved with the school for the last few years of his life.
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