Home > History > Liberty circa the mid-Eighties: music

Liberty circa the mid-Eighties: music

By the time I arrived at Liberty there was enough Christian pop music in enough different genres to make the question of what was permissible on campus a sticky question. It was nearly as simple as “Sandy Patti is, Amy Grant isn’t,” but not yet: Grant’s divorce and thoroughly secular duet with former Chicago frontman Peter Cetera were still in the future. The question of whether U2 was Christian or not was still murky, but the answer was still typically “no;” if you’d asked the question after Boy and October the answer might have been a tentative “yes,” but The Unforgettable Fire, with its conflation of Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr made the argument a whole lot harder. And of course once Rattle and Hum came along and Bono took an explicit poke at The Old Time Gospel Hour the question was no longer worth asking.

The Word stable of artists were for the most part acceptable, since that included thoroughly safe Carman, Bill Gaither Trio, Gaither Vocal Band, The Imperials, Rich Mullins, Russ Taff, Amy Grant, Sandy Patti, etc. Steve Taylor was on Sparrow, and Stryper was on Enigma, of all places, and they were definitely in a gray area. The Bob Dylan Christian albums were out; so far as I know nobody was listening to Larry Norman, so he wasn’t an issue.

The worship wars were still in the future, since for the most part Maranatha! Music was still confined to California and the technology that made singing along with a screen (the screens themselves and Microsoft PowerPoint) was still unreliable. People showed up at Liberty having sung songs with very simple lyrics and arrangements appropriate for guitar at youth group or church camp, but they rarely appeared alongside hymns. The song structures that dominated praise choruses were still mostly confined to charismatic churches, and as I mentioned before in 1985 and 1986 charismatics were still officially unwelcome at Liberty.

Liberty’s official music fit somewhere on a continuum between chorale (think Christian glee club or talented church youth choir) on one end and Southern Gospel just past the other. The Sounds of Liberty were the smallest and highest-profile of these groups; they often sang at Thomas Road and occasionally traveled with Jerry. Unlike the other school-sponsored singing groups they did not offer tryouts; Sounds were recruited from Liberty feeder churches and feeder schools. I didn’t realize the significance of it at the time, but the bass in the 1985 edition of the Sounds was from Anchorage Baptist Temple in Anchorage, AK and had been discovered while David Randlett, leader of the group and program sponsor, had been scouting another singer. The Sounds also occasionally recruited singers from e.g. YouthQuest, Smite, or Light, other singing groups that were more like traditional chorales. These groups had roots in larger groups that had traveled with Jerry way back when, such as the Youth Aflame Singers, the LBC Chorale, and if memory serves the I Love America Singers. At some point in the Seventies it became impractical for Jerry to travel with a dozen or so singers and the groups were slimmed down. I suspect but don’t know that when Jerry got a plane the days of the LBC Chorale were numbered.

So far as I know the highest profile singers ever to come out of the Liberty singing groups were the members of dcTalk; I believe they were all members of YouthQuest.

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