The Gospel Music Hall of Fame is operated by the Gospel Music Association (GMA) Foundation, based in Nashville. The Gospel Music Hall of Fame recognizes groups or individuals who have been influential in the gospel music industry for more than thirty years. The hall of fame has over one hundred members from three music categories-Southern/ Bluegrass, Urban Gospel, and Inspirational/Contemporary Christian-as well as individuals from non-performing backgrounds. Since 1971, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame has inducted between one and twelve new members each year. The three-hundred-member electorate from the GMA selects the inductees.
The members are as varied as the people they have influenced. The hall reflects over two hundred fifty years of progress and influence from writing and composing, publishing and printing, and performing and promoting. Included are evangelists such as Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows. Although they are not famous for performing gospel music, they have provided platforms for singing groups and individuals. The oldest inductees include eighteenth-century ministers and songwriters such as Charles Wesley, who composed over six thousand songs, and John Newton, minister and writer of “Amazing Grace.” At present, the youngest member of the Hall of Fame is Amy Grant of Nashville. Inducted at age forty-three, she has been influential in gospel music since her early teens. Grant is the first Christian Music artist to achieve “platinum” sales of her recordings. The association recognized performer “Tennessee” Ernie Ford as both a musician and the first president of the Gospel Music Association. Ford also served on the Gospel Music Hall of Fame advisory committee and used his career as a radio and television personality to bring gospel music to his audiences.
The hall also honors Elvis Presley, inducted in 2001, for recording over fifty gospel songs, three of which earned him Grammy Awards. He is the only artist who is a member of the Halls of Fame for Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel. Also honored at the Gospel Music Hall of Fame is singer Pat Boone, second only to Elvis in record sales during the 1950s. Along with these famous individuals are singing groups such as the Gaither Trio, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Petra, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, and many more. Several members received honors both as individuals and as groups such as Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither, Vestal Goodman, the “Queen of Gospel Music” and founding member of the Happy Goodman Family, and Alphus and Eva Mae LeFevre. Mahalia Jackson, the first African American inductee, broke attendance records at Carnegie Hall and performed at President Kennedy’s inaugural celebrations.
The Gospel Music Hall of Fame is a work in progress. To date, the GMA foundation is in possession of a variety of items ranging from instruments, sheet music, records, costumes, and other memorabilia, but present facilities allow only for the display of photographs and biographical information about each member. The GMA Foundation hopes to expand its display capabilities into a small museum by 2010. The Gospel Music Hall of Fame is currently located in the GMA office at 1205 Division Street in Nashville. Until the creation and expansion of this exhibit, gospel music enthusiasts can learn about the members of the hall of fame by visiting the GMA website.