The ‘Lampliters’ lit the night many a Georgia evening

Published 6:14 pm Friday, June 1, 2018

On any given dark, lonely Georgia night back in the 1960s, mama would lighten the mind’s sky by putting on some old-time Gospel records. That is one of my most vivid and best 901 Juniper Street memory.

Some time ago my then 7-year-old granddaughter Audrey Lyn helped take us back to that strip of memory lane. Of course, it was a short trip.

She jumped in the back seat as we were driving her to her gymnastics class that evening and had barely even buckled her seatbelt when she said, “Popman, will you put on some church music?”

She might as well have said, “Popman, let’s take a little stroll down that strip you call memory lane.” Gospel singing, you see, was as much a part of our growing up as that Georgia red clay. And it went right along with some of those long, hard sermons you might hear on a summer night at any number of churches of Christ within 50 miles of our LaGrange town.

It was easy to fulfill Pretty Eyes’ request that evening, because we already had an old album in the CD-player by a group called “The Gospel Lampliters,” a gathering of singers from all over the country that old brother Lynwood Smith put together for albums back in the 1960s.

One of the first songs that came on was that old-time favorite, “I Love to Tell the Story.” Pretty Eyes was happy to know that — back in the summer of 1967 — her Popman had chosen that great hymn the first time he got out of his seat nervously to lead a song among his growing-up friends at the Murphy Avenue Church of Christ. That seems as if it were a couple of hundred years ago. I had no idea at the time — a few days from turning 11 — of the implications of that selection. Pretty Eyes’ singing of that song in the back seat almost 50 years later added even more to its significance and beauty.

Some of our great friends from our growing-up years sang on that album, including three or four from our home congregation there in LaGrange. Larry Thompson — brother to our best friend and now somewhat famous Coca-Cola Mike — supplied one of the smoothest basses you will ever hear.

Singing lead among several other ladies was Alice Ann Prince, who would some years later become Alice Ann Thompson. She and Larry would marry and blend their voices together side by side at our old home church for many decades, until Alice Ann left us a few years ago. Larry still supplies that smooth bass back home, though it comes, perhaps, with a little sadder tone than before.

Singing alto on those albums was one of our all-time favorite people, a lady named Faye Rowe. Faye was Alice Ann’s first cousin, and she sat near Larry and Alice Ann for years down on the left side, toward the front. There was never a lack of smooth bass, pure soprano and rich, harmonizing alto in LaGrange during those years. When the great apostle wrote long ago for us to “sing and make melody in the heart to the Lord,” he does not specify that the singing has to be in beautiful, spine-chilling four-part harmony. But such harmony was an added blessing that the Lampliters and our old home-church provided — and still does.

When we say the church still enjoys the same sweet sound, we do not mean the same voices are still harmonizing as they did before, although you can almost hear those smooth, old voices any time you walk into that building. Alice Ann’s voice was one you could hear above all others, and that was the way it was for almost seven decades, I guess. I’m not sure I ever met anyone who could sing a cleaner, purer soprano. In fact, whenever I put on the Lampliters, it seems that hers is the only voice I hear, even though there were several other lead singers on that album. Her voice stood out on the Lampliters albums; and it stood out when we worshiped for all those years back home. Even though Pretty Eyes would not have known who it was, I’m sure it stood out for her as we heard the group singing “I Love to Tell the Story” beautifully that night a couple of years ago.

Then add Faye Rowe’s rich alto filling in the harmony. It was almost like the colors of the sunset filling in the creases of gray in the sky. But it was not just her voice that was so distinct, it was her life, too. As beautifully as Faye Rowe sang that rich alto, her life was something just as special. Her life was a blending of rich, harmonious, gentle qualities that set her apart, even as the richness in her voice.

Hers is a story that we must tell, a beautiful refrain. But when we get to it, don’t be surprised if we don’t have to sing it a bit softly. As I told my “church-music” loving granddaughter that night, Faye Rowe was one of LaGrange’s greatest citizens. I know. I lived next door to her for 17 years.