On March 26, 1989, Easter Sunday, Ron Booth Sr. and his sons, Ronnie and Michael, performed together for the first time. For them, life would never be the same. Very few accolades can be paid to the Booth Brothers in this article that haven’t already been given to them numerous times, but few writings have extensively covered their background and early history. It is hard to believe that the Booth sons have been singing and ministering for more than a quarter century. I will admit that I actually wrote the bulk of this article months ago, and have been waiting for the appropriate time to share it. After Ronnie and Michael recently posted on Facebook in acknowledgement of their 27th year, it only seemed appropriate that this month’s column coincide with their anniversary. The history of the Booth Family in gospel music is a rich one, spanning almost 60 years. Theirs is a story of struggle, endurance, growth, and triumph, and it is this writer’s hope that proper tribute will be paid to rightfully one of the most beloved gospel groups of the past quarter century.In 1957, 13 year old tenor vocalist Ron Booth, Sr. joined with his brothers Charles (lead), James (baritone), and Wallace (bass) in forming the Booth Brothers Quartet in Detroit, Michigan. Based out of their home church, Gilead Baptist Church, the quartet traveled regionally for six years. The only personnel change the group encountered was when brother James was drafted into the Army, at which point family friend Ron Holtzhouse filled the baritone role. The quartet disbanded in 1963. Ron joined popular Detroit-based quartet The Toney Brothers, and brother Charles soon joined The Orrell Quartet. Fortunately, it would not be the last time these two brothers would sing together.
Replacing longtime tenor and Toney Brothers founder Alden Toney, Ron’s ultra-high tenor vocals and charisma caught the attention of the gospel quartet world quickly. In 1967, Ron accepted the call to join the Rebels Quartet, and he, his wife Priscilla, and 2-year-old son Ronnie were off for Tampa, Florida. Ron’s predecessor Horace Parrish was beloved by his many fans and friends, yet Ron quickly captured the hearts of gospel music listeners across the country. The Rebels had been a quite stable force in gospel music, with London Parris, John Matthews, and Little Jimmy Taylor all having tenures with the group spanning more than a decade, but by the end of the 1960s, Matthews and Taylor had retired from the road, and Parris had joined the Blackwood Brothers. Jim Hamill assumed the reins of the quartet, and Ron and Charles were united once again singing with the Rebels.
The Rebels of the early 1970s brought a lot of energy to the stage, and recorded some of the finest albums in the quartet’s history. Eldridge Fox took note of Hamill’s dynamic stage presence and emcee work and hired him to sing with the Kingsmen Quartet. Ron assumed the role of manager for the quartet, but unfortunately, the only things that seemed constant with the Rebels during the 70s were numerous personnel changes and financial struggles. The Rebels disbanded around 1975. Ron traveled with several groups during the late 70s including The Americans Quartet, JD Sumner and the Stamps, the Thrasher Brothers, and served another tenure with the Toney Brothers, before retiring from gospel music in 1979. Ron returned home to Florida and entered into a successful paint contracting business, but by the late 1980s, alcoholism, the IRS, and financial despondence had taken its toll on him. In the Fall of 1990, sons Ronnie and Michael took Ron to Elim Home for Alcoholics in Lynchburg, VA. It was there that Ron fully surrendered his life to Christ, and upon returning home, Ron, Ronnie, and Michael reorganized The Booth Brothers.Former Rebels pianist Tim Sievert joined the Booths as pianist and bass vocalist, but was soon forced to leave the group due to health concerns, now leaving the group without an accompanist. Longtime friend Mosie Lister supplied the Booth Brothers with several of his choral soundtracks and assisted them with their vocal arrangements. This led to the Booth Brothers’ first recording in 1993, Beyond the Cross. Also in 1993, while performing at the Rebels Quartet Homecoming in Tampa, Florida, the Booth Brothers caught the attention of promoter Charlie Waller, who quickly invited them to perform at the upcoming Grand Ole Gospel Reunion for 1994. The Booth Brothers sang the Gaither classic “I Just Feel Like Something Good Is About to Happen” for their first major stage appearance , and Greenville Memorial Auditorium erupted with loud applause and cheers. Growing up, the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion was an annual trip for my family, and I can still remember as an 11-year-old boy watching this new trio electrify the audience. Perhaps no more prophetic of a tune could have been chosen for the brothers’ performance that night, for good things were definitely about to happen. Soon afterwards, legendary producer Eddie Crook signed the Booths to a recording contract with MorningStar Records.
As the demand for concert appearances grew, the Booth Brothers made the decision to enter into full-time ministry. The rigors of the road soon proved too much for diabetic Ron Booth Sr., who retired in the Fall of 1998. Baritone vocalist and pianist Joseph Smith proved to be a Godsend to the group, as his smooth blend with the brothers would leave the casual listener hardly aware that a change had taken place.
As with most groups launching into a full-time gospel music career, the Booth Brothers entered into survival mode. Many full-timers understand periods like these….days where concert appearances are too many to be a part-time group and too few for a full-time entity to pay the bills. Matters changed from bad to worse in 1999 when the Booths suffered a devastating loss due to a bus robbery claimed thousands of dollars worth of equipment and products. Surely the end was in sight for the Booth Brothers at this point, but a ray of hope came in the form of a song penned by Mosie Lister. “Still Feelin’ Fine” captured the harmony and energy of the Booth Brothers in a new and refreshing manner, and became a major radio and concert hit. In 2001 upon the recommendation of Jake Hess, the Booths performed their new hit on the Gaither Homecoming Video Freedom Band, marking their first of hundreds of their famed Gaither Homecoming appearances, and a lasting friendship with Bill and Gloria Gaither.
With the acquisition of baritone vocalist Jim Brady in 2002, the Booth Brothers only went higher in Gospel and Christian music. The rest, as they say, is history. The lineup of Ronnie, Michael, and Jim enjoyed success unparalleled by many of their contemporaries, placing songs such as “He Saw It All”, “Welcome to the Family”, “What Salvation’s Done for Me”, and “Look for Me at Jesus’ Feet” atop the southern gospel music charts, acquiring numerous industry and fan-voted awards, and performing to sell-out audiences across the globe. Brady captured the hearts of Booth fans, and remained faithful to his singing friends for twelve tremendous years. When he formed the Jim Brady Trio at the end of 2014, longtime friend and singer-extrordinaire Paul Lancaster was waiting in the wings. The Booth Brothers continue thrilling audiences with their intricate harmonies, great songs, energy, charisma, commitment to the gospel, and their genuine love and appreciation for their fans. With the rich history behind them and continued bright future ahead of them, it is clear that the Booth Brothers’ influence will be felt for many years to come.
Thank you so much for your questions and kind words in regard to this column! You can email me with any questions or comments at [email protected]. See you next time!