The Continental Singers: Over 60 albums, over 1,500 concerts a year

Wednesday 24th December 2008

Tony Cummings chronicles the vast contribution made to the creative arts and evangelism by the international "brand" THE CONTINENTAL SINGERS

The Continental Singers
The Continental Singers

One of the challenging things about maintaining the Cross Rhythms website is that Christian music is crammed with unwritten history. As well as the tidal wave of newcomers continually emerging onto the scene with impressive new recordings, there are many established ministries, some going back decades, who have had little or no attention from journalists and music historians. Such is the case of The Continental Singers, otherwise known as The Continentals. Here is an international ministry whose achievements are little short of staggering. They have recorded over 60 albums, they have diversified into a myriad of splinter groups (The Continental Voices And Brass, The Young Continentals, The Encore Continentals, Continental Kids, etc, etc), and under the watchful eye of Continental Worldwide Ministries they play over 1,500 concerts a year. Yet despite all this you will find no listing of The Continentals in Wikipedia or for that matter, The Encyclopedia Of Contemporary Christian Music. There could be several reasons for this lack of media coverage. For a start, The Continental Singers' music has always travelled the middle of the road, bringing a pop element into choir music to produce a smooth, some would say sanitised, style which has mums and dads appeal of which cool music elements find easy to dismiss. For another thing, The Continental Singers are less a group than a brand with dozens of aggregations using the brand name touring simultaneously and sometimes recording in different parts of the world. However, down the years the Continentals have communicated spiritual truth to hundreds of thousands of people around the globe.

The creative mastermind behind the whole Continental Singers ministry phenomenon is a composer, musician and choir director based in California called Cam Floria. Recently he spoke to Cross Rhythms. He said, "I started in Youth For Christ in Portland Oregon in 1963. Our first tour had 20 singers and a small brass and rhythm section and we went to Indiana for YFC'S annual Winona Lake Convention. We won the Choral competition. We did three tours out of Portland. I stopped for a year and finished up my Masters programme in Music Education and moved down to Los Angeles to be near Ralph Carmichael. Ralph's early music, much of it from Billy Graham films, became much of our programmes after we started our own company."

The first albums bearing the Continental Singers name were 'Sing A Happy Song' (1963), 'Sing A Song Along' (1964) and 'Life Is A Symphony' (1965). Cam has fond memories of that decidedly primitive 1963 album. "The first recording was a result of that trip back to Indiana in 1963. I got the idea to do an album of all the popular youth choruses of the day. So when we got back, I did the arrangements and we went to a local radio studio and stood around one old Telefunken microphone and recorded the whole album in one day... including the bass and accordion and drums which sat on the side and were picked up by the same mic. It cost $300! I sent the tape to Word Records and they called me immediately. They loved it, as bad as it was, and they sent me $100 to take a picture of the group. They put the LP on their record club's top Album Of The Month and we sold 20,000 in the first month! And off we went. We recorded two more records for Word the next year only this time at the end of our long summer tour... in Hollywood at Capitol Records with a lot more than one microphone!"

Cam continued, "The real birth of the Continentals as we know it today was spring of 1967 and Ralph and I were the original board members. It began as a non-profit organisation and is still the same today and today there are 12 board members. These last two years we have been celebrating 40 years of ministry. But actually we are well into our 41st at the moment."

The Continental Singers: Over 60 albums, over 1,500 concerts a year

Down the years the Continental Singers have regularly visited the recording studio. Said Cam, "We have had at least one album a year since 1963. We missed '66, but had two in '65 anyway. Otherwise if you count New Hope, Renaissance, Jeremiah People, Reality, Donny Monk and Friends, the Young Continentals, the Continental Orchestra and the Continental Brass - all groups we have started from Continentals - we have over 65 records. The music changed as the secular styles changed and as contemporary music changed. We had to in order to stay current and relative to the youth of our country. In the beginning rock was just an infant, we adopted it as soon as the Christian world recognized and accepted it."

In a church age where evangelism is usually perceived as a separate ministry to praise and worship, the Continentals have always embraced both. Said Cam, "The Continentals are both evangelistic and praise and worship. In fact with our 'Come Bless The Lord' series which started in 1978 we had one of the very first praise and worship albums. My first record in 1963 was a compilation of that day's top Christian choruses which later became the praise and worship formula. Most of our music is evangelistic however, as our calling is to expand the Kingdom of God through the performing arts. We started Jeremiah People to minister totally to the Church. They were never evangelistic."

By the mid-'70s The Continentals had become well and truly an international phenomenon. Netherlands-based author and theologian Leen La Riviere, who is one of the 12 board members of Continental Worldwide Ministries and who runs the renowned Christian Artists Europe Seminar, spoke about his long-time involvement with The Continentals. "In 1969 a friend, being a musical director, got a letter from Cam that he wanted to send a group, The Continentals, to the Netherlands. Panic in the house. This director called me to help, as I had been doing a number of musical and other types of small and large scale events. This first tour became an immense success and so it is till today. That first tour literally changed my life. Here I saw for the first time a combination of youth involvement, faith and contemporary music I had been searching for. God used that to present me the question to take up the Continentals as a personal mission. I did. Every year the American Continentals kept coming, in 1971 I started the European coordination for the Continental ministry, in 1974 we started to tour in communistic eastern Europe (first Poland, next Hungary, Romania, Russia; in secret DDR/East-Germany and Tsjecho Slovakia). In 1974 I started the first Dutch non-American Continental group. Those experiences for the next 10 years laid the foundation for cross-cultural development of other non-American Continental groups: German, French, Italian, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian. Now we have approximately 25 European Continental groups on the road each year! For a while there were British Continentals but today they are part of the European network. Approximately 500 young people in professional training; a leadership training school; a special kids programme (age eight-13); and 400 concerts in Europe, reaching an audience of 100,000 people per year."

Cam Floria took up the topic of The Continentals' extraordinary expansion. "We have at the present 16 global offices that have their own Continentals performing groups, from the Kenyan Continentals to the Chilean Continentals. This year we will begin in India with the first Indian Continentals and hopefully next year in the Philippines. I see no reason why the Continentals will not continue into the foreseeable future as long as the music and performance remains relevant and the ministry continues to be so effective in reaching people with the Gospel. Each office is financially independent, though we do provide music and production ideas to each office. It is fascinating to see the same programme work with the Japanese Continentals as it does for the Mexican Continentals. The Brazilian Continentals, however, have had to adjust and they major on dance and the Kenyans on more ethnic African music."

The Continental Singers: Over 60 albums, over 1,500 concerts a year

Down the years major Christian music figures like Wayne Watson, Steve Taylor and Robert Sterling have cut their musical teeth with The Continentals. Said Cam, "We are the largest grassroots recruiting organisation for contemporary Christian music... hundreds and hundreds of our alumni have gone on to become the worship pastors in so many churches in America. Our people are planted in Nashville and every record company there employs former Continentals. You will also find them in management companies, agencies and on the staff of many top Christian artists like Michael W Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman."

So there we have it. Despite their lack of an entry in Encyclopedia Of Contemporary Christian Music, despite their non-appearances at the annual Dove Awards, The Continental Singers have contributed a vast amount to the very fabric of contemporary Christian music. Cam Floria summed it up neatly, "Our greatest achievement is the 65,000 Continentals who have been through our touring programme. Their lives have been affected in a positive and spiritual way forever. In fact, it is well known that being a Continental is called the 'Life Changing Experience'." CR

About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


 

Reader Comments

Posted by Neil in United Kingdom @ 19:19 on Jun 12 2015

I played keyboards for the 1999 Mission of Love tour to South Africa with the Young Cons and Frontliners...and also did a tour around several places in the uk. Geoffrey Smith was our tour director and Siobhan was our music director. If anyone is reading this that was involved with either of those tours please contact me I set up a group on facebook for all the people involved to catch up



Posted by Neil in Manchester @ 00:10 on Jun 12 2015

I toured with the UK young cons and frontliners in 1999, and with the frontliners the year and year before that. I am desperately trying to catch up with everyone that was involved and if possible re-unite but i am struggling as cannot find anything on google or facebook. I made my own group on Facebook in the hopes someone out there that was involved will see it but no luck. Please someone help me I was recently looking at some photos and it filled me with an overwhelming nostalgia


Reply by Gillian in Belfast @ 01:17 on Jul 29 2015

Hi Neil,
Just came across this now. I toured with uk frontline continentals in 1997 and 1998 under Geoff Smith and tour director was Siobhan and I'm still in contact with her and a few others via Facebook. Can't remember you though so not sure we where on same tour- Did you do rehearsal camp in Northampton? They were great timesp

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Posted by P mcneil in kcmo @ 20:29 on Feb 14 2015

does anyone know if the encore group is still active or enrolling?



Posted by peter warwick in United Kingdom @ 07:09 on Jan 4 2015

I toured with the uk spring tour 1990 and am desperately trying to get a copy of the cassette which we made incl our names in the sleeve but simply dont know where to look online
Does anyone have any ideas



Posted by Lakena Yan Lan in Pinole, California U.S.A @ 06:38 on Jan 2 2015

OMG! You have no idea how excited I am to finally find a website where I can perhaps find the Continentals' music that I've been looking for, for three decades!! I first got to listen to the Continentals when 2 of their groups toured the South Pacific, and 2 different times/years. I am from American Samoa, and both groups stayed at our home when my dad was as pastor in Pava'ia'i, Am. Samoa. I believe deep down in my heart that the Continentals and their music has a lot to do with my desire to sing and to draw closer to Jesus! I thank God for Cam Floria, Ralph Carmichael and the Continental singers every day of my life! You see why I can't stop looking for their music? It helped mold & shape my faith in God, Jesus & His Holy Spirit!!

I have been looking for a lot of their songs: We Are the Reason, Son/Sun & Shield, Different Light, I'll Never Let Go Of Your Hand, The Dreamer, Carry the Light...I forgot the titles for the other songs. Please let me know ASAP if you have these? I WILL BUY THEM ALL! :) Thank you very much for your help & for this website! God bless you and long live the Continental Singers!! Peace, kena



Posted by Ginger Carhart in Clinton, Pa @ 05:55 on Dec 23 2014

heard the Continentals in Utah, Alabama and Germany. Loved their programs and have seep real of their records still. have they been made into CD's. going to put them on my computer as we just got a contraption that does that from best buy. Hope it works!



Posted by Karalin Butler in Belfast, Northern Ireland @ 01:53 on Nov 26 2014

I had a tape of Continentals Volume 4 which I had put on a disc and it was my favourite disc. I played it all the time in my car but when my car was written off I lost ther disc and cannot seem to trace it. Unfortunately I cannot name any of the songs which were on it but I would love to be able to find a copy of it.



Posted by brian vaughan in redditch englanf @ 11:34 on Nov 11 2014

Trying to get a copy of the c.d. Containg all rise and a song that has the words killing children before they are born ,and this little child he is the king of kings. The band came to Redditch A.O.G .it would be about the 1990s



Posted by wil diezeraad-brand in utrecht the netherlands @ 23:00 on Oct 27 2013

hello every one, my name is Wil I am searching for someone who used to be a member of the continentals. when I was a child my parents church asked who wanted s to help to give a sleepingplace in their home for one or two singers. they where one tour in the netherlands. the churche name was " pinkster gemeente Samuel" in Utrecht. at my home stayed a young woman named Marla and here last name I recall was something boudain or bourdin it sounds something like that. she came from Colorado. does someone recognize the description? thanks



Posted by dennis tuchalski in Moro, IL @ 03:11 on Aug 11 2013

I was with the Continentals in 1972. Somehow the listing of our musical, and album, It's Getting Late was omitted from the listing. My only other comment is - I would love to do it all again!! Thanks Cam. and Howard Parker ;-)



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