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

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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 Claudia Keith in Tribune,KS @ 04:27 on Dec 28 2019

The summer of 1971 I was on tour with the Continentals & was part of the tour that went to the Netherlands while Cam Flora was there to form the European Continentals!!!! Our director was John Lee!!!! Would like to get some information on the singers!!!! Our tour was the first one to have a sixteen year old with us!!!! I’m sorry that I can’t remember his last name, but his first name was Ken!!!! If you can help me possibly to get in touch with at last John Lee. I believe he was a student at Baylor in the Waco, TX area!!!! If I’m wrong with the actual school Ido know he was at a Texas school!!!! I can be reached thru my E-mail: I Thank You in advance for any help you might be for me!!!!
Yours in Christ, Claudia (Pinkerton) Keith

Posted by Roger H Clemens in AZ @ 15:16 on Jul 16 2019

I am looking for Adam Hemming? We were on tour together in '85 tour "H"

Posted by roy compton in freeport florida @ 17:50 on Aug 20 2018

Years ago, your group came to the Foursquare Church in Wooster, Ohio.
Do you still come to small churches (ours if only 30 members) and perform, if so how much do you charge.

Posted by Gad simon Barbey in Geneva Switzerland @ 15:30 on Jul 6 2018


I’ve been a continentals for two years and started for stand up and afte with the tour of the story of Joseph. It has given me the most amazing experience in tour in my alla artist life. I am turning 41 ans would like to found friends that I’ve lost. But at that time internet...

Could you help me to know to who to ask for it?
I would be so happy to have if you can the name of the list of those continentals. It was the EUROPÉEN FRANCH TOUR. Both of them. Thank you very much


Posted by dave martin in los ángeles @ 22:35 on Sep 11 2017

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Dave Martin. I am a student at Los Angeles City College, here in LA. For the past seven years I have worked on our school newspaper, the Collegian, as a videographer, editor, and writer.

Recently a friend of mine asked me to take over her Christian web-based radio show. What I need is content to put on the air. Would it be all right to use The Continental’s music on the air?

It is not for profit. I simply need content to be able to put on the air. I have never run a radio show before, so I am trying my best to get whatever it is I need.

I look forward to hearing from you.

God bless you/shalom,
Dave Martin

Posted by stephen c dass in India Banalore @ 14:29 on Oct 3 2016

I, Stephen C dass, representing St. Peters Tamil Church, Church of South India, attached with Church of England,
We are interested to have your Music group to perform in our newly built church having capacity of 1600 persons or out door if preferred , let us know your willingness and if interested contact me on 9341260627 or 9880056197 (Please prefix Indian code before mobile No +91)

Posted by Gaynor Moore in Droitwich Spa @ 19:32 on Sep 14 2016

Hi I also was a continental I did several tours fist in summer 1993 around channel islands and uk, April 94 netherlands, denmark and uk, summer 94 New Zealand, April 95 spain,portugal and uk summer 95 South Africa and uk Summer 96. I sadly lost contact with everyone because I am a terrible letter writer and never got into facebook or twiter. I have lots of very fond memories and still pray for everyone i can remember I toured with. Would love to be intouch with anyone off tour.

Posted by Paul A Garland in Concord NH @ 01:04 on Sep 3 2016

Back in the early 70's in W.Germany. I went to see this group many times. I have photos from some of these shows. The one name I remember is Ron Lawson. Is there any interest in seeing any of the photos?

Posted by Dave Sanders in Cedar Rapids, Iowa @ 22:37 on Jun 22 2016

i sang in the Fox Valley Ensemble (Wheaton) in 1963 and competed at Winona Lake. We placed second to the Continentals. In 1964, we took first place! Wonderful memories.

Posted by David Cooper in Southern UK @ 21:07 on Jun 17 2016

Continentals visited my Secondary school - and started my career in providing technical support for a variety of Christian Organisations around the world. Their witness in my school gave me the confidence to stand strong for these past 40 years. Unquestionably a significant contribution to my faith, and I still enjoy listening to their recordings on regular occasions

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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