Southern gospel giant Jake Hess dies in Alabama.

ANOTHER of the giants of Southern gospel music, Jake Hess, died in East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika on 11th January 2004 aged 76. In his hugely influential singing career Hess sang lead in The Statesmen, formed The Imperials, received numerous gospel music awards and sang at the funerals of Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. Hess was born in Limestone County on Christmas eve in 1927, the 12th child of Stovall and Lydia Hess, who were sharecroppers in the Pisgah community east of Athens. They gave him initials - W.J. - for his name. The family had a pump organ and his father and brother taught in singing schools. By age five, Hess was singing with his brothers in a group aptly called The Hess Brothers. The group had a radio show on the former WMFO station in Decatur, now known as WMSL. The family moved to Haleyville when Hess was nine and he joined the Melody Boys. In 1943, he sang with the John Daniel Quartet and Daniel nicknamed him Jake. The quartet made appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and the Melodies Boys became one of Southern gospel's most popular groups. Then Hess joined the equally popular team The Statesmen. He sang lead with the group who became one of the most influential teams in the history of gospel music. Then Hess started the group The Imperials, who won numerous awards and were seminal in expanding Southern gospel into the showbiz mainstream. Eventually The Imperials toured and recorded with Elvis Presley, performing on Elvis' Grammy Award-winning gospel album, 'How Great Thou Art'.
"This group was the forerunner of contemporary Christian music," said music historian Bill Jarnigan. "He added drums, guitar and bass and took some criticism for that and for performing with Elvis." Despite health problems, Hess continued to perform with various groups until his death. Hess is best known to contemporary audiences as a regular guest on the best selling CD and video series Bill & Gloria Gaither's Homecoming Friends. Said Bill Gaither, "I've been blessed to have one of the heroes of my youth become one of my dearest friends. Jake is larger than life. His spirit will live on long after he's gone. The world will miss him and so will I."
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which displays one of his Grammy's, inducted him in 1995. The Gospel Music Hall of Fame inducted him in 1987. The mayor of Columbus, Ga., where Hess was living, named Sept. 6, 1996, Jake Hess Day, when 10,000 fans gathered at the city's civic center for a partial reunion of one of Hess' groups, The Masters V. Hess' funeral was on Wednesday 14th January at Morningside Baptist Church in Columbus. He is survived by three children. CR

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