A great one died with little notice

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 10, 2002

A great Alabamian died last week with little mention of it at all.

It was Howard &uot;Happy&uot; Goodman of the Happy Goodman Family.

It didn’t get the attention that the world gave Frank Sinatra or Elvis, or the hysteria that broke out when Jim Morrison died or John Lennon left this earth, but his skills and abilities in his line of work were equally as great by worldly standards &045; and will prove to have an even greater eternal reward.

Many people would find it strange that a modern day, young (relatively speaking) businesswoman like me would even know who the Happy Goodman Family is. Believe me, I know.

They were a staple where I grew up in south Alabama.

Every Sunday morning, we were awakened by the sound of them on television’s Gospel Jubilee.

At that time, the group consisted of Howard’s wife, Vestal, and his two brothers, Rusty and Sam.

I have almost every song they’ve ever recorded and listen to them daily. Some of my greatest moments of spiritual inspiration have come from hearing one of my all-time favorite heroes (who ranks right up there in my book with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher), Vestal Goodman &045; justifiably named the First Lady of Gospel Music &045; belt out &uot;God Walks the Dark Hills,&uot; or any of their countless number of great inspirational songs.

Howard Goodman was a musician and a preacher from right here in Alabama. The group’s trademark song was &uot;I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now.&uot;

I guess he wouldn’t, because he once said, &uot;I’ve never earned one dime from anywhere in this world only by preaching and singing the gospel.&uot; Not the easiest way to make money, I might add.

He had the same sentiment in his feature song and poetic recitation in &uot;I Don’t Regret a Mile I’ve Traveled for the Lord.&uot;

In a day when we have churches employing six or seven ministers each, some with six digit salaries, and TV evangelists making millions of dollars a year, it’s refreshing to remember a man who early in his career had nothing and traveled across the state and the country in beat-up old cars, and later a purple bus, to tell others about God.

Since the deaths of his two brothers, he, his wife, Vestal, and fellow group member Johnny Minnick have carried on the Happy Goodman tradition and have been regulars on the Gaither Gospel Music Series.

They, along with Bill Gaither, have been instrumental in the enormous revival of Southern Gospel Music across America.

Howard Goodman was a great musician.

He had an inate ability to play a piano that could rival that of any concert pianist in the world.

He was a good man and a great Alabamian who has received little attention for perhaps the greatest accomplishments of all &045; not Grammy Awards or gold records (though he had many of those as well) &045; but rather leading thousands of people to Christ in Alabama and across the world.

When Howard Goodman died, we lost a great Alabamian in the truest sense and eternal meaning of the word.

Beth Chapman is a columnist for the Shelby County Reporter. She will begin serving a four-year term as Alabama’s State Auditor in January. She lives with her family in north Shelby County