Governor Mitch Daniels will honor alumni and gospel music singing and songwriting pioneers Bill and Gloria Gaither with the 2008 Sachem, the state’s highest honor, at a ceremony this week.
“With all the success they have achieved, the Gaithers still live with us: in the house in which they raised their children, in the way in which they raised those children, in the way in which they and their music have spoken to us and to the better angels of our nature now for fifty plus years,” said Daniels.
"We are grateful to Governor Mitch Daniels for lifting up the special role the Gaithers have played in our state and nation," said Dr. James Edwards, president of Anderson University. "They help us to define Hoosier values around the commitments they have had all their lives and throughout their careers to be good neighbors, to speak a plain language and live the truth of it among those who know them as friends. They have been generous givers to the things that have made our communities better; things like giving voice to our faith and trust in one another and in God. We are enriched in so many ways because these two talented people live among us and share in our journey."
The Sachem is given annually to recognize a lifetime of excellence and moral virtue that has brought credit and honor to Indiana. Previous recipients include college basketball coaching legend John Wooden, the Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and world statesman, and philanthropist Jane Blaffer Owen. Daniels added, “A joint selection may not happen again, but it’s just impossible to think of one Gaither without the other.”
“I am proud of my Indiana roots,” said Bill Gaither. “Gloria and I have been quite intentional in our choice to reside in this community that loved and supported us before anyone else knew our names. We certainly never imagined that decision would ever result in this incredible honor. Making a living doing what we love is a reward in itself. So we are grateful and extremely overwhelmed to be considered for the 2008 Sachem Award.”
Born and raised near Alexandria, Bill Gaither began his music career while pursuing a degree in teaching at Anderson University. He was still a teenager when he formed the Bill Gaither Trio with his brother, Danny, and his sister, Mary Ann. After graduating from college in 1959, Bill worked as an English teacher at the local high school in Alexandria and married fellow Anderson alumna Gloria Sickal three years later. The Gaithers began writing songs together in the evening while Bill continued teaching as his primary job. Gloria later replaced Mary Ann in the Bill Gaither Trio, and in 1967, Bill left his teaching position so that they could pursue full time careers in the Christian music industry.
The Bill Gaither Trio went on to begin a new era in the gospel music industry, selling out arenas and earning the respect of audiences and industry peers for decades. Their timeless songs would win worldwide recognition, many of which are now considered classics, which have been recorded by countless artists over the years from Elvis Presley to Sandi Patty. In the 1980s, the Gaither Trio evolved into a four-part male group known as the Gaither Vocal Band, which forever raised the bar for gospel groups everywhere and remains the premiere four-part group in gospel music today.
At this date the Gaithers have collaborated on more than 700 popular gospel songs, winning eight Grammy Awards and more than two dozen Dove Awards from The Gospel Music Association (GMA). They have earned the title of the GMA’s “Songwriter of the Year” eight times. In the year 2000, Bill and Gloria were named “Songwriters of the Century” by ASCAP (American Society of Composers Authors, Publishers).
In 1996, Bill and Gloria Gaither were the first musical artists to be inducted into the Christian Booksellers Association’s Hall of Honor, joining only three others who have previously been honored with this distinction: Reverend Billy Graham, Dr. Kenneth Taylor (author of The Living Bible) and Dr. Richard Halverson (former U.S. Senate Chaplain). The Indianapolis Star named “He Touched Me” among the top 10 songs of the 20th century written by a Hoosier.
Despite careers that have taken them throughout the world with their ministry, the Gaithers have continued to call Indiana home, living and raising three children just miles from the farm where Bill grew up.
Over the past four decades, they have moved beyond performing and composing music and have grown the Gaither Music Company into the most far-reaching music business in the gospel music industry. The company comprises a record company, production studio, retail store and a variety of related entities.
Bill and Gloria have never lost touch with their alma mater. Bill has served on Anderson University’s board of trustees for 28 years. Gloria has taught songwriting classes at the university and served on the National Board of Directors for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. They both received honorary doctorates— Bill an honorary doctor of music and Gloria an honorary doctor of humane letters.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 60 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.