CCM Classic Blog

A Young Soprano Singer From The Gaither's Backup Group Who Stole the Show in 1981; Guess Who: by Phillip Mayaab

Those of us "older" folks who were conscious enough in the late 70s remember a time when the "live" album was one of the biggest fads in the music industry. On the mainstream side of the musical spectrum, live albums by artists like Peter Frampton and Kiss were some of the biggest selling recordings of the decade.  Christian music was not immune from the concert album trend, as the 70s saw an iconic live recording from Dallas Holm & Praise (which eventually sold over 500,000 plus copies), another iconic concert LP from LoveSong (Feel The Love), with the 2nd Chapter Of Acts releasing 2 live albums, and the Imperials releasing 3 concert recordings.  So back in the day, the live album was big, and so we're going to feature one of CCM's all time best selling live albums this week on Vinyl Revival - Sandi Patti's 1983 treasure "More Than Wonderful."

EVERYBODY knew who Sandi Patti was in the 80s, and not just contemporary fans...the Southern Gospel crowd knew who she was as well.  I still remember very well as a 13 year old youngster going to see the Bill Gaither Trio in March of 1981 at the old Kiel Opera House in St. Louis, although my young mind did not comprehend what I saw that night until a couple of years later. Not only did I see the Gaither Trio (who I still love to this day), but they featured a performance of "Your First Day In Heaven" which was sang by Bill, Gary McSpadden, a tenor singer named Steve Green, and a bass singer named Lee Young.  That's right, I saw the original lineup of what we now know as the Gaither Vocal Band.  It didn't end the band that night were guys named Mark Gersmehl and Billy Smiley, who would join forces with Steve Green, Dann and David Huff, and Gary Lunn in 1982 to form a little Christian Rock band called WhiteHeart. The other person I remember seeing that evening was a young soprano singer from the Gaither's backup group who literally stole the show with a bit that she did which included several renditions of the old Sunday School standard "Jesus Loves Me," and one of those ways was a pretty good impersonation of my all time favorite female vocalist, Karen Carpenter.  The young woman's name was Sandi Patti, and so now, I tell folks that I actually got to see and hear her before she became "SANDI PATTI," the world renowned CCM artist that she would later be known as.

Sandi had released an album called "For My Friends" in 1978 for an indie label called Burlap Sound, which was located in Gaither's hometown of Alexandria, Indiana. That album got her a one shot deal with Milk And Honey Records (which would later become the home of both Twila Paris and Wayne Watson), and in 1979, she released her second album "Sandi's Song."  Though neither of those first two recordings set sales records, they did catch the attention of Impact Records, the legendary CCM division of the Benson Company in Nashville.  The label had lost several big names, including both the Gaithers and Imperials, and in their quest to find some fresh faces, they signed Sandi to a contract. She released her third and fourth albums, "Love Overflowing" and "Lift Up The Lord" in 1981 and 82 respectively.  Her popularity was growing, due largely in part to her beautiful operatic soprano voice, the likes of which had never been heard on a Christian recording before.   After the success  of "Lift Up The Lord," the record company decided to record one of Sandi's concerts, and release a live album.  In March of 1983, Sandi Patti released the landmark live album "More Than Wonderful," and on June 25, 1985 it would become the first of eight albums from her catalog of work to earn an RIAA certified gold album award for half a million units sold.  Just over 5 years later, on October 22, 1990 "Wonderful" became her second album to receive a platinum album award, when it sold its one millionth copy*, making it the best selling live album by a Christian artist to date.

All this for an album that came out after the end of the live LP explosion of the 70s.  By 1983, live albums just weren't as big as they had been in the previous decade, but that did not stop "More Than Wonderful" from becoming immensely popular...this was literally the album that made Sandi Patti a superstar.  There's a good possibility as you read this, that you could very well be one of the million plus people in the US that own a copy of this iconic album, and if that be the case, you already know that this LP is packed with fantastic songs, each with its own amazing vocal performance to showcase.  To look at the setlist today, there are tracks that instantly stand out, for instance, a pretty good rendition of Bob Farrell & Billy Smiley's "Because Of Who You Are," which had been a huge hit for The Imperials shortly before Sandi released her version.  There's the live version of Michael W. Smith's "How Majestic Is Your Name," which is actually preferred by some fans over the studio version from "Lift Up The Lord."  A well done performance of Eddie DeGarmo and Dana Key's "In His Love," and even though I usually prefer the original recording of a song like this, I have to tell you, I think Sandi's version of it is every bit as good as the D&K recording from "Mission Of Love."  Lastly, I was so excited when I found out she had included the "Jesus Loves Me Medley" on this album, because it was what I remembered the most (and still do to this day) from her performance in St. Louis.  If you have somehow never listened to this album, it is worth your time just to listen to the different ways she sings this old classic Sunday School song - the operatic version is the best of them all (in my opinion).

But it was two particular songs that helped blast this album into the stratosphere...the first being the title track, written by Lanny Wolfe, and performed as a duet with another rising star at the time, Larnelle Harris.  Just an amazing performance by both vocalists, "More Than Wonderful" would clean up at the 1984 Dove Awards...Lanny Wolfe won songwriter of the year, the song itself won Song Of The Year.  Sandi Patti won Inspirational Album Of The Year for the LP, and she walked away with both Female Vocalist and Artist Of The Year, so as you can see, this album truly was THE turning point of her career.  The other song that helped push sales of this album was the show stopper that closes the recording, Dottie Rambo's masterpiece "We Shall Behold Him."  I personally consider this to be the best song that Ms. Rambo ever wrote, and that's saying a lot, because she has written many, many beautiful tunes.  I would submit to you that I cannot think of another CCM female vocalist who could have performed the song as well as it was performed on this album.  If you can listen to the soul stirring vocals and lyrics, and not feel it in your soul, something is seriously wrong, because by the time the song is over, you should be ready for the Lord to step through the clouds of glory, and take us all home. It is the kind of performance that sets a benchmark for others to follow, because when you can feel something stirring inside of you, as a singer is singing a song, that is one of the marks of a truly legendary song, and "We Shall Behold Him" is exactly that, and then some.

In closing, this is one of the recordings I place on a list of albums that every CCM fan should have. Even if you are not the biggest Sandi Patti fan, this album should be in your collection, if nothing else than for the two songs that I just mentioned.  When all is said and done, this LP is an hour's worth of CLASSIC Christian music, sang by one of the most talented ladies to ever take the stage. As I said earlier, anyone who knows anything about Christian music knows who Sandi Patti enjoy the album that made her an icon with us this week on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival.



Side 1 - 

1. It's Your Song, Lord (Sandi Patti, Billy Smiley and  Claire Cloninger)

2. How Majestic Is Your Name (Michael W. Smith)

3. In His Love (Eddie DeGarmo and Dana Key)

4. Jesus Loves Me Medley (Traditional: arranged by Sandi Patti)

5. Upon This Rock (Gloria Gaither and Dony McGuire)

Side 2 - 

1. Because Of Who You Are (Bob Farrell and Billy Smiley)

2. Yes, God Is Real (Kenneth Morris)

3. More Than Wonderful (Lanny Wolfe)

4. When The Time Comes (David Kavich)

5. We Shall Behold Him (Dottie Rambo)

* sales figures obtained from

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