For nearly 80 years, the Jackson Southernaires have been singing the gospel

The Jackson Southernaires will receive a Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement in Music on February 6, 2020. A nearly 80 year-old gospel group based in Jackson, Mississippi, they were the first group in Mississippi to employ keyboards, guitar, drums and bass instruments in gospel, establishing a practice that continues today.

Formed in 1940 by producer Frank Crisler, the group began performing in local churches and venues around Jackson and the Delta. They officially began recording in 1969, with the release of Too Late with Song Bird Records. In 1972, the Jackson Southernaires shared an LP titled He’s My Brother with the Williams Brothers, a well-known group that consisted of members Frank and Huey Williams’ younger brothers. After their debut album, the group began to tour around the state and eventually expanded their tours nationally and internationally.

“My prayer every night before we go on stage is that someone receives a blessing through our songs and something we might say in our song might help them with their situation.” Maurice Surrell, Jackson Southernaires

In addition to their renowned gospel career, the group hosted a weekly radio show for more than 43 years, as well as the television program Gospel Unlimited in 1973. They became Malaco’s first gospel artist when they were signed with the label in 1975, and former member Frank Williams became the division head years later when Malaco created a Gospel Division. 

The group has released 28 albums, 11 of which have charted on the Billboard Gospel Albums chart, through record labels such as MCA, Malaco, Redemption, and Blackberry Records. The Gospel Music Workshop of America named the Jackson Southernaires its “Traditional Male Group of the Year” in 1987, 1988 and 1989. The group won a Stellar Award in 1989 and were nominated for a Grammy in 1992 for Best Traditional Gospel Album for Thank You Mama for Praying for Me. In 2010, the city of Jackson honored the hometown heroes by renaming a section of Bailey Avenue Jackson Southernaires Drive.

Former members of the group are Nathaniel Baldwin (D), Levi Butler (D), Luther Jennings (D), Paul Peters (D), Charles Polk, David Surrell, and Frank Williams (D). Current members of the legendary group include 50 year members Huey Williams and James Burks, and 40 year member Maurice Surrell, whose father was an original member.

The group continues to employ the tradition of Southern Gospel with the use of modern sounds. Their unique style and traditional gospel values are the reason the multi-generational group remains a popular group among the gospel genre to this day.

Join us for the 2020 Governor’s Arts Awards to celebrate The Jackson Southernaires’ historic career and meet the group.

Listen to a recent Mississippi Arts Hour interview with Maurice Surrell of the Jackson Southernaires.