AU Honors Bill Gaither with Music Alumni Award

 In Colleges & Universities

Photo: (From left to right) Dr. Jeff Wright, Bill Gaither, President Edwards

By Stuart Hirsch

William J. Gaither has earned countless awards and worldwide recognition for a gospel music career that has spanned 45 years and still seems far from over.

There have been eight Grammy Awards and more than a dozen nominations; twice that number of Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association as well as songwriter of the year awards.

Many of the 600 songs Gaither has penned, including his earliest breakthrough hit, “He Touched Me,” have become Christian hymnal standards known worldwide.

Tuesday, the Anderson University School of Music, Theatre and Dance presented Gaither with its 2012 Outstanding Music Alumni Award in recognition of his legacy as an industry leader and mentor to other gospel artists.

The presentation was made during Homecoming Chapel by Jeff Wright, dean of the College of the Arts.

Wright detailed Gaither’s musical and music business achievements, succinctly summing up his career this way:

Photo: Bill Gaither speaks at AU Chapel“He is to gospel music what the Beatles are to pop music,” Wright said.

Before the twice-weekly chapel got under way, Anderson University President James Edwards also talked about Gaither’s musical career, and his impact on the university. “In many ways, this is a long overdue salute to his artistic and professional career,” Edwards said, adding that it would be equally worthwhile to honor Gaither as a businessman and entrepreneur.

“But the music aspect is very meaningful because it is one of the university’s premier programs and we now get a chance, finally, after these many years, to salute someone who is internationally known.

“I have been with him in Europe where people walk up to him in a little store and say ‘Mr. Gaither, I love your music.’ That just blows me away because it means there’s no place in this world where his music has not been,” Edwards said.

“You honor me and you honor Gloria,” Gaither said after receiving the award, referring to his wife and musical partner.

Although Gaither had aspirations of being a professional musician, he began teaching English in 1959 to support himself. He married Gloria Sickal, an AU alumna, in 1962. She also was a teacher.

The couple spent the first five years of their married life juggling their day jobs teaching with writing, singing, recording, and publishing until music became their full-time career in 1967. The couple will celebrate 50 years of marriage in December.

“I loved teaching,” Gaither said during a sit-down talk with campus pastor Todd Faulkner. “I still would be teaching today, but my night job overtook my day job.”

During his conversation with Faulkner, Gaither talked about his lifelong love of gospel music, trying to balance music and teaching, and the importance of establishing a habit of generosity.

Gaither said awards for his music and business achievements are nice, but what he really wants is to be remembered as a giving and generous person. When he asked that question of the young audience, most raised their hands in agreement.

He advised students to begin developing habits of thrift, saving for the future and giving generously now, within their own resources to achieve that goal.

— Stuart Hirsch is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story reposted with permission. Photo credit: John Cleary/The Herald Bulletin.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America’s top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.

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