The Cathedrals began in 1963 as a trio consisting of Glen Payne (former lead singer for The Weatherford Quartet), tenor Bobby Clark, and baritone Danny Koker. They were hired by evangelist Rex Humbard to be the house gospel group of The Cathedral of Tomorrow, taking the name ‘The Cathedral Trio’. Within a year, they had become popular enough that Humbard wanted to expand the trio into a quartet. He enlisted bass singer George Younce, then singing with the Blue Ridge Quartet. The newly formed quartet became even more popular with the addition of George’s smooth bass. Although performing at the Cathedral of Tomorrow was considered a dream job for a quartet, having a permanent base of operation and steady income, it would not last. Due to the demanding nature of the Humbard ministry, and his desire for the singers to also do counseling, George and Glen decided in 1969 that they should go out on their own instead because they felt they would damage the ministry by doing things outside of their calling. It was a risky move (especially since Koker and Clark had gone on to other interests, while their replacements made the group not yet to the level of the original group). They were replaced by tenor Mack Taunton and baritone/pianist George Amon Webster. Also, they would now have to travel extensively, while not being guaranteed a steady paycheck. Their lack of name recognition, and the fact that many considered them a “church quartet” instead of a professional one, made it difficult for them to gain an audience base to start with. There were a lot of lean times in those first few years on their own.
Their being on the Canaan label and Marvin Norcross being willing to keep them on it even when their sales were not great, as well as Florida Boys lead singer, Les Beasley, giving them time on the Gospel Singing Jubilee TV show helped give them time to develop their sound and a following. They still struggled and tried about everything they knew such as dressing in styles of the day (but not as dramatically as groups like the Oak Ridge Boys or the Imperials. They had more personnel changes along the way.
Another big “break” eventually came when they made an appearance at Bill Gaither’s Praise Gathering in Indianapolis, IN, and shortly afterward, they were inundated with requests for appearances. Gaither also wanted to produce their future albums for Word.
They were popular with crowds due to their superior singing and they also owed much of their popularity to George and Glen’s stage presence. George was a wonderful emcee, with a humble demeanor and a terrific sense of humor. Glen was usually the butt of George’s jokes. In later years, George often made fun of Glen’s age (Glen was two years older than George), calling him ‘The Old Man’ and using his catch phrase, “I love old people!”
When they thought things couldn’t be much better, disaster struck in mid-1979. The three younger members (tenor Roy Tremble, baritone and bass player George Amon Webster, and pianist Lorne Matthews) formed their own group after being convinced by a promoter that they were being held back by the “old men.” To make matters worse, Glen heard a rumor about it before being told by the three younger members, and found it to be true when he checked. It was a difficult stage in the Cathedral Quartet journey, but many promoters told Glen and George to get a pianist and press ahead regardless. Soon they got Kirk Talley (from the Hoppers) to sing tenor and Steve Lee to sing baritone and play piano, doing double duty as baritones such as Koker and Webster had done for them in the past.
Lee and Talley heard a great piano player playing for a local group who was opening for the Cathedrals. They urged George and Glen to get off of the bus and come listen to him and hire him. After much pleading, they came. They too were blown away by the talents of Roger Bennett and did indeed hire him. This was fortunate for them because not too much later, Lee decided life on the road was not for him, and quit the group. Former tenor, Roger Horne, sang baritone with them until they found a new baritone. They hired Mark Trammell, bass guitarist and sometime vocalist from the Kingsmen to sing and eventually play bass guitar for them. This combination lasted for a while and became a very successful group with songs like “Step Into The Water”, “Moving Up To Gloryland”, “I Know A Man Who Can” etc. They eventually left Canaan (Word) and went to Riversong (Benson). They then first recorded Glen’s signature song, “We Shall See Jesus.”
Kirk Talley decided in the fall of 1983 that he wanted to start a group with his brother Roger and Roger’s wife Debra. They did and toured with the Cathedrals for a while when they first started out. The Cathedrals hired Danny Funderburk from the Singing Americans to take Kirk’s place in December 1983. Danny and his genuine love for people was an instant hit, and when he found his place in the groups arrangements, he became much more so. This version of the Cathedrals with Funderburk along with George, Glen, Trammell, and piano player Bennett soon became the most popular they had ever been. The Cathedrals had finally reached the peak of their creativity and popularity. Funderburk had a distinctive voice that stood out from other tenors. He had soul, passion and pathos in his voice unlike other gospel tenors of the day who voices were more often than not thin and feminine sounding. His unique, powerful tenor voice was used to good effect on songs like “I’ve Just Started Living” and “Somebody Touched Me” on which he had the lead.
This line-up stayed in place for a few years when Roger Bennett decided to leave and help start a record company, Journey Records. He was replaced by Gerald Wolfe. With Wolfe at the piano and doing some singing, the group improved more and eventually recorded half of an album with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the other half of it is a cappella. Out of this came songs like “This Ole’ House” and “Champion Of Love” (which featured Wolfe on lead vocals) Combined with Trammell’s fine baritone and George and Glen’s usual excellence, they were regularly reaching the top of the gospel charts, with #1 singles “Champion Of Love”, “I Can See The Hand” (written by a then-unknown Steven Curtis Chapman), and “I’ve Just Started Living”. During this period, they began doing more contemporary songs with larger production, while never leaving their simple “four-guys-and-a-piano” sound. From then until their retirement, The Cathedrals would balance their albums with a combination of styles. Other groups began copying The Cathedrals’ use of taped music tracks on stage, which allowed them to do the larger-production style songs. Gerald’s vocal versatility and high range was a blessing for the quartet as Younce suffered a serious heart attack in 1987 and had to come off the road for a few months. Wolfe filled in at the bass position during this time.
After being with the Cathedrals for two years, Gerald Wolfe moved on to a solo career. His replacement was Bennett in December 1988. Roger had missed the work on stage and was glad to be back. In 1988, Mark accepted Jesus as his Saviour on a golf course.
In February 1990, Danny Funderburk left to help start a new quartet Perfect Heart. The Cathedrals hired tenor Kurt Young to fill Funderburk’s place. Although Young’s voice was reminiscent of Kirk Talley’s voice, he had difficulty hitting high tenor notes consistently. He was famously remembered for having his voice crack during a performance at the 1990 Dove Awards. After only two months with the quartet, he left and was replaced by Ernie Haase, who later married Younce’s daughter Lisa.
Several months after Haase joined the group, Mark Trammell left to form Greater Vision with Gerald Wolfe. Upon recommendation by Ernie, George Younce and Glen Payne hired Scott Fowler as baritone and bass guitarist. This was the final version of Cathedrals. In 1995, the group recorded a reunion concert The Cathedral Quartet: A Reunion. The rest of the former and present members are Bobby Clark, Mack Taunton, George Amon Webster, Roy Tremble, Haskell Cooley, Kirk Talley, Roger Bennett, Mark Trammell, Danny Funderburk, Gerald Wolfe, Ernie Haase and Scott Fowler are appear and perform. Except for the member who not appear are Danny Koker, Roger Horne, Bill Dykes, Lorne Matthews, Jim Garstang, Steve Lee and Kurt Young.
Around this time, Bill Gaither and the Gaither Vocal Band were recording ‘Homecoming’, a tribute album to classic Southern Gospel songs. For one of the songs, “Where Could I Go”, Gaither wanted to include as many of his childhood Southern Gospel heroes as possible. Along with many others, George Younce and Glen Payne were in Gaither’s little group of singers he called on to sing on the song. Out of this recording, the Gaither Homecoming videos were born. At first, the whole group of Cathedrals were not included, just George and Glen. Several Homecoming videos later, the full quartet was included, where they gained a whole new fan base.
The Cathedrals soon became one of the most popular groups to be featured on the Homecoming videos. George even starred in some of Gloria Gaither’s children’s Homecoming videos with Vestal Goodman. (Children had written many fan letters to the Gaithers, and George Younce and Vestal Goodman were the favorites). George used his onstage clowning to good effect on these children’s videos, riding a tandem bicycle with Vestal and singing fun songs like “The Laughing Song” and “Led Out Of Bondage”, as well as a tender duet with young Madison Easter (son of fellow Gaither singers Jeff and Sheri Easter) on “God Loves To Talk To Little Boys When Their Fishin'”.
The Cathedrals sang many of their classic songs on the Homecoming videos, as well as some of their new hits (Haase and Bennett were songwriters and the group recorded songs co-written by both members). Ernie Haase delivered a stirring rendition of the Rosie Rozell classic “Oh, What A Savior” which he had earlier recorded on a solo cassette and on his first CD with the Cathedrals as well. George sang one of his favorites, “Suppertime”. Glen and Guy Penrod sang a classic version of “The Haven Of Rest”. The Homecoming Friends gave a tribute to Glen Payne for 50 faithful years in gospel music. The Cathedrals scaled back on traveling so they could last longer.
They had had many successes over the years, but in addition to some of the struggles above, George had also had health problems off and on with his heart, and later his kidneys. By 1999, George Younce was suffering from kidney failure, and his heart was too weak for a kidney transplant. He was put on dialysis, and was noticeably paler and thinner on the Gaither videos. George and Glen decided it was time for the Cathedrals to retire. They had decided to do a farewell tour of selected concerts, as George’s health allowed. Bill Gaither wanted to do a Cathedrals Farewell Celebration video. The video which was recorded live on May 18, 1999 is a great example of the Cathedrals stage style, and was highlighted by George’s hilarious emcee job. They were joined on the video by The Statler Brothers, The Oak Ridge Boys, Sandi Patty, Guy Penrod, and Bill Gaither. Several months after this was recorded, in the late summer of 1999, Glen Payne was diagnosed with liver cancer. It was a shock to everyone, as George Younce’s health was the reason the Cathedrals were retiring. Roger Bennett filled in as lead vocalist in Glen’s absence.
Glen was in Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, TN when the Cathedrals traveled to the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, KY. Much to the surprise of the audience, he made a special appearance, over the phone from his hospital room, with a stirring rendition of “I Won’t Have To Cross Jordan Alone.” It would be his last public performance, as he died almost two months later on October 15, 1999. Roger Bennett covered Glen’s vocals and they finished out the tour for the fans, because Glen made George promise to meet their obligations. Glen and the younger guys had sung before without George a few times when he was ill, and George felt like he owed him and the fans. Instead of calling Glen the old man, George turned the old man jokes on himself. However, as well as they sang, and as good as they put on these shows, going on without Glen was tough. They did it the same way they always sang, with class. The final Cathedrals concert was held where it all started for the group, in Akron, OH.