Beloved gospel singer Jake Hess died early Sunday at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Ala. He was 76.
Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 7 at Morningside Baptist Church in Columbus, according to McMullen Funeral Home. The Rev. Bill Shorey will officiate, assisted by Bill Gaither and Dr. Michael Guido.
The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 6 at McMullen Funeral Home, 3874 Gentian Blvd., Columbus.
Jake was born Dec. 24, 1927 in Mt. Pisgah, Ala., the youngest of 12 children born to the late Stovall and Lydia Hess of Haleyville, Ala. He has lived in Columbus since 1993. His wife, Joyce, who died in 2000, predeceased him.
Survivors include his daughter Becky and husband Brent Buck of Columbus; son Chris and wife Cindy of Columbus; son Jake Jr. and wife Judy of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; 10 grandchildren: Emily Trotter and husband Jim; Brent Buck, Lauren Buck, Ansley Buck, Megan Hess, Natalie Hess, Casey Hess, Jake Hess III, Hannah Hess and Emma Hess; and one great-grandchild James Purdy (Bo) Trotter IV. A sister, OmaDee, of Haleyville, Ala, also survives him.
These were his family by blood but Jake also leaves behind Bill and Gloria Gaither and all of his "Homecoming" friends. For the past 10 years they have been his musical family, caring for each other and singing gospel music on stages around the world.
At the age of 16, Jake left home in Haleyville to join The John Daniel Quartet. Since then, he has been on the road, making music for more than 60 years. In 1948, he became lead singer of The Statesmen Quartet. Joining with Hovie Lister, he began a magical 15 years in which the legendary group recorded for RCA Victor, sang on network television, created one of the earliest syndicated TV shows and blessed audiences all over the country. In 1963, Jake founded The Imperials, hand-picking the members from other quartets. They too were a groundbreaking group that set new standards in gospel music.
Through the years, Jake's powerful voice and unique styling influenced generations of singers including a young Elvis Presley, who often hung around concerts where The Statesmen were performing. Jake's influence on the rock n roll superstar is well documented and Elvis' affection for him continued over the years. Through it all, Jake told Elvis that he always wanted to be his friend. In 1977, Jake sang at Elvis' funeral, just as he had services for Hank Williams in 1953.
In later years, Jake joined The Masters V, composed of Hovie Lister, Rosie Rozell, J.D. Sumner and James Blackwood. He is the only surviving member of that quartet which won a Grammy Award in 1982.
In 1993, believing his career was over and with his health declining, Jake moved to Columbus where he intended to play golf even if he didn t keep score and to enjoy being with his family. He never dreamed there would be more songs to sing. That changed with the success of Bill Gaither's "Homecoming" videos. They brought Jake's message to an entirely new generation of fans. This experience blessed Jake and those around him for he was able to become a mentor to young singers who respected him for his unyielding spirit and his unique musical gifts. Jake has continued to record, as an individual artist and with The Old Friends Quartet.
Over the years, he received numerous honors. He was a member of the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which also presented him the American Music Award. He was a founding member of the National Quartet Convention and received a Life Achievement Award from SESAC. He won four Grammy Awards: for "Beautiful Isle of Somewhere" in 1968; for "Ain't That Beautiful Singing" in 1969; for "Everything Is Beautiful" in 1970; and for "The Masters V" in 1982. In 2002, he won the Southern Gospel Music Association Award for Best Video with The Old Friends Quartet.
Over the years, Jake's family has lovingly shared their father and grandfather with his friends and fans. They did so because they knew that all Jake ever wanted to be was a gospel singer. They appreciate the prayers his wonderful friends have offered during his illness and ask that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Guido Evangelistic Association in Metter, Ga. 30439.
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