Singing Praises unto The Lord
For all of his eighty-nine years, Mosie Lister has loved the Lord and music. This is the story of how a tone deaf Cochran, Georgia native grew up to become one of the greatest songwriters and performers in the history of Southern Gospel music.
Thomas Mosie Lister was born in Cochran, Georgia in 1921. His parents, Willis and Pearl, made sure that music was heard and made in their farm home in the Empire District of Dodge County. When his parents tried to teach Mosie how to sing, they discovered that he could not distinguish sounds. Through his studies of piano, guitar and violin, Mosie's tone deafness improved. Lister spent hours studying song writing and musical theories in his early years. With his musical impediments behind him, Mosie gave his life to God when he was seventeen years old. Naturally his two loves merged into one, singing and writing praises unto the Lord. He attended singing schools, studying under the guidance of Gospel legends Adger Pace and G.T. "Dad" Speer.
Lister once said, "One of my weaknesses is my love of various styles of music, but one of my strengths is that I've always been able to recognize that God made it all. It's not bad unless we make it bad."
Mosie enrolled in the Vaughan School of Music in Tennessee just as he began singing in gospel groups. One of Lister's first professional singing appearances came as a member of the Sunny South Quartet, which included Jim "Big Chief" Wetherington.
Though his singing career was just beginning, Mosie left the music world and joined the Navy. He served in Florida and North Africa. After returning from World War II, Mosie studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but never gave up his dream of becoming a musician. Mosie returned to Cochran and enrolled in Middle Georgia College, where he studied English and music. He rejoined the Sunny South Quartet, but soon left with Wetherington to form the Melody Masters. The gig didn't work out when Lister decided that his future was not in touring the nation's churches, gymnasiums and concert halls.
Mosie Lister turned to song writing. What followed was Southern Gospel music history. To help pay his bills, Lister opened a music store and tuned pianos. That's when an ironic twist of fate, or a blessing of God, changed Mosie's life forever.
Hovie Lister, who claimed no family relationship with Mosie, was scouting the Atlanta area to find the right three members to form a new Gospel quartet. So, when the time came, Hovie invited Mosie to be the group's lead singer. Mosie accepted. And, the Statesmen Quartet was born.
In the beginning, the Statesmen included Mosie as the group's lead signer. Gordon Hill sang bass with Bervin Kendrick singing baritone and Bobby Strickland vocalizing the tenor parts. The Statesmen made their radio debut on WCON in Atlanta in October 1948.
A bout with pneumonia forced Mosie to retire because of damage to his throat. Hovie Lister reorganized the group in 1952 by bringing in Denver Crumpler to replace Bobby Strickland on tenor. Jake Hess succeeded Mosie. Doy Ott followed Bervin Kendrick. Mosie's old friend, "Big Chief" Wetherington was the group's new bass singer. Hovie stepped to the front, emceed, and played piano.
Hurriedly, Mosie wrote words and music and arranged old tunes for the new quartet. Mosie would never return to the group, which in the opinion of many was the greatest of all Southern Gospel groups.
Mosie didn't leave the Statesmen, but continued to work as the group's arranger and songwriter. Soon his songs were chosen by top Gospel groups of the day, including the Blackwood Brothers, the Jordanaires, and the LeFevres.
Over the years, Mosie Lister's top tunes included "I'm Feeling Fine," "Then I Met the Master," "How Long Has It Been," "Til the Storm Passes By," and "While Ages Roll."
Those songs and many more were recorded by artists including Jimmy Dean, George Beverly Shea, Floyd Cramer, B.J. Thomas, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard.
Mosie's lyrics and music and the Statesmen's distinctive sound had a profound influence on the early career of Elvis Presley. The King of Rock and Roll is often overlooked for his work in the Gospel field. In 1960, Presley recorded his first Gospel album with two of Mosie's songs, "He Knows Just What I Need" and "His Hand in Mine," the title track which garnered Elvis his first and only Grammy award.
Mosie moved to Tampa, Florida in the mid 1950s, where he managed his own music publishing company, The Mosie Lister Publishing Company, which later merged into Lillenas Publishing.
After three decades of singing Gospel music, Mosie Lister, songwriter, singer, arranger, became the Rev. Mosie Lister, an ordained Baptist minister. In 1976, Mosie Lister was inducted to the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. Twenty one years later, he joined the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
At the age of eighty, Mosie was still writing songs, putting together some of his best works into a compilation he calls, "The Light of the World." Today he still lives, waking each day realizing that God still has great plans for his eternal life. Long after Mosie meets the Master, people who can sing and even those of us who can't sing very well, will be singing his classic words and music as they praise the Lord.