Wittrock said gospel music is more than just music — it's ministry. "The songs touch me deeply," she said. "If I'm having a bad day, listening to gospel music lifts me up and keeps me focused on Christ."

She has had cause to have more than one bad day in the past year. On Dec. 13, 2002, doctors diagnosed Wittrock with breast cancer. It was the same day she was planning to attend a Gaither Homecoming concert in St. Louis.

"I never considered not going," she said. "Being with thousands of other Christians, singing and praising the Lord was good medicine. It also gave me strength to face the reality of what I was going to have to go through. The concert helped to calm some of my fears and reminded me God was in control."

During the next several months, though, she said she had a hard time finding comfort even in gospel music — until she saw a couple of the Gaithers' latest videos which focused on the themes of "heaven" and "going home."

"When the doctors tell you that you have stage two or three cancer, who doesn't start thinking about heaven and going home?" Wittrock asked. "I believe my name is on those two videos because they blessed me so much, and finally I had peace of mind. Once I found that peace, I could deal with the doctors and treatment, and I got through it fine."

Gaither's music not only ministers to the hurting, it also appeals to younger generations. "Listen to the most recent form of Southern gospel music before you pass judgment," Alberts, 31, said, noting many of her friends say she listens to "old-fashioned" music. "Check out David Phelps and Guy Penrod [of the Gaither Vocal Band] — they're not bad for 'old men.'"

Penrod said today's gospel music is blending the sound of the old 1940s and '50s quartets and pop groups with the technology of the current generation. "Kids are starting to hear that and say that's cool," he said. "We're growing a new generation in gospel music, and Bill is helping to do that with the concerts and videos."

And he shows no sign of slowing down. In his mid-60s, Gaither keeps an active schedule with his Gaither Vocal Band, Homecoming concerts, the annual Praise Gathering and the management of everything in between. "I work together as a team with Gloria," he said. "We have no long-range plans for retirement; we never have. We just walked through the doors God has opened."

Fans can read more about the Gaithers and their journey into gospel music history in Bill's new autobiography, "It's More Than the Music" (Warner Faith) now in bookstores nationwide.

© 2004 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.