CCM Hall of Fame: The Imperials
- Michael Ciani CCM Magazine
- 2004 9 Sep
It could be said that The Imperials are the fathers of “contemporary Christian music”; but, after 40 years together, it might be more accurate to call the group the genre’s grandfathers. Formed in 1964 by the legendary Jake Hess (who passed away in January at the age of 76), The Imperials quartet was initially envisioned as a southern gospel “super group” of sorts. Its tight harmonies won fans from coast to coast, and its name soon came to stand for excellence whenever the group traveled. From the beginning, The Imperials broke down many doors, accomplishing many “firsts” for a Christian music artist long before Petra, Amy Grant or Point of Grace ever entered the public’s eye.
When the four men signed with Dayspring/Word in 1976, The Imperials began adventurously experimenting with more pop/contemporary sounds, leaving much of its southern gospel style behind. And new lead vocalist Russ Taff was the catalyst to make that transition from traditional to contemporary complete. Top-notch producers the group worked with, including Brown Bannister (who co-wrote “Praise the Lord,” one of the group’s biggest songs ever), Chris Christian (who co-wrote the No. 1 hit “Sail On”) and Michael Omartian (who, with his wife, Stormie, wrote numerous songs for the group, including “The Trumpet of Jesus”) were influential as well.
During the 1980s, The Imperials recorded three albums for contemporary label Myrrh that pushed the group’s sound in a more progressive direction than ever before. "This Year’s Model," perhaps a reference to the revolving door of the group’s membership, was a particularly strong effort. However, by the mid 1990s The Imperials had returned to a more traditional sound.
This past March, bass singer Armond Morales (the only remaining original member) retired to Hawaii after four decades and over 40 albums with The Imperials. At the time, he said he planned to occasionally sing with The Classic Voices, a gospel group made up of other former members of The Imperials. In the meantime, Ian Owens stepped forward to replace Morales, and The Imperials continue to make gospel music, touring from Texas to Ontario.
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