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Tommy Howe Passes Away

From Jym Howe (Mark209) Facebook:

Today at 11:55 am my dad, Tommy Howe died. This is a difficult pill to swallow. Dad was my best friend. He was my counterbalance. I used him to bounce opinions off of because I have a tendency to be stern and Dad is always more kind and he would encourage me to look from the other person’s perspective and try to understand why they did what they did. I hope I learned from him.

For those of you who do not know, my dad has sang since age 3. His sisters and he had their first radio show around that age. He was a household name in churches in Houston, where I grew up. Everyone knows my dad. I could go anywhere and say, “I’m Tommy Howe’s son” and they knew me.

I grew up backstage at the Houston Music Hall where Dad’s group, The Royals, would open for all the major gospel groups that WB Nowlin would bring to Houston. The Statesmen, The Blackwood Brothers, The Happy Goodman’s, The Cathedrals, The Stamps, etc. The Royals had several members who went on to make quite the name for themselves. Larry Gatlin, Steve Warren, Pat Hoffmaster, Roy Tremble, Laddie Cain … all sang with Dad in the Royals. So I had a good upbringing in gospel music.

In the 80’s, Dad got a call from Steve Warren (then tenor with the Masters V). Jake Hess had just had a heart attack and they needed someone to fill for him. So Dad grabbed his black suit and went onstage with Hovie Lister, James Blackwood, JD Sumer, and Steve with no rehearsal. He stayed with the Masters V until Jake returned to the group after recovery from his heart surgery. Then when James Blackwood retired from the Masters V, Dad was called back in to fill for James until a permanent replacement could be found. At that time, Dad was the glassblower for the chemistry department at Vanderbilt University. JD talked to Dad about taking the job permanently with the Masters V, but James called Mom and told her to not let Dad leave the university to go sing for a living. LOL. Dad did stay at the university until October of 2016 when he was forced to retire because of the difficulties from his broken leg. But over the years in addition to the Masters V, Dad sang with JD Sumner and the Stamps, filling for Ed Hill … he sang baritone with the Statesmen on occasion and was with them when Hovie was thinking of reorganizing them. He sang with the Blackwood Brothers at Cecil Blackwood’s funeral, where he stood in for Cecil with the Quartet. Dad always said that THIS was his biggest honor, standing in for Cecil. Dad always said that as a kid going to the Gospel concerts, Cecil was always the nicest to him and he grew up loving Cecil. So to stand in for him at his funeral was his biggest honor. Dad was offered the baritone position with the Speer Family but while at home packing to meet the bus, he got the call that they had changed their mind. Later we found out that the reason they changed their mind was because someone had told them that Mom would never put up with Dad being on the road full time. Dad and I talked about that on several occasions and he said that he never regretted that. You see Dad and I were very close. And Dad told me how that had I grown up with him on the road, we probably wouldn’t be as close as we are now. Dad had friends tell him how that if they saw Tommy, I was not far behind. You didn’t see one without the other. But Dad always said that God was faithful to give him his dream. He stood onstage beside all the singers he idolized growing up. He stood beside Hovie Lister, James Blackwood, Ed Enoch, JD Sumner, Rosie Rozell, Jake Hess, Bill Shaw, and the list goes on and on.

At a Masters V concert that Dad was filling in for Jake, James Blackwood came to me and told me what he thought of my dad. He said, “I’ve never met a finer Christian man than your father, Jym”. That’s pretty stout coming from a man who knows Billy Graham personally. At a later date, Hovie Lister said pretty much the same thing to me with different words. That always meant a lot to me coming from those guys. Dad and JD were close, too. Several times a week, Dad would walk from his shop at Vanderbilt to JD’s office on Music Square and he and Dad would go have lunch together. Most times to Hap Townes Restaurant. JD loved Hap Townes.

Dad loved MARK209. I was expected to call in every day that I was on the road to report what had happened. The first question from Dad was always, “did anyone get saved?”

For the last two years, Dad has lived with Christy and me, because of his broken leg. He couldn’t get around in his house in the wheelchair. And Christy and I enjoyed having Mom and Dad there with us. Every time I’d come in off the road, Dad wanted to hear the stories. First question? “Did anyone get saved?”

I guess the hardest think to accept is that this all came from a broken leg that was unnecessary. I don’t understand why God allowed something like that to escalate to the point that it caused his organs to just start shutting down. But it did. And God is still God. He doesn’t owe me any explanation.

Yesterday I put earphones on Dad so he could hear the final mix of our latest cd. He loved the group and was particularly thrilled about this cd. His favorite cut was “Everything I Know”. He would sit and listen to the rough cut on that song, over and over again. I just hate it he won’t be at the Release Party and that I won’t get to hear his thoughts of the final mix. He would have really enjoyed it.

My desire is to be spoke about like my dad has been over the years. I want people to say that I’m the finest Christian man they’ve ever met … like my dad.

Dad and I were really close. I’m really gonna miss him.

Please keep my mom, Tollie, in your prayers. They would have been married 59 years this next month.

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Formed over 19 years ago by Deon & Susan Unthank originally as SoGospelNews.com, the site was birthed from an email discussion group by the same name. The SoGospelNews email discussion list was created by the Unthanks after the Singing News shut down its extremely popular discussion list. SoGospelNews started as a simple webpage listing artists, fans, individuals, etc. that were avid supporters of the newly formed SoGospelNews talk list. The site eventually took on printing news for Southern Gospel artists, and eventually took on reviewing the latest recordings from both signed and independent artists within the small genre. SoGospelNews became the most viewed Southern Gospel website on the Internet with over 4,000,000 hits per month.

The Unthank family are now involved in the site, as well as the addition of over two dozen staff writers. The website is based out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In April 2010, SoGospelNews changed its name to AbsolutelyGospel.com. The name change allows them to cover news items of not only Southern Gospel, but also Country Gospel, Inspirational, and Black Gospel.

On January 5, 2011, Susan Unthank passed away, leaving the website in control of Deon, their son, Chris, and their daughter Amy.

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