I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Mike Hopper, of America’s Favorite Family, The Hoppers! He shared great insight with me on gospel music history, family heritage, and The Hopper’s latest project. Check it out!
Rachel Lynn: The Hoppers just celebrated 61 years in gospel music. What goes through your mind when you think about this enormous accomplishment for your family?
Mike Hopper: Well, you know, growing up in gospel music, this is all I’ve ever known. I didn’t travel full-time until I was thirteen-years-old, and so, my mom and dad, and my brother, would usually leave on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, and come back on on Sunday night; and that was just a way of life. Then, I started on the road at age thirteen, and finished my high school through correspondence. And so, just growing up in it, it’s been an incredible accomplishment of what my parents have done. I am very proud of them.
RL: Your recent release, The Hoppers Honor the First Families of Gospel Music, was such a perfect way to celebrate the legacy and heritage that cultivated the music of The Hoppers. What brought about the idea to do this record?
MH: Actually, the idea started from one song. Bill Gaither came to us a couple of years ago, and he said, “I’ve got this song,” and he had heard it at a camp meeting somewhere in Indiana, and he said, “The Hoppers have got to sing this song.” The song was called, “Be An Overcomer,” and it was written back in the 1930’s, I believe. Bill said, “This song is so old, it’s new! Nobody’s ever heard of this song.”
And so, it started with that idea, and he said, “You know what, we need to do a project.”
We started talking about it, and he said, “Let’s honor the first families of gospel music!”
And so, the one song that started it all turned into a full-blown project, and we wanted to honor the families of The Chuck Wagon Gang, The Happy Goodmans, The Speer Family, The Rambos, and, of course, we did a couple songs of the Gaithers’ as well. We tried to keep it as authentic to their arrangements as we could, and that was a lot of fun. My mom had a lot of fun working with Bill on this, because that’s right down mom’s alley, you know? She grew up with that—she and my dad—and she loves singing those Speer Family songs, and the Chuck Wagon Gang… All of them!
We released the album in April, and it has been going over really well.
RL: Did you find any challenges in choosing to musically keep the songs so close to the original cuts?
MH: Oh yeah. YES. But, when you’ve got Gaither producing, and in the studio—and this was the first time The Hoppers had gotten into the studio and recorded a project with just us and him (producing)—he’s got such a keen ear, and he knows those arrangements. He is the master, as far as knowing the history of gospel music, and the way they would perform back then; so he and my mom were having a BLAST in there working on that, and making sure those parts were exactly like they needed to be… Especially on the Chuck Wagon Gang! And The Speer Family. Because, you know, they were masters at their craft.
RL: As you were all preparing to record songs like, “Lord, Lead Me On,” “God Walks The Dark Hills,” and “He Looked Beyond My Fault,” what did you reflect on?
MH: For me, it was just so exciting to watch mom and dad, because they had met all of these families we were honoring—Dad Speer, and all them. And just the times reminiscing there in the studio with Bill, trading stories back and forth… It was awesome. It really was. And then the way that Bill took some of the vintage footage from those artists and intertwined it around the songs for the DVD is really, really cool. We use that footage on stage, and it really blends in to the concert.
RL: What is the atmosphere, and the response in the room like when you’re singing these songs, and reflecting on such precious memories for your audience?
MH: You see the smiles on their faces, from the demographic that remembers these families—and also, that probably attended their concerts! And the young people are sitting there soaking in, because this is new to them, but they’re learning a piece of history about their artists in gospel music history that they didn’t know about. So, it’s a good mixture, and they enjoy it. And when you kick off a song like, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now,” everybody knows that, and the whole room is singing along with you.
RL: How have the families represented on this album personally impacted your life and your heart for ministry? Do you have a memory that sticks out in your mind?
MH: Probably the closest connection I have to one of the families from the project would be The Happy Goodmans. I remember them, from when I was a child, and I remember sitting on the side of the stage and watching them… And then, later on, on the Gaither Homecoming Tour, I would play the drums for the show. And every night, just seeing them get on stage, and the magicthat they would bring to the room… Seeing them night after night, week after week, for almost eight years on that tour was an honor for me.
RL: There is a new generation now, that when they think “THE family of gospel music,” they think: The Hoppers. What does that mean to you? Do you feel a sense of responsibility over that?
MH: I think it is a responsibility for all of us. If they sense that the mantle has passed, it’s an honor. I enjoy going out with my family and singing; and just being a part of the family of gospel music. But being able to do it with your immediate family, and having your mom and dad out with you on the road… It’s an honor to watch. And it’s always interesting to watch the audience respond to them. You know, say, when mom steps up to sing, “I’ve Come Too Far Too Look Back.” I mean, it’s a magic in the room; you just see it all over the faces of the crowd. And that’s really cool.
RL: Your family has been such an example of strength for years. Miss Connie has battled cancer, Dean has been through several strokes, Karlye experienced a terrible seizure, and yet you ALL are still standing on that stage, still carrying the gospel, still singing “Life Is Good.” What is your message to families who are in the middle of their time of crisis or uncertainty right now?
MH: “Life is good, ‘cause God is.” Our message is encouragement and hope. And our prayer is that we will bring that in our concerts. People go through so much these days—young or old, it doesn’t matter. And after those ninety minutes or two hours that they come to one of our concerts, we hope that they will leave uplifted, and feeling better than when they arrived. That they would be given encouragement, hope, and be pointed to Christ.
RL: Do you have a message for families who are hurting do to strained relationships? What to you speak into the lives of families who long to have the united front The Hoppers have?
MH: Well, you know, the family interaction and the day-to-day of family life—it’s a process. I think having respect for yourself, and having respect for each other is a big part. And, of course, the mutual love. And also, you’ve got to lead by example. My parents have done an excellent job at that. That’s a really big part. Have that family interaction, respect yourself and your family—love each other.
RL: How do you think that we, as the Body of Christ, can better pull together as one family?
MH: I think listening. The world is just so full of information, disinformation, whatever you want to call it these days… If you just take a step back and listen; and be that person for someone who is hurting… Sometimes, they just need for you to listen and be there for support. So, show them that, and pray with them. I think all of that is very important.
RL: For the years to come, what is your prayer over the legacy, and the years to come for The Hoppers?
MH: Just that our intent is always right in what we do, and that we would continue to spread the Gospel, wherever we can. Whether it be North America, or Europe, or Mexico, that we continue on spreading the Gospel.