Incredible talent and passion are characteristics of the many Gospel pianists in the United States-a country so rich with an incredible host of various music genres. Each performer possesses his or her own unique style which gives the music from each artist a, truly, exclusive flavor. Without exception, Gospel music glorifies God while stirring one’s soul. Here are three Gospel pianists that make our world a whole lot richer because of the musical contributions they have made.
As a Gospel pianist, Anthony Burger was an icon. Anthony was born in 1961; and when he was old enough to be placed in a walker, a tragic accident occurred that should have prevented him from ever using his hands, much less, becoming one of the greatest gospel pianists of all time. At the age of 8 months, his walker wheel became stuck in a heater grate on the floor. As a result, the walker overturned with little Anthony in it; and both of Anthony’s hands became severely, burned. The doctors determined that Anthony would never proficiently use his hands again. For an entire year after the accident, Anthony was carried on a pillow and required three medicated baths each day. Incredibly, only 28 months after the burn accident, Anthony Burger-at the tender age of 3-began to learn how to play the piano. And as Anthony Burger would to say when describing his piano study at that age: “The rest is history“.
Anthony grew up in Cleveland, Ohio; and at the age of 16, Anthony left Bradley High School to join the Kingsmen Quartet. A number of years went by and Mr. Burger returned to Cleveland to film his 25th Anniversary music video which became a best seller; and this very humble and talented pianist also played several times at the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. Anthony was a very spiritual man and would comment that it was not him who would move his wounded hands to play the piano for Presidents and every-day people, but it was God, Himself. Anthony won, virtually, every award that could be won for Southern Gospel music, including being awarded ‘Gospel Music’s #1 Musician’ a full 10 years in a row.
Unexpectedly, in 2006 at the age of only 43, Anthony suffered a severe heart attack while on a cruise with his wife as good friend and music partner, Bill Gaither. Anthony was part of the very popular Gaither Homecoming shows at the time; and Anthony was featured on more than 65 Homecoming videos that were produced. There were no indications that Anthony had any known health problems; but while performing on stage during the cruise, Anthony winked at his wife and collapsed. All attempts to revive him were futile.
Anthony Burger-Gospel pianist extraordinaire-was described as “a piano virtuoso with an incomparable style of playing who commanded a stage with his keyboard acrobatics.”
Richard Smallwood is a world-class composer and pianist who has managed to change the face of Gospel music due to his immense and unique talent. Smallwood’s unusual style as a Gospel pianist sets him apart due to his desire to blend Classical music with a Gospel feel.
Richard was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1948 and little did he know as a child that he would become one of the most admired and talented Gospel piano players of all time. In 1982, Smallwood’s musical career began to reach its zenith with the release of his album, The Richard Smallwood Singers. That album, alone, spent 87 glorious weeks on the ‘Billboard’s Gospel’ chart! Two other albums followed and became Grammy nominations.
Because of his incredibly-embraced style of music, some of the most-noted artists in the music industry have embedded their talents with his-Destiny’s Child, Karen Clark-Sheard and Yolanda Adams are only two among many! From 1984 to 2003, Richard Smallwood was honored with a total of 15 Grammy, Stellar and NAACP Image Award nominations. From 1992 to 2002, Richard Smallwood was presented with a total of 6 Stellar Award wins. Then in 2006, Smallwood accomplished one of the grandest musical feats of all-he was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame at the Richland Country Club in Nashville, Tennessee.
At one of Smallwood’s performances, he was quoted as saying: “Not too many people understand my musical insanity” — Musical genius might be more accurate!
The one extremely interesting feature of Gordon Mote is his blindness-in fact, Gordon has been blind since birth. Because God works is the most stunning of ways, no one could have been more shocked than his family was on Thanksgiving Day when Gordon was only three-it was, then, that he sat down at the piano at his grandmother’s home and played, “Jesus Loves Me” with not one hand, but both hands! Gordon’s mother and grandmother were in the kitchen and were shocked when they saw their 3-year old prodigy play in-spite of the fact that Gordon had never received any formal training to play the piano. It may come as no surprise that Gordon is a man and a musician of extreme faith.
Interestingly, Gordon’s younger brother is also blind but that didn’t stop either one of them, as children, to travel and sing in churches of all sizes and denominations. If we fast forward to life as a young man, Gordon spent three years at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama; but it is what happened 2 days after graduation (with honors) that was unexpected: Lee Greenwood-country music icon-asked Gordon to join Greenwood’s band as a keyboard player and background vocalist. The proverbial wheels of success began to roll and Gordon toured with Trisha Yearwood, Porter Wagoner and others and has played with some of the biggest names in the Country music industry including Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson and a long list of star-studded names too numerous to mention.
With a vast array of record albums and awards to his credit, Gordon Mote still schedules 150 musical presentations a year. In-spite of his hectic schedule, Gordon never loses sight of his love and devotion to his wife and children who share Gordon’s passion for not only music, but God’s grace and presence in their lives. As Mote so eloquently expressed regarding the creation of one of his worship songs: “I wanted this project to encourage others to let the Lord use the rough parts of their lives for His glory-just like He has in mine. If we give God the chance to make all things new, He will.” Gordon is known, loved and embraced in the world of Southern Gospel music, Christian music and Country; and he’s here to stay.
Every Gospel pianist has his own signature touch; and each one is a master of the keyboard in his own God-given way. Can one determine the best of the best in the field of Gospel pianists?-No, it just can’t be done.