ALEXANDRIA, Ind. The Gaither Vocal Band enters 2009 with a new sound, but the same heart for gospel music. Guy Penrod, the group's lead singer for the past 14 years and one of the most popular members in the groups storied history, has left the legendary group to start his own solo career.
The announcement came Jan. 13, three months after bandleader Bill Gaither announced that Penrod was taking a sabbatical from the group.
"My years with the Gaither Vocal Band have been among the most glorious of my life," Penrod said in a prepared statement. "Now, though, with the band continuing in strength and me tackling the new challenge of a solo career, we can all serve our God even more powerfully in the days to come."
Gaither, the heart of the band, called the development "bittersweet," saying that not only will Penrod miss sharing the stage with his comrades, but that he will also be greatly missed.
"I am losing a lead singer, but I am not losing a friend," the band's patriarch said. "I am extremely grateful for the incredible contribution he has made to the Gaither Vocal Band's legacy."
Also leaving the group is Marshall Hall, who had contributed the baritone sound since 2004. Gaither described Hall as a talented singer, producer, and worship leader. Hall's plans were not announced.
In looking to the future the band looked to its popular past announcing that comedian Mark Lowry, Michael English and David Phelps will return to the group. In addition, the group will expand from four voices to five. Rounding out the five will be Gaither and Wes Hampton, who joined the group in 2005.
"You never replace a group member... you simply find a fresh, new direction," Gaither said.
Lowry, who has personal touring commitments through April, will appear with the Gaither Vocal Band as he can during the band's transition, beginning with the Feb. 22 departure of the Gaither Caribbean Cruise.
The new group was scheduled to make its first live debut Jan. 29 in Huntsville, Ala.
In the midst of the transition, the group was scheduled to release The Gaither Vocal Band Reunion DVD on Jan. 20. The band's "Lovin' Life" album was also nominated for a 2009 Grammy award for Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album. The award ceremony will be held Feb. 8 in Los Angeles.
For more information, visit www.gaither.com.