SPRING HILL — Truth, an award-winning Gospel group that discovered and launched many well-known Christian artists and was credited with helping introduce contemporary worship in the 1970s, has begun a reunion tour in honor of its 40th anniversary.
The 19 vocalists and musicians, including two smaller ensembles, will be at Northcliffe Baptist Church on Sept. 30 to carry on its tradition of sharing the Gospel message through song and testimony. They will perform many of the group's older songs in a new, more contemporary style.
"In 31 years, we did 10,000 concerts, traveled 3 million miles and made 61 albums," founder Roger Breland said of the group, which officially retired in 2002, two years after being inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. "We had 400 people in the group (over the years) who are now serving in churches, as pastors, missionaries and teachers, as well as many professional musicians."
Today, Breland is the vice president of project development and the executive dean of the Center for Performing Arts at the University of Mobile in Alabama. The musicians on the reunion tour are largely graduates of the university who have worked with Breland for several years.
Northcliffe Baptist worship leader Aaron Odom, who arranged for the visit, says he's excited about the reunion concert.
"I couldn't be more thrilled about Truth coming to Northcliffe," he said. "They sing the Truth classics in a fresh, contemporary way, and Roger is bringing along two new groups. One is called Shofar with five young men similar to Il Divo — very powerful, almost operatic-style singing. Then there's a group of girls called Story that has a pop-oriented kind of sound."
Odom noted that many famous Christian performers are former Truth members.
"Roger Breland is a guy that has mentored hundreds of artists like Avalon, Natalie Grant and Steve Green," Odom said. "Roger's heart was to not only create great music, but also to mentor young musicians and help launch their careers."
Odom, 35, can count himself among that number. He, his wife, PJ, and their toddler son, Ramsey, spent 2008 and 2009 in Mobile with Breland.
"I moved there just to be mentored by Roger Breland," Odom said.
He had earned his master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music in New York and, by that time, had spent eight years touring as a vocalist, giving concerts in more than 300 churches. The son of a Southern Baptist pastor, he had sung for the ministries of popular worship leaders including Bill Gaither, Jerry Falwell, John Hagee and Mosie Lister.
Odom's father had known Breland since Truth came to perform at their church in Mississippi when Aaron was a child. Odom decided to give Breland a call.
"I got to the place where I needed some help," he said. "I was flat-lining, and I needed someone who understood that and could help me launch my career."
Breland and Odom had long talks during that year together in Mobile.
"He taught voice for me here on an adjunct professorship basis, and he worked in a church (as a worship leader)," Breland said. "He was one of our featured soloists as well. That was quite an experience. He's an outstanding vocalist."
Odom also sang with the Mobile Opera Company during that time.
Beyond the career boost he received from Breland, Odom has a very personal reason for feeling close to the man.
"After meeting with Roger for a few months, my wife and I had a little baby, and the baby didn't make it," Odom said. "Roger and his most elite group at the University of Mobile came to my son Grayson's funeral and blessed us with two or three songs. I'll never forget that.
"As excited as I am to have Truth come in, I'm thrilled as well to return the favor to Roger and all these people who blessed us as a family."
After leaving Mobile in 2009, Odom continued his career, singing operatic tenor at concerts around the world. For a couple of months early last year, he sang to audiences of more than 12,000 with the Imperials on a Hollywood-produced European tour.
"It was a really incredible experience," Odom said about singing with the original cast of musicians that used to back Elvis Presley. "We would sing live songs like Sweet, Sweet Spirit and How Great Thou Art. But 30 days away from my family was tough. I really felt after that season that I was ready to settle and be here with my family and not on the road."
That was good news for Northcliffe Baptist, which hired Odom last August as its full-time worship leader.
These days, Odom performs only about 10 concerts a year. He leads both traditional and contemporary worship at Northcliffe, and, like Breland, he encourages and trains others with musical gifts, sometimes asking them to lead the worship. He has also recorded two CDs.
He credits Breland for the turnaround in his ministry.
"When I came to Mobile, I was asking Roger to help me be a concert guy," Odom said. "By the time I left, he had convinced me that with the economy like it is, and with churches not doing as many concerts, it might be best for me to be the best worship pastor I can be, who can still go sing a few concerts here and there.
"Roger helped me see that instead of being a concert guy that sometimes leads worship, I could be a worship guy that sometimes does concerts."
Odom said his heart is no longer on the road.
"It's completely toward this mission here at the church to hurting and broken people," he said.