Happy Goodman Family

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The Happy Goodman Family
Origin United States
Genres Southern Gospel
Years active 1950s–2002
Labels SIMS
Canaan Records
Spring Hill
Pamplin Music
Crowne Music
Website www.vestalandfriends.com
Past members Howard Goodman
Vestal Goodman
Sam Goodman
Rusty Goodman
Bobby Goodman
Johnny Cook
Johnny Minick
Tanya Goodman Sykes
Ricky Goodman
Steve Easter
Eddie Crook (singer)
Michael English

The Happy Goodman Family was a Southern Gospel group that was founded in the 1940s by Howard "Happy" Goodman and performed together for several decades. The Happy Goodmans achieved significant popularity in the 1960s. In 1968 they won the first Grammy awarded for a Gospel album by a Gospel group.


The Happy Goodman Family began to be known for their singing around 1950. During the 1940s and 1950s there were various combinations of all eight brothers and sisters, always including Howard. Sam served in the Air Force while Bobby worked as a truck driver and played some rock and roll bands. Rusty served in the armed forces as well as singing with The Plainsmen Quartet afterwards. Howard's wife Vestal joined the group as well. After all the sisters married, Howard and Vestal became evangelists. Soon Sam joined again followed by Rusty in 1962 and Bobby on bass guitar not long afterwards.

The fame of the Happy Goodmans grew considerably in the early 1960s. Appearances at the National Quartet Convention got them in front of promoters who in turn booked them across the country. In 1964, they were asked to become one of the flagship groups for a new Southern Gospel program called The Gospel Singing Jubilee along with The Florida Boys, Dixie Echoes, and The Couriers Quartet. This program soon became one of the most popular gospel music programs and would run for over twenty years. The Goodmans would soon become one of the most popular groups on the program, and would remain so for ten years till they left to start their own TV program the Happy Goodman Family Hour. The Goodmans also had a short-lived program called "Down Home with The Happy Goodman Family". The weekly TV exposure allowed The Happy Goodman Family to take the nation by storm. They quickly became America's favorite singing family.

Their first full length recording was "I’m Too Near Home", initially released in 1963 and later re-released on Canaan/Word Records in 1965. In 1968, they were honored with a Grammy Award for their 1967 album "The Happy Gospel of the Happy Goodmans". Ten years later, they received another Grammy for "Refreshing".

The Goodmans had a list of hit songs a mile wide. Many of the songs they introduced to gospel music are now considered classics. Songs such as "I Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now", "Who Am I?", "God Walks The Dark Hills", "Had It Not Been", "What A Beautiful Day", and many others will forever be part of gospel music and synonymous with the Happy Goodman Family.

The Goodmans broke new ground in gospel music during the 1960s and 1970s by implementing a live band and creating their own unique sound. It was during these years that they developed their now classic "grab a note and hang on" endings. Sam's humorous emcee work, Howard's showmanship at the piano, Rusty's songwriting, and Vestal's hairdos, white handkerchiefs, and powerful singing voice all rose to a new prominence. Tenor Johnny Cook joined the group for a while in 1974 and Rusty's daughter Tanya was added in 1976.

Separate paths[edit]

Around 1980, creative differences about musical style caused a division in the family. The musical landscape of Christian music was expanding considerably at this time, and Howard and Vestal wanted to maintain their traditional sound. Rusty, Sam, and Tanya wanted to take the group in a more contemporary direction. Ultimately, Howard and Vestal decided to leave the group, making what would become one of their best albums. Rusty, Sam, and Tanya carried on with Johnny Cook returning at tenor. Michael English joined them a couple of years later singing lead. Michael left The Goodmans, a short time after joining, to sing with The Singing Americans.


Aside from a one time performance at the 1984 National Quartet Convention by Sam, Rusty, Howard and Vestal, the Happy Goodmans did not sing together from 1984 to 1990. In 1990, news that Rusty had been diagnosed with cancer prompted the family to record a project together called "The Reunion". Although they initially planned to tour in support of the project, Rusty's health deteriorated rapidly. He died in November 1990. Sam followed his brother in death the next year. "The Reunion" was regarded as their best album ever. This album features the last song Rusty wrote "Standing in the Presence of the King" which features Vestal on vocals. A fitting song to end such a beautiful song writing career.

The final stand[edit]

In 1996, Howard and Vestal were joined on vocals by former Happy Goodman band member Johnny Minick. As a trio, they brought back the Happy Goodman name to the delight of fans. Several projects were released over the next five years and they were regular fixtures at Gaither Homecoming events. Their last project was appropriately titled "The Final Stand (2001)". In 2002, a biographical video titled More Than The Music...Life Story chronicled the history of the Happy Goodmans. It is preceded by O Happy Day, a biography written by Jamie Buckingham (1973). O Happy Day is an early telling of the Happy Goodman Family in stories recalled by members of the Goodman family. Vestal wrote her autobiography titled "Vestal! Lord I Wouldn't Take Nothin' for My Journey Now"(1999) and released a number of solo projects before her death in 2003, including two "Vestal and Friends" CDs featuring duets with a diverse array of vocalists, including George Jones, Sandi Patty, Dolly Parton, Andraé Crouch, Wynonna Judd, Bill and Gloria Gaither, Newsboys and the love of her life Howard Goodman.

The group recorded 15 number-one singles and played over 3,500 shows. They were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1998.


The Goodmans' popularity grew so much that a category had to be created in the Grammy Awards for Gospel Music. In 1968 The Goodmans won the first Grammy for a Gospel album by a Gospel group, no other artist or group had garnered this achievement. The Goodmans also won the same award in 1978. In 1969 with the founding of the Gospel Music Association and the Dove Awards the Goodmans were honored that year too. Vestal was the first Female Vocalist of the Year for the 1969 Dove Awards; she set a standard that few can reach for that category. The Goodmans were remembered year after year when it came time to nominate for awards.


The Happy Goodman Family Discography

(SIMS Records)

  • 1963 I'm Too Near Home
  • 1964 The Best of The Happy Goodman Family
  • 1964 It's A Wonderful Feelin
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam

(Canaan Records)

  • 1965 What a Happy Time!
  • 1965 Bigger 'N Better
  • 1966 Good 'N Happy
  • 1967 The Happy Gospel of the Happy Goodmans
  • 1968 Portrait of Excitement
  • 1969 This Happy House
  • 1970 Good Times with the Happy Goodmans
  • 1971 Wanted Live
  • 1972 Leave Your Sorrows and Come Along
  • 1973 The Legendary Goodmans
  • 1974 The Happy Goodman Family Hour
  • 1975 Covered in Warmth
  • 1976 99 44/100% Goodmans
  • 1977 The Very Best of the Happy Goodmans LIVE
  • 1978 Refreshing
  • 1979 Better Hurry Up
  • 1981 Goin' Higher
  • 1982 Goodman Greats
  • 1983 Chosen
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Johnny Cook
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Johnny Cook
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Tanya
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Tanya
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Johnny Cook
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam
  • Rusty, Sam, Tanya, Johnny Cook
  • Rusty, Sam, Tanya, Johnny Cook, Michael English
  • Rusty, Sam, Tanya, Michael English

(WORD Records)

  • 1990 The Reunion
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam

(Spring Hill Records)

  • 1997 Always
  • 1998 Joy for the Journey
  • 2000 50 Years

(Pamplin Entertainment)

  • 2000 Set Your Sails

(Crowne/Spring Hill)

  • 2001 The Final Stand
The Happy Goodman Compilations

(WORD Records)

  • 1985 Their Greatest Hits
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam


  • 1994 The Original Happy Goodman Family
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam

(Crowne Music Group)

  • 1996 The Collection, Vol. 1 (Double CD)
  • 1996 The Collection, Vol. 2 (Douale CD)
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby, Tanya, Johnny Cook
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby, Tanya, Johnny Cook

(WORD Records)

  • 2000 Southern Gospel Treasury Series

(New Haven Records)

  • 2003 Greatest Hits
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby, Tanya, Johnny Cook

Complete list of group members[edit]


This list begins with the date of their first full length recording.

  • Howard Goodman 1963–1980, 1990, 1996–2002
  • Vestal Goodman 1963–1980, 1990, 1996–2002
  • Sam Goodman 1963–1983, 1990
  • Rusty Goodman 1963–1983, 1990
  • Bobby Goodman 1965-1971
  • Johnny Cook 1974–1975, 1978, 1980–1983
  • Johnny Minick 1975-1977 (pianist/BGVs), 1996–2002 (vocalist)
  • Tanya Goodman Sykes 1976–1977, 1980–1983
  • Michael English 1982-1983

Band Members (By Category)[edit]

  • Howard Goodman 1963-1971 (pianist, vocalist)
  • Eddie Crook 1971–1975, 1978-1982 (pianist)
  • Johnny Minick 1975-1977 (pianist)
  • Aaron Wilburn 1972-1974 (rhythm guitar, soloist)
  • Jack Smith 1971-1974 (steel guitar)
  • Gary Dee 1975-1976 (steel guitar)
  • Steve "Rabbit" Easter 1977–1979, 1981-1982 (steel guitar,banjo,and dobro)
  • Benny Johnson 1980 (steel guitar)
  • Ricky Goodman 1970s-1980 (drummer)
  • Bruce Droit 1980-1982 (drummer)
  • Dwayne Friend 1965 (guitarist)
  • Ernie Maxwell 1966-1970 (guitarist)
  • Jim "Duke" Dumas 1972-1974 (guitarist)
  • Jeff Chambers 1975-1977 (guitarist)
  • Bobby Goodman 1965-1971 (bass guitar, soloist)
  • Larry Strzelecki 1972-1977 (bass guitar)
  • Joey Maxwell 1977-1978 (bass guitar)
  • Keith Moore 1978 (bass guitar)
  • Jefferson Ross 1980 (bass guitar)
  • James Gordon Freeze 1980-1982 (bass guitar)


External links[edit]