Happy Goodman Family

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The Happy Goodman Family is 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 Award to be 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 U.S. 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. Ranker list the Happy Goodmans as the 3rd all-time Best Southern Gospel Bands/Artists.

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.

The Goodmans had a long list of hit songs. 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, after 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.


The Goodmans Greatest Hits from 1985, with Sam, Vestal, Howard, and Rusty

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. Shortly after the breakup, a compilation album, The Goodmans Greatest Hits made by Sam, Rusty, Vestal, and Howard was released in 1985, with the quartet pictured on the cover. It has more recently been re-mastered and re-released on Compact Disc. 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. This album features the last song Rusty wrote, Standing in the Presence of the King, a fitting end to his songwriting career.

Howard and Vestal's Final Stand with Johnny Minick[edit]

In 1993, 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 Howard. 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. In her final years, she also appeared regularly on Bill Gaither's Precious Memories television series.

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.


In 1968, The Goodmans won the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance for the 1967 album The Happy Gospel of the Happy Goodmans. It was the first Grammy awarded for a gospel album by a gospel group. The Goodmans also won the same award in 1978 (only then called Best Gospel Performance, Traditional) for Refreshing. In 1969, with the founding of the Gospel Music Association and the GMA's Dove Awards, the Goodmans were honored that year too. Vestal was the first Female Vocalist of the Year for the 1969 Dove Awards. The Goodmans were remembered year after year when it came time to nominate for awards.



(SIMS Records)

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

(Canaan Records)

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

  • The Reunion
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam

(Spring Hill Records)

  • Always (1997)
  • Joy for the Journey (1998)
  • 50 Years (2000)
  • Howard, Vestal, Johnny Minick
  • Howard, Vestal, Johnny Minick
  • Howard, Vestal, Tanya, Johnny Minick

(Pamplin Entertainment)

  • Set Your Sails
  • Howard, Vestal, Johnny Minick

(Crowne/Spring Hill)

  • The Final Stand
  • Howard, Vestal, Johnny Minick



(Word Records)

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


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

(Crowne Music Group)

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

(Word Records)

  • Southern Gospel Treasury Series
  • Howard, Vestal, Rusty, Sam, Bobby, Tanya, Johnny Cook, Michael English

(New Haven Records)

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

Complete list of group members[edit]


Band members[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, 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)