Southern Gospel Times Feature Article
Lou Wills Hildreth
Writer, Ray Cooper, interviews legendary Lou Hildreth this month, as she celebrates 75 years of dedication to Gospel Music. Lou's biography is one of inspiration, determination, dedication, and preserverance. As one of America's favorite Christian music television personalities and business leaders, Lou has captured the hearts of not only music fans; but industry leaders, as well. From her singing roots in Texas with the Wills Family, to her establishing herself on Music Row as its first female agent; her success story continues. Her bio reads like a "who's-who" of those artists she helped to launch, promote, and mentor...and the mentorship goes on, as this multi-awarded lady continues to inspire women in the industry to continue her heritage of holding up the standard of Gospel Music. Lou's spirit and words of wisdom personifies her humble walk that has taken her right into the hearts of Gospel Music supporters everywhere. On Monday, October 29, 2012 at 7:00 p.m., come join the many fans who will help her celebrate 75 years in Gospel Music! The ceremony is part of the three-day Creekside Gospel Music Convention hosted by SGNScoops digital magazine in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. -- Introduction written by Evie Hawkins
Question: Could you tell us some history of the Wills Family?
Lou: My dad, Pop Wills, formed the Wills Family Quartet in 1938 with my older siblings Rene, Calvin, and me. Pop was the President of the Texas & Oklahoma Singing Convention, and we traveled the highways of Texas and Oklahoma to promote it. The twins, Betty and Bob, were born in 1938, and sang their first songs with the family as toddlers, shortly after our move to California in 1941. A few years later, “Big” Bill, a brother just younger than me, joined us on the guitar and the youngest Wills sibling, Norma Jo, began playing the piano. After attending the Stamps Music School in Dallas in 1944, we moved back to Texas. I sang with the Wills Family until 1968 when I moved to Nashville. Pop, Rene, Calvin, and Bill are passed on. My remaining siblings, Bob, Betty, and Norma Jo are serving the Lord in gospel music ministries.
Question: Were there other gospel groups who influenced the Wills Family?
Lou: In California we sang concerts with the Blackwood Brothers, who had located there to work in the plants during World War II. When we returned to Texas, Frank Stamps was really gracious—Betty, Bob, and Norma Jo were students at the Stamps Music School, free of charge, for several years. We represented his music company at major conventions during that time. In my book about the Wills Family, I tell about a memorable trip we made for Mr. Stamps to California for the National Singers Convention, and how we barely made it home to Texas. Check my website www.louhildreth.com for the rest of the story.
Question: Was there someone who personally influenced you?
Lou: At the legendary “Battle Of Songs”
in Fort Worth, the Wills Family opened for the leading quartets of the 50’s & 60’s. My brother, Bob, loved the male quartets, and formed his own group, “Bob Wills & The Inspirationals” as soon as he graduated from high school. I adored Eva Mae LeFevre and had many backstage conversations with her. When we began “Wills Family Inspirational Time” in the sixties, her warm style influenced me in hosting our television series. My desire was to touch the listeners with the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and television was a powerful tool. We were probably the first of the gospel syndications to tape in color. The shows featured Pop, all seven brothers and sisters, Rene, Calvin, Bill, (twins) Bob & Betty, and Norma Jo, their spouses and children, plus the popular male quartet Bob Wills & The Inspirationals. Our producer helped us present “a gospel singing Christian family, loving each other, and loving God.”
Question: What prompted you to move to Nashville?
Lou: Our TV shows were produced by Hal Smith, Inc. of Nashville; we were signed with Skylite Records, Nashville, and God’s timing was right. I opened an office on Music Row and had the first artist agency owned by a woman, “Nashville Gospel Talent”. Determined to help the artists, I signed Mark Lowry to his first booking contract. I am proud that currently several dedicated women own and operate booking agencies. Along with the agency, and serving on the GMA Board, I was blessed to be on television. For several years, I hosted “Nashville Gospel” a daily show. In 1976 the show was nominated for a Dove Award. Later, we hosted “Family Lifestyles.” In the nineties, when we returned to Texas, an Austin TV company hired me to host “Hill Country Gospel.” My first project was a video with Larry Gatlin, “In His Church.” Currently, I co-host “Inside Gospel” with JP Miller.
Question: Has being one of the Homecoming Friends on the Gaither Videos benefited your ministry?
Lou: So many have benefited from the worldwide popularity of the Gaither videos. My life has been abundantly blessed by the friendship of Bill and Gloria Gaither. In 2005, at my induction into the GMA Hall Of Fame, it was thrilling for Bill to fly to Nashville to conduct it. See a video of this event on my website www.louhildreth.com by clicking under his photo on the “News” section. Included is a clip of my presenting Bill his first Dove Award in 1969.
Question: What is your favorite scripture?
Lou: One of my favorite scriptures is Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Final Question: What do you consider the ultimate blessing of God on your life?
Lou: The most important blessing of my lifetime is my family. I am thankful for my Godly husband Howard and the 65 years we have shared together. We are enjoying living in Houston near our son and daughter and our grandchildren.
Ray, sharing these thoughts with you and your readers has been an honor. We are looking forward to seeing you, Ken & Pauline Patterson, at the NQC in September and Creek Side Gospel Music Convention, Pigeon Forge, October 29, 30, & 31.
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