For more than half a century Hovie Lister was leader and pianist for the Statesmen Quartet, one of the best-known and most significant exponents of southern gospel music.
Musician. For more than half a century Hovie Lister was leader and pianist for the Statesmen Quartet, one of the best-known and most significant exponents of southern gospel music. Born in Greenville on September 17, 1926, Lister learned to play piano at age nine and accompanied his father and uncles in the Lister Brothers Quartet in area churches and on local radio. After completing high school and a course at the Stamps-Baxter School of Music he went to Atlanta, where he became accompanist for the Rangers Quartet, the LeFevre Trio, and the Homeland Harmony Quartet before organizing the Statesmen in 1948. He took the name for this foursome from The Stateman, the newspaper organ for the Talmadges, then prominent in Georgia politics. Other significant members of the group have included Doyle Ott, Ed Weatherington, Jake Hess, Denver Crumpler, James Vaughn Hill, and Roland “Rosie” Rozelle.
Over the years the Statesmen Quartet made personal appearances throughout the United States. They recorded extensively for Capital, Skylite, and especially RCA Victor, with whom they were under contract for some eighteen years. The Statesmen also appeared on the soundtracks of two motion pictures, A Man Called Peter (1953) and God Is My Partner (1957). The Statesmen were guests on many major television network programs and on syndicated programs. For a time Lister merged the Statesmen into an all-star gospel act known as the Masters V, which included him, J. D. Sumner, James Blackwood, Jake Hess, and Roland Rozelle.
A man of versatile interests, Lister became an ordained Southern Baptist minister and was pastor of a church for some years. As a promoter of some renown, he organized the Waycross, Georgia, Sundown to Sunup Gospel Sing, which has raised more than $250,000 for the Shrine Hospitals for Crippled Children. He and his wife Ethel reared two children, remained active with the Statesmen, and resided near Decatur, Georgia, until his death on December 29, 2001, from a rare form of lymph cancer. His musical legacy has probably been described best by the Atlanta journalist Furman Bisher, who called Lister the man “who put rhythm in religion.”