MY TRIBUTE TO BEN SPEER - BY ANN DOWNING

I was barely 18 years of age when I came to Nashville to sing with the Speer Family. I'd auditioned with them in Mississippi, my home state, after they'd heard me sing with a local group that had promoted the Speers' date. All of this still seems surreal to me, a young gal who just loved to sing and had prayed and longed to sing gospel music the rest of my life. I had never traveled anywhere to speak of, so riding a Trailways bus all day to Nashville seemed like something out of a fairy tale. And of course, all the 5 years of working with the Speers afford me today what I'm still able to do in my singing ministry.

When I got to Nashville, Brock and family picked me up at the bus station, took me to their house where Mom and Dad Speer and Ben, with his family, were ready to see if, indeed, this Mississippi gal could do the job. I guess I passed.

That was in 1963, and it's a vivid memory for me that still brings a smile to my face.

Ben was a perfectionist as far as musicianship was concerned. I wasn't a very good piano player. Ben was patient with me, but very, very stern...especially when it came to rhythm. He just wouldn't accept rushing the beat or lagging behind. I heard many finger snaps on the stage in his efforts to get me settled into the rhythm. And then many nights after getting back on the bus, he'd bring up the "less than best" issues about our concert that evening, and we'd talk it through.

But, Ben never required out of me anything that he wouldn't require out of himself. Not only did he teach me a lot about rhythm, playing clean and uncluttered, I learned a lot about how to reach out to the people to get the message of the song across to them, not just trying to get all the notes right and pitches in tune.

I will always be thankful I knew Ben Speer. I don't think he ever got tired of his music life. I know I'll always be grateful for his toughness and demand that it be right, as much as was possible. I have no doubt he was one of the most talented men in the world. And he had great fun in it all.


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