The Imperials Were the Talk of the Industry
Roger Wiles and I came to the Imperials at the same time. Jake Hess and Gary McSpadden had decided to leave. I think Jake’s doctor convinced him that he might die if he stayed on the road and Gary probably didn’t want to continue with the group after Jake had decided to leave. I’m sure the remaining guys thought long and hard about replacements for these two giants in the industry. Jake Hess and James Blackwood were both considered the greatest lead singers in gospel music at that time.
Both the Statesmen and the Blackwood Brothers Quartet were the two groups every gospel music fan wanted to see. They did hundreds of concerts together and always to packed auditoriums. Jake grew weary of the same songs every night so he decided he wanted to form his own group and do it HIS way. He hired what he considered the best singers for his group. Sherril Neilson on tenor, Gary McSpadden on baritone, Armond Morales on bass, and Henry Slaughter on piano completed this quartet.
The Imperials were a group everyone wanted to see and hear. Their style was very polished with much rehearsal. They NEVER did an encore, as most groups did often, and eventually employed a band on stage, a first for southern gospel music. Many promoters and churches rebelled against that band but Jake took the slings and arrows to do it.
After many months of disputes with fans and promoters, Jake proved he was right. He was a trend-setter and a trailblazer. For his bold leadership, the Imperials were the talk of the industry and a group to be reckoned with. That continues to be our goal. Though the musical styles have changed somewhat, the Imperials continue to strive for excellence, smooth harmonies, and great songs. Our Lord deserves our very best!