Instruments: Vocals
Date of Birth: July 25, 1935
Place of Birth: Bethel, Tennessee
Home: Killen, Alabama

The late Earl Smith "Smitty" Gatlin, of Oak Ridge Boys fame, resided in Killen prior to his death.

He will be inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame during a ceremony Wednesday, May 24, 2000, at the Park Vista Resort in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Smitty Gatlin was born in 1935. His parents were Margaret and Frank Gatlin Sr., of Prospect, Tenn. Smitty's mother died when he was 10 years old.

Smitty Gatlin was instrumental in reorganizing the Oak Ridge Quartet in 1956.

He purchased the name Oak Ridge Quartet from former owner Wally Fowler in the late 1950s, changed the name to the Oak Ridge Boys and led the group to national prominence as a gospel quartet.

The original Oak Ridge Quartet was organized during World War II to entertain troops, employees and their families who were confined, for wartime security, inside the oak Ridge national laboratory Compound at Oak Ridge, Tenn. Following the war, this quartet eventually disbanded.

Smitty managed and sang lead for the Oak Ridge Boys during the period the group was dedicated to gospel music. They performed throughout the United States, Canada and the Bahamas in all-night singings, concerts and church services. They released recordings on several different labels, including Warner Bros., RCA Heartwarming, Cadence, Starday, Woodrich, Checker and later exclusively for Skylite.

In 1966, Smitty sold his interest in the Oak Ridge Boys to the remaining members of the group and moved to Forth Worth, Tex., where he had accepted a position as minister of music at the First Baptist Church.

While serving in this capacity, he formed The Smitty Gatlin Trio and continued promoting gospel music in performances throughout the South and West. Most weekends, this necessitated flying back to Texas in time for services.

But his love of and desire to sing gospel music continued to beckon to him, and in 1969 he resigned his position in Texas and moved to Killen, Ala., where he again pursued his singing career.

He and his wife, Nell, and their poodle, Muffett, built their home on Wilson Lake in Killen and became permanent residents of Alabama.

Smitty formed the Smitty Gatlin Singers, which eventually again became the Smitty Gatlin Trio. They continued for the next several months to delight and bless fans and audiences all over America.

Then, in August 1970, Smitty was diagnosed with lung cancer. He fought a valiant fight to recover, but on March 20, 1972, he lost his 18-month battle after returning from a singing tour in Florida.

From newspaper article
East Lauderdale News
May 2000

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame


Born and reared in Pulaski, Tennessee, Smitty Gatlin became one of the smoothest and best-loved lead singers in Southern Gospel by the mid-1960s.

He broke into the business in 1956 when promoter Wally Fowler initially chose him to form and manage a new backup group called the Country Boys. Impressed with the young singer's remarkable voice and his sincerity, Fowler then convinced Smitty and his recruits to form a new version of the recently-disbanded Oak Ridge Quartet. The new group debuted at one of Fowler's all-night singings in Birmingham, Alabama, on New Year's Eve, 1956.

By 1958, Smitty Gatlin had purchased the group outright and had set out to turn it into one of the best groups in the gospel music industry. Suffering several lean years in the late-1950s, Gatlin and the Oaks persevered and, by the early years of the 1960s, began to emerge as one of the most popular and dynamic young groups in Southern Gospel. With Smitty's direction, the Oaks experimented with the "Nashville Sound," adding new instrumentation to create a fuller sound on their recordings.

A committed Christian, Gatlin's struggle to serve his Lord ultimately led him to leave the Oaks in 1966 in order to accept a position as minister of music at the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas. A few years later, he formed the Smitty Gatlin Trio and resumed some professional work though he continued to concentrate more on church revivals and his own music ministry.

One of the genuine combinations of outstanding talent and Christian dedication, Smitty Gatlin left the gospel music world prematurely. On March 20, 1972, he passed away after a bout with cancer.













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