Gospel-quartet mainstay David O. Will died at age 78 on March 4 in Hendersonville.
He was best known as a 23-year veteran of The Imperials. During his tenure with the group, it won three Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
He was born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska and became a licensed minister in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Following stints with The Keystones Quartet, The Statesmen and The Tribunes, he joined The Imperials as a baritone vocalist in 1976.
Fiery-voiced Russ Taff joined the group as its lead singer that same year. During the next decade, the group had its biggest successes. The albums Sail On, Imperials Live, Heed the Call, One More Song for You, Christmas With the Imperials and Priority made the group a bridge between the gospel-quartet tradition and the emerging Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) pop style.
While Will was in The Imperials, they were nominated for Grammy Awards 11 times and won for their recordings Sail On (1977), Heed the Call (1979) and Priority (1981).
The album Side By Side (1983) was a double LP with each member of the Imperials singing solo on a side. It won a Dove Award, one of many such accolades from the Gospel Music Association. The Imperials were the organization’s Artist of the Year in 1981.
The act went back to traditional, four-part harmony singing on The Imperials Sing the Classics (1984), then returned to a CCM/pop sound on Let the Wind Blow (1985).
Will was particularly noted for his performances of the ballads “One More Song for You” and “You’re the Only Jesus.” His self-composed “In the Same Old Fashioned Way” was another Imperials favorite.
The group was always known for its progressivism. The Imperials were the first bi-racial quartet in their field. The group stirred controversy when it released the rock-oriented This Year’s Model (1987). Its song “Power of God” was the theme song of the Christian bodybuilders The Power Team. In 1991-93, The Imperials surprised fans when they brought in a female singer, Pam Morales.
In the mid-1990s, the group scaled back its band and returned to performing in intimate, church settings. Instead of booking ticketed concert halls, The Imperials performed for free-will offerings at more than 200 church shows per year. Following a three-year recording hiatus, the act issued Til He Comes (1995), a return to the classic quartet sound.
The Imperials were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1998. Without Will and incorporating various new members, the group continued to perform regularly until 2010.
David O. Will is survived by his wife of 56 years, Janice Will, by daughters Lisa Will Brinker, Angela Will Smith and Nicole Will McDougal and by a granddaughter and two sisters.
A celebration of his life will be held Saturday April 2, at Christ Church Wallace Chapel, 15354 Old Hickory Blvd. Visitation will be from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. with services to follow. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in David O. Will’s memory to Mercy Multiplied, PO Box 111060, Nashville, TN 37222. Arrangements were handled by Lumen Cremation of Nashville.
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