When I was a newlywed in my early 20s, I was incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work alongside one of the most extraordinarily gifted people I’ve ever known – the one and only Lari Goss. It was the early 1990’s and Gospel Music was in a remarkable season of growth and influence. Lari was one of the most highly sought-after (and busiest arranger/orchestrator/producer) names in the industry. To my great pleasure, he hired me for a few years to assist him with preparing charts, playing keyboards/singing for recording sessions, producing, orchestrating, and co-arranging. It was the opportunity of a lifetime!
I remember very well my first project with Lari. It was an album for Janet Paschal. I walked into Classic Recording Studios and met with Lari and Janet a couple of hours before rhythm tracking was to get underway. We gathered in the piano booth. Sitting at the piano, Lari reached into his briefcase, grabbed a legal pad, a couple of pencils, and a portable cassette recorder. He prayed a blessing over the project, pressed play and record simultaneously on the cassette deck, and launched into arranging the first song for Janet’s record. The song was “Another Soldier’s Coming Home”. The moment was surreal and supernatural. As Janet sang beautifully, Lari was reaching deeply into his unique skill set to find the right song and chord structure. He was always on the hunt for an opportunity to surprise the heart with a sharp eleven or key change up a minor third. But it wasn’t trickery or formulaic science with Lari. The brilliance flowed through him from the heart of God.
I sat in awe and wonder as Lari accompanied Janet. Every 16 measures or so, he would hum a counter melody against her vocal. (I would later learn that he was orchestrating real time as he was arranging. He was humming a reference for himself that was to become a signature Goss string, oboe, or French horn line). What I witnessed that day was beyond talent… beyond genius… it was Divine imprint.
Lari’s talent and character were a rare combination. His musical ability was in a class all by itself – and yet, he openly loved and treated everyone equally. He was not impressed with himself. Instead, he was captivated by the gifts he saw in so many others. Countless artists – including Larnelle Harris, The Cathedrals, Wintley Phipps, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, The Nelons, Phil Cross and Poet Voices, Christ Church Choir, The Gaither Vocal Band, Greater Vision, and many more – were drawn to Lari, not only because he was the best at what he did, but because he put their ministry needs ahead of his own artistic preferences.
He also had an ear for supreme musical gifts. He surrounded himself with the best musicians on the planet (John Hammond, Craig Nelson, Mark Baldwin, Reese Wynans, Scott Williamson, Gary Lunn, Dave Cleveland, Kelly Back, Jason Webb, Bradley Knight, Jim Gray, Jeff Anderson, Shannon Forrest, Tom Hemby, Jim Hammerly, and so many more). These folks have played on hundreds of albums produced by Lari Goss. Each person, without reservation, would call Lari “friend” above any other professional title. Why? Because he spent time investing more into their lives than just an hourly wage. He loved them all and told them so every day.
He also never forsook his love for, and commitment to, the Church. Lari was wholeheartedly devoted to writing songs and creating musical moments that would inspire and lead the Church to worship with passion. He could have taken his skill into a variety of musical arenas, but Lari Goss loved the Bride of Christ. His arranging and orchestrating style changed the scope of Church music and continues to be emulated by a number of his peers and understudies. The “Lari Goss Sound” is indescribably, and undeniably, infused with an immeasurable abundance of heart and soul.
It has been said by many people that Lari Goss could infuse an arrangement with more heart and passion than anyone. I believe that is because he possessed an uncommonly big heart. Not long after he hired me, I was stricken very ill. For two and a half years, I was in and out of hospitals across the country. Doctors had a tough time diagnosing my illness and most days, I could barely muster enough strength to get out of bed. Lari knew of my predicament and hired me to go to the studio every week to choose keyboard sounds, while lying on the couch in the control room. Anyone who knows Lari Goss well will not be surprised to learn he paid me a full day’s wages every day. His generosity and compassion kept food on the table for my wife and me when we honestly wondered how we would survive. So, I have no question why his music reaches the depths of one’s heart and spirit. He did more than write with passion, obedience, and surrender. He lived with it.
I was one of thousands of people whose lives intersected that of Lari Goss. As a result, I received truly invaluable mentorship and friendship. Like mine, the stories are seemingly endless of the number of times that Lari gave someone an opportunity that initiated a long and compelling career. It is no wonder, then, that when news broke yesterday that Lari had finally won a cancer battle and had gone to Heaven, social media channels and phone lines around the world were filled with heartwarming tributes to his memory and legacy.
Like many of you, I grieve the passing of a dear friend, musical hero, and champion of the faith. He fought long and hard against a terrible disease. But we do not grieve without hope! On this, our first morning without Lari Goss, I can almost hear the halls of heaven reverberating with the sounds of his arrangement and orchestration for Janet Paschal’s song:
Strike up the band
Assemble the choir
Another soldier’s coming home
Another warrior hears the call he’s waited for so long
He’ll battle no more
But he’s won his wars
Make sure Heaven’s table has room for at least one more
Sing a welcome song
Another soldier’s coming home
Your music will be sung on earth for generations to come, Lari. May you rest in the arms of eternity until I see you again. And when I do, I intend to sit by the piano and hear all of heaven accompany you as you make music before the throne of God.
Thank you for everything, my friend!
With love and gratitude,
Craig, a recipient of multiple Dove Awards, has produced and/or participated in more than 3,500 recordings for artists, record labels, music publishers, tv/film, and radio over the past 35 years. His vast experience in music production, local church worship ministry, and musical direction for live events enriches his ministry work at LifeWay every day.