Gaither singer heads to Suffolk

Published 11:02 pm Friday, June 4, 2010

Fans of the Gaither Homecoming video series will be able to see one of its performers live in Suffolk this weekend.

Ann Downing will perform at the Church of God of Prophecy, 1214 Holland Road, tonight at 5 p.m.; at Family Harvest Church, 750 Manning Road, Sunday at 10 a.m.; and at Suffolk Church of God, 201 Kilby Ave., Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

“I’m just excited about coming to Suffolk again,” Downing said, noting that she performed here about 40 years ago.

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Downing began her musical career right out of high school with the Speer Family, a southern gospel group.

She then met Paul Downing, the man who would become her husband, and together they founded the Downings, which also included other vocalists and a pianist. The group recorded several songs, and Ann Downing won the first Dove Award in 1969 for best female singer.

The group disbanded in 1978, and the Downings became involved in other ministries, counseling troubled youth and couples and also beginning a women’s retreat. However, in 1992, Paul Downing died suddenly, and Ann Downing made it through the storm by continuing to sing on her own.

These days, Downing continues her music ministry by visiting churches across the nation. Her three performances in Suffolk this weekend give area residents a chance to hear her vocals.

“I’ve been a fan of the Downings for years,” said Pastor Ted Fortenberry of Family Harvest Church. “I thought it would be good to have her come and minister to us.”

After scheduling the performance at Family Harvest Church, Downing also found two other places for her to perform.

“When I come to an area, I don’t like to sit in a hotel,” Downing said.

Downing longed to sing during her childhood, but she never thought she would be able to do it for a living.

“I knew I wanted to sing, and that just came as a bonus,” Downing said.

Downing’s performances are generally intimate, and she likes to come off the stage and get on the same level as the audience, she said.

“In my past, I have sung to huge crowds, and still from time to time do,” she said, “but I want everyone to feel like I’m there just with them personally.”

Besides her music ministry, Downing also runs Middle Tennessee Women’s Retreat, an annual event that invites women for a weekend of encouragement, learning and fellowship.

“That’s my favorite thing I do during the year,” she said. “Next spring will be our 20th annual.”

Downing said the ministry of music, however, remains important to her.

“We are all ministers of something,” she said. “We all give out something. I think a lot of what I do is remind people that they’re not alone, and I’m probably dealing with the same things they are. We have just forgotten the art of laughter. I want them to realize everybody can have fun, everybody can laugh, everybody can enjoy life.”