November 1990: Locals remember Rusty Goodman's contributions to Southern Gospel


Burnwell Bible Church of God was overflowing in November 1990 for the funeral of singer/songwriter Charles "Rusty" Goodman. Nearly 200 people packed the church and another 25 watched outside on a closed-circuit television.

Goodman, a native of Burnwell, died of cancer at age 57.

He had penned numerous songs loved by Southern Gospel fans, including "I Believe He's Coming Back," "Who Am I" and "Standing in the Presence of the King." Though he performed both as a soloist and with other groups, he would always be associated in the public's mind with the Happy Goodman Family, which included his brothers, Howard and Sam, and sister-in-law, Vestal.

In an interview with the Daily Mountain Eagle after Goodman's death, WDJC's Wayne Wallace recalled seeing the Happy Goodman Family perform on the Merv Griffin Show.

"That was quite an achievement for a Southern Gospel Group," Wallace said. "I remember Rusty did most of the talking on the show. It was always thought that there were limits as to how far a Southern Gospel group could go. But there were no limits as far as the Happy Goodman Family were concerned."

In 1968, the Goodmans won a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance for the 1967 album "The Happy Gospel of the Happy Goodmans."" It was the first Grammy awarded for a gospel album by a gospel group.

Goodman's songs were respected throughout the industry and recorded by such artists as Elvis Presley and the Oak Ridge Boys.

"You can pick up just about any gospel album and find a Rusty Goodman song on it," said Ken Hamilton, leader of the local gospel group Melody Masters. "He has contributed as much as any single individual in the last 25 years." 

At the funeral, several of Goodman's songs were performed by Vestal Goodman and former group member Michael English. Vestal called her brother-in-law "the greatest songwriter God permitted."

Though the name of the group may suggest that the Happy Goodmans were pie-in-the-sky types, many of Goodman's songs were written from the depths of despair. 

His nephew, Rick Goodman, said Rusty Goodman wrote his best songs when he felt unappreciated or unloved.

The Rev. Marvin Gorman compared Goodman's songs to the psalms of David and Paul's writings.

"We can't take suffering out of Christianity," Gorman said. "The things that he penned will encourage Christians from now til the day we stand on yonder shore." 

Rick Goodman said he was could not be mad at God for his uncle's death. He had prayed that if Goodman was not going to be healed that he would not be allowed to suffer and "one thing God does is answer prayer."

Goodman was buried in the cemetery next to Burnwell Bible Church of God.

In 2014, his daughter, Tanya Goodman Sykes, attended the church's homecoming and Decoration Day.

Although the Goodmans lived all over the United States throughout their career, Sykes said there was never a question where her father’s final resting place would be.

“They always had a kinship with this place. They had a real affinity for the red clay of Alabama. This was where they grew up, where they found their faith and where they started singing,” she said. 

Sykes has fond memories of her family making the trek to Alabama each summer when she was a child, and she continued the tradition with her own daughters.

“Once they got old enough to understand funerals and cemeteries, I wanted them to understand the sweetness in it and not to be scared,” Sykes said. “So I borrowed from Disney and talked to them about how this is part of the circle of life. Poppy, their granddad, is buried here, and now he is in heaven. One day we’ll be in heaven and then our children will be here thinking about us.”

Kris Goodman, son of Sam Goodman and pastor of Victory Church in Madisonville, Kentucky, delivered a sermon that day on the inviting heart of God.

Goodman noted that the afterlife has always been at the forefront of the minds of his family members.

“The Goodmans knew there was a heaven. They wanted to go there and they wanted everybody to go with them,” he said.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.