A voice that had sung gospel music for more than 70 years was stilled Wednesday with the death of Gilbert “Gib” Hardin, the last of the brothers who formed the Hardin Brothers Quartet. The quartet included Gilbert, Wesley, Auda and Hobert, who sang a cappella. One by one they have passed, first, Auda, then Wesley, then Hobert, and this week, Gilbert, who spent the last years of his life at the Ivy Hall Nursing Home. Even after his brothers died Gilbert would visit the nursing homes and sing.
As a group they sang in almost every church in Carter County and at hundreds of funerals and homecomings.
In a 1999 interview Gilbert said the four began singing together around 1930, however, it was not until the 1940s that the brothers acquired a reputation locally as a quartet. Until that time, Audie and Wesley were off in the coalfields of Virginia and West Virginia working. They had their own quartets. Each year they would meet at the Tri-State Singing Convention in Big Stone Gap, Va., and sing together. It was in the early 1940s Audie and Wesley moved back to Elizabethton and the brothers began singing together.
Wesley was the leader of the group and always did the bookings and chose the songs; the other three followed him.
Although they worked on a job, Gilbert said they seldom turned down a request to sing and never charged to sing. He noted that once they sang at four funerals in one day which took some juggling. “We worked at the rayon plants, and it meant taking off from work, but we never lost anything from it,” he said.
Gilbert said he and Hobert sang together as teenagers. There were seven of the siblings — all boys. They grew up during the Depression and there wasn’t a lot to do, so they would get together and sing.
Gilbert told how he and his brothers would play a little rook from time to time, however, that stopped when a Christian brother told them they either had to sing or play cards, but they couldn’t do both. “So we quit playing cards and kept singing,” Gilbert said.
He shared that when they were just “old teenage boys,” they would sing in the church choir. They weren’t saved then, so the preacher at the church decided they should not be singing in the choir, so he kicked them out. The preacher’s decision angered some of the people in the church and they were allowed back in the choir.
However, both Hobert and Gilbert were saved and baptized in 1936. Gilbert recalled they were saved in April and baptized the first Sunday in May in Stoney Creek. “We went into the water singing ‘I’ll Wear A White Robe,’” Gilbert said. That song became one of the most requested songs they sang. They also received a lot of requests for “A Model Church.”
Gilbert worked at the local rayon plants for 47 years, retiring in 1980. Hobert worked at the rayon plants for 20 years and then operated a small grocery business on Stoney Creek. Auda served as Carter County Register of Deeds for a number of years and Wesley was in the tombstone business.
Through the years the Hardin Brothers published five songbooks of their songs and did two sets of 78 rpm records. They also recorded 45 rpm records and from there went to long-playing albums and then to a sound-track tape.
For a brief time in the 1940s they had their own radio program on WBEJ-Radio.
Gilbert, who loved to laugh as much as he did sing, said the brothers had a lot of fun singing. “We messed up a lot, but it wasn’t on purpose. It just happened,” he said. He recalled a broadcast during which they dedicated a song to the sick and shut-in. Audie called out the names of the sick and noted the next song would be dedicated to them. The song Wesley had chosen for them to sing was “You’re Going to Pay for What You Do.” Needless to say, it wasn’t very appropriate and after the broadcast they heard about it from their wives.
The quartet sang by shaped notes and Wesley used a tuning pipe to give the opening note of a song. Occasionally, they had a piano player, but most of the time they sang a cappella.
In addition to singing at local churches, they often would travel to West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio to sing.
After Gilbert became unable to care for himself he went to Ivy Hall. He never lost his love for singing. Often he could be heard in his room humming or singing an old familiar gospel tune.
Stoney Creek legends, the Hardin Brothers were. Today, Gilbert is wearing that white robe he so many times sang about.