Though he heavily influenced the greater world of gospel music during the 1970’s and 1980’s, it was through his work within his own particular religious denomination, the United Pentecostal Church, International, that this work was accomplished. While people throughout Christianity may be able to hum a Wolfe tune, most of his day-to-day career was spent as the Dean of the School of Music at a Pentecostal Bible school, Jackson College of Ministries.
Lanny Wolfe influenced gospel music in two ways: 1) through recordings of original music, and 2) through his once-popular National Music Ministry Conference, an annual conference hosted by the aforementioned bible school and the First Pentecostal Church of Jackson, Mississippi, where Wolfe worked from 1974 until 1993. He was a brilliant composer – using his education in music to introduce more sophisticated music styles to church audiences more familiar with southern or folk gospel. Using a tantalizing mix of Southern gospel song formulas, emotionally expressive musical phrasings more common in black churches, and classical, popular, or even “jazzy” music arrangements, he played an integral part in elevating the type and styles of music performed in worship services in the United Pentecostal Church and among many other Christian congregations.
His original music was performed and released by his trio, the Lanny Wolfe Trio, originally composed of himself, his then-wife, Marietta Wolfe, and Dave Petersen. During the 80’s, the group added others as Dave Petersen departed, followed by his wife who left to raise their children. Eventually, the group performed as Lanny Wolfe and the Lanny Wolfe Trio – the trio itself comprising young talent mostly taken from the student body of the Jackson College of Ministries. His last three albums listed the troupe simply as The Lanny Wolfe Singers. On his last album, the “Singers” were from a local church where he ministered at, since he was no longer affiliated with JCM.
He founded the National Music Ministry Conference as an effort to improve worship music in churches within the United Pentecostal Church, although it’s influence eventually expanded outside of that denomination. Each annual conference, held in the spring, offered classes in the many aspects of church worship, musicianship, sound control and production, and taught ordinary church musicians important tools in creating a professional sound in church worship. Each conference was capped at the end of the week by the performance of the National Music Ministry Conference Mass Choir (later dubbed Jackson Mass Choir) – made up of participants in the conference, and notable musicians and singers from within the United Pentecostal Church. It was considered an honor among UPCI musical artists to be asked to perform by Wolfe during this concert. Songs made popular by these Mass Choir concerts were often copied by worship teams in the UPCI and other Pentecostal-style churches coast-to-coast. These recordings also brought to the attention of other worship leaders of different faiths this music that Wolfe was introducing to the Pentecostal/Charismatic community – some songs presented there would invariably end up being recorded by more prestigious artists or choirs, such as the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
Music at his conference, except for a few select songs, was not original to him. He busily mined other non-mainstream gospel genres for material, often using music recorded by gospel choirs (such as Mississippi Mass Choir, or Rev. Milton Brunson and the Thompson Community Singers) for material. The spirited style of these songs went over well in a denomination known for expressive worship and spiritual dance, which seemed a bit odd considering that many congregations within the United Pentecostal Church at that time were all-white or nearly all-white. The mixture was ingenious, and a natural fit, since the expressive worship styles of white Pentecostals themselves were inherited from the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement, which started off as an inner-city, inter-racial religious movement.
His influence remains in Pentecostal/Charismatic worship music since many worship leaders are well adept at finding or creating the same sound. Many Christian recording artists, songwriters, Ministers Of Music, and Christian educators have studied under his leadership, such as Geron Davis (“Standing on Holy Ground”); Becky Davis, Shelton and Alyson Lovern, artists with Geron Davis and Kindred Souls; Vicki Yohe, TBN Artist and Guest Soloist with the Benny Hinn Crusades; Becky Fender ("I Give You Jesus"); Vonnie Lopez, Artist with the Kurt Carr Singers; Dan Dean, Minister, Songwriter and Artist with Phillips, Craig, & Dean; Jeannie Tenney ("One Night With The King"); John Ragsdale, Artist, Songwriter, Evangelist, former member of "The Awakening" TV ministry; Karen Harding, winner of the 2003 Exalting Him Talent Search and recording artist with Daywind Music Group; Hector Soto, Music Pastor, Grace Church, Humble, TX and recording artist, Israel Houghton's "Alive in South Africa" project; Melanie Jones, Artist, Israel Houghton's "Alive in South Africa" project; Wayne Goodine, Chairman of the Music Department, International Bible College,San Antonio; Mark Carouthers, Minister of Music, Artist, Songwriter (“Mercy Seat”), Steven Gregory, Pastor of Media and Arts, Venture Church, San Jose, CA; Dedie Cooley, Music Instructor, Texas Bible College, Lufkin, TX, among others.
Being a talented church musician, he was offered a job a Pentecostal bible school in California to teach worship music – which led him to return to a traditional learning atmosphere where he eventually received his bachelor’s degree in Music Education from San Jose State University. He eventually finished a second Master’s in the same field.
He headed the music departments at the following bible schools affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church, International: Christian Life College in Stockton, California from 1965 to 1966; Gateway College of Evangelism in St. Louis, Missouri from 1968 to 1974; and at Jackson College of Ministries in Jackson, Mississippi from 1974 to 1993.
Since 1993,he has served as music director at a charismatic non-denominational church in Houston, as well as being a music instructor at South Texas Bible Institute, also in Houston, Texas. Lanny is presently serving as CEO for Paradigm Music Productions, writing, conducting choir clinics at churches across the country and accompanying members of the original Lanny Wolfe Trio for reunion concerts at selected churches and venues throughout the nation.
SESAC'S Gospel Composer of The Year, 1975 and 1976
Nominated eight times by the Gospel Music Association for Gospel Songwriter of the Year
Dove Award, Gospel Music Association, Gospel Songwriter of the Year, 1984
Dove Award, Gospel Music Association, "More Than Wonderful" voted Song of the Year(1984)
Grammy Award to Sandi Patty and Larnelle Harris for their performance of "More Than Wonderful" (1984)
Lanny Wolfe Trio received Billboard's Magazine Award of the Year for Top Contemporary Trio (1977)
Voted in Top Five Inspirational Albums of the Year (various years) by Gospel Music Association: Rejoicing Live, Have A Nice Day, Can't Stop The Music
Voted in the Top Ten Songs for various years: Greater Is He, God's Wonderful People, Surely The Presence of the Lord Is In This Place, More Than Wonderful
Nominated for NARAS Grammy Awards: Make A Joyful Noise, 1980; Can't Stop the Music, 1981
"Greater Is He" was the official closing song for the Oral Roberts TV broadcast for a six year period Listed in Who's Who in Mississippi
Received an Honorary Doctorate from Pacific Coast Bible College (1983)
Elected member of the Gospel Music Association Board of Directors
Recipient of the "Legendary Bard Award" from the Bard Project for "Historic and exemplary contributions to the faith and worship heritage of the Body of Christ."
Studio & Live Recordings (Albums)
Significant Songs of Interest