The GMA Dove Awards, the annual hallmark event of the Christian and Gospel music industry, recently celebrated its 51st anniversary. As the show has grown over the years, including 2020’s innovative, re-vamped format in response to the worldwide pandemic, the awards have expanded to include a wide range of genres and categories representing the full scope of today’s music. What started as a small gathering at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN to award the year’s best in Southern Gospel now includes the best in Urban, Gospel, Worship, Latin, Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop and more. Industry veteran Bob McConnell, Art Director and Designer for Benson Records from the 1960s to the 1980s, was one of the original planners of the very first Dove Awards show in 1969. Even though he couldn’t have predicted how the industry would change over the years, he’s been excited to see firsthand how the Dove Awards has grown to be the cherished event it is today.
In the mid-1960s, McConnell was working for a Nashville printing company owned by the Bensons. When the family decided to start a publishing company for Southern Gospel artists, McConnell, an artist, photographer and designer, was brought on as Art Director for the label. While there, he oversaw and designed album art for the entire roster. When discussions began in 1969 about launching an award show for the industry, McConnell was part of a small group who turned the idea into reality.
“We had lunch at a meat-and-three in downtown Nashville,” McConnell says. “It was me and Bob Benson, Bill Gaither, Les Beesley from the Florida Boys and some other guys. Les came up with the name Dove Awards and we talked about the idea of a descending dove. The idea was to create an award with a descending dove to represent the dove from when Jesus was baptized.”
After that lunch, McConnell got to work sketching some ideas incorporating the descending dove imagery. He showed his designs to Bob Benson and Bill Gaither, who loved what he’d designed. McConnell’s sketches were turned into the award handed out at the very first Dove Awards, the same iconic dove statue still used today.
In those early days, without the help of a computer or design programs, McConnell designed LP covers by hand, often painting original artwork and drawing logos. For artists in the 60s, the album cover was often the only branding fans interacted with and the perfect album cover was seen as crucial to success. McConnell understood that weight and poured himself into each and every one. Over the years, he art directed and created album covers for more than one hundred artists, including GMA Hall of Fame members Bill Gaither, The Gaither Trio, The Oak Ridge Boys, The Rambos, The Imperials, The Speers, The Blackwoods, Doug Oldham, The Florida Boys, Dallas Holm, The Cathedral Quartet and The Jordainares.
Bob McConnell’s relationships and commitment to artistic excellence made a lasting impact on the industry, including the classic Dove Award sitting on the shelves of so many artists, songwriters, producers and creatives from the last 51 years. Throughout his career, McConnell won six Dove Awards (1969, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1978 and 1980) and was nominated for many more. He went on to expand his creative footprint, including designing the logo for the Gospel Music Association and the Country Music Association logo. When asked how he feels about his legacy, McConnell is humbled, summing it up perfectly.
“It’s an honor to be part of something that was so good and has lasted so long.”
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