Once again I learned of a new writer at the bluegrass service at our small local church. Dianne Wilkinson is a prolific (over 700 songs) modern Southern Gospel music writer. She won’t reveal her age, but her autobiography says she graduated from high school in 1972 at age 17, so I figure she was born around 1945. From her hometown of Blytheville, Arkansas Dianne Branscum saw the world of northeast Arkansas, the Missouri bootheel and in the 1950s; she attended “all night singings” in Memphis. From the age of 12, she toured with her mother and aunt around Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee. Indeed, she was a church pianist at age 12 and noodled around writing songs.
Beginning in the 1970s, she began in earnest to write Southern Gospel music, about the same time she met and married Tim Wilkinson. Her big break, if you can call it that, came in 1976 when her song. “Behold the Lamb” was recorded by The Song Masters from Tennessee at the Kennett Sound Studios in Kennett, Missouri. That was the start of the recording of hundreds of her songs by others. Now she is Southern Gospel’s most famous non-performing songwriter. I note that most modern songwriters outside of Gospel perform their own work and they sometimes have the unfortunate attitude that covering other writers is beneath them. Diane was lucky to come into the orbit of performers with more humility and less arrogance. One of her Gospel song heroines is Dottie Rambo, whom I wrote about in an earlier blog. Dianne’s songs have garnered many Dove Award nominations, Singing News Fan Awards nominations and News Fan Awards for Song of the year. By the 1980s, her career blossomed and the hymns kept coming.
The Cathedral Quartet, with whom she had a two decade relationship, recorded 16 of her songs, including “Boundless Love”, the song that brought her to my attention. Her group had sung this for years in their circuit, but in 1981, she made a demo of it. Though she felt the demo was recorded at too fast a tempo, the Cathedrals recorded it later with the proper tempo. No other song of hers has been covered more. It was nominated two years in a row for the Singing News Fan Award.
Today, she still plays the piano and writes songs, but she also teaches Sunday school at Springhill Southern Baptist Church in Dyersburg, Tennessee while working in a career in healthcare. As was her long held desire, she teaches from a King James Bible.