Philippians 2:3-5 says, Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.
Our family started singing together over forty-five years ago. From the beginning, there have been many people who have influenced our ministry in a multitude of ways. While there are a number of people who have been such a blessing and encouragement to us, we would like to express our thoughts and appreciation to some of those in the gospel music industry who have had an influence on our ministry from the beginning until today. We hope that they will read this and know how much we want to honor their commitment to their ministries and how they have made a difference in our lives and ministry.
One of the first family groups that we can recall seeing in concert was The Lesters, based out of St. Louis, Missouri. When we first saw them perform, their ministry consisted of grandparents, parents and their children. Donna, Brian and Ginger Lester were the younger generation of the family group at that time. Now Donna, Brian and Ginger are the “grandparents” in the family! We traveled to Evansville, Indiana and were so fortunate to hear them for, what I recall, as our first time, and we were even blessed to be able to speak with them following the concert. We were just beginning to take an interest in music and singing and they were such an inspiration. At that time, Ginger was playing the bass guitar and Carla thought that was so neat. She had not seen many female bass guitar players at that time, but she decided that she would like to try to learn. That seed was planted in her and she developed her talent to become a great bassist. The Lesters have experienced many changes over the years but have remained steadfast and sure in the ministry and service to the Lord. We appreciate that they have recorded some of our music and have always been an encouragement to us. They are genuine in their testimony and are some of the most loving people you will meet. While they have not received some of the accolades that many groups have, they are certainly deserving, because they have always sung wonderful songs with powerful and unique arrangements. In spite of that, they are one of the finest groups on the road today spreading the gospel in song.
Another group that we came to love so much in our early days was The Songmasters, based out of Milan, Tennessee. They would come to our church in Madisonville, Kentucky, and we would experience some great campmeeting-type services with singing and preaching. They also sang some powerful arrangements with smooth harmonies. Bro. Joel Kelsey and his wife Marcy, along with son, Dale Shipley and his wife, Rosanne, were phenomenal. Rosanne was another female bass player that Carla so admired. Of course, Ms. Marcy was the best pianist and vocalist. She could sing a song and play that piano like no one else. Carla admired Rosanne and Ginger Lester as instrumentalists and vocalists, but I wanted to sing and play like Marcy Kelsey. We have had the privilege of hearing her sing and play recently and she has not lost her touch in the least. Now in her nineties, she can still sing and play like no other! The legacy of The Songmasters is still very present today in the fact that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are now actively involved in a singing ministry called The Joylanders. They are multi-talented and such a wonderful family that we have grown to love and have had the privilege to get to know and work with during the past couple of years.
Of course, some of our early influences were found right here in our hometown area of Madisonville, Kentucky. We were fortunate to get to know The Happy Goodman Family when they lived and ministered here. We will never forget how sweet they were to us, as children, when we were able to sing with them on a few occasions. Rusty seemed to enjoy watching Carla play the bass and sing her high notes when the bass was taller than she was. He often commented on how impressed he was with her talent, and he also seemed amazed that three youngsters about the age of 5, 8 and 11 could sing harmonies as accurately as we did. Of course, Vestal, Sam, and Howard were always so encouraging, too. We felt so special to be able to say that we knew The Goodmans and appreciate their inspiration and kindness. We are also happy that some of The Goodmans from our generation are still carrying on the singing tradition.
We were not at a loss for family groups in our hometown area. The Rambos also lived around here in their early years. Dottie Rambo is one of the greatest lyricists that has ever been, and we felt so blessed when we were able to sing with her just a couple of years before she passed away. We were also fortunate to get to know The Hinsons when they moved to Madisonville from the west coast and became gospel music sensations. We enjoyed visiting with Yvonne at the National Quartet Convention in Louisville just a few years ago and reminisced about The Hinsons. Again, what great songwriters, musicians and singers! Kenny Hinson had one of the most distinct male voices in gospel music and many have aspired to sing a song like him (including our own Jamey), but to this day, Kenny still remains one of a kind in the way he could deliver a song.
As we grew in our years and in our talent, we became acquainted with other groups that we have felt very blessed to know. The Hoppers hold a very dear and special place in our hearts. We have known them for over 30 years of our ministry. When Shannon left to join The Hoppers, they presented him with many opportunities to grow in his talent and songwriting skills, as well as in producing and arranging. During his time with them, they were family to him and showed their love and concern for him even after his days of working with them. They were constantly in touch with him during his battle with cancer until the very end, and to this day, we still consider The Hoppers as part of our family. We have loved seeing their family and ministry grow over the years and appreciate their sincerity and long-standing commitment to their family and ministry.
Family groups are special to us, so we also love The Talleys. We came to know Debra when she made her gospel singing debut with The Songmasters on her first weekend with them in Madisonville. She developed into one of the smoothest alto voices in gospel music. We also came to know Roger and Kirk later on and fell in love with them and admired their musical talents. As The Talleys began to evolve over the years and Lauren came along with her beautiful talent, they have remained so loving and kind to our family. Lauren is about five years older than Courtney, so when Courtney was singing at a very young age, she loved to hear Lauren and sing some of her music. We are glad that they have become friends over the years, too. We also appreciate that The Talleys have recorded some of our songs and have continued to be interested in our family and our ministry over the years.
Of course, The Speer Family was a special group that was very popular when we were in our early years of singing. We were fortunate to be able to sing with them on a couple of occasions and we developed a special friendship with Mary Tom Speer before she passed away. We would always have to include a “Speer” song on a project or in a song lineup.
We want to mention a certain individual that we have known for many years and who has been a member of several quartets over the years. We knew him many years ago when he was a member of The Impressions based out of the Paducah, Kentucky area, who at that time had harmonies similar to The Imperials; but, most recently he has been a part of Southern Sound Quartet. Mr. Ben Harris has been such a friend and a blessing to our ministry. We have always admired his ear for music and intricate harmonies. He has been our recording engineer for all of our recent projects. He always gives us 110% to insure that things sound just right and has always been there for us, in the good times and the bad. He is a true friend to our family, and we love him very much.
There are so many people along the way that have helped us, inspired us, encouraged and blessed us in so many ways. We appreciate the new friendships that we have made in gospel music over the recent years, some of them are names that some of you might not recognize, but they are folks that we have often sang with over the years within our home area and region-The Conquerors, The Crossmen, The Southlanders, The Sullivans, LambSong, The McCubbins Family, Southern Sound-just to name a few, but the list could go on and on. We hope that somewhere along the way, we have been able to give back some encouragement and inspiration to other groups that we have encountered over our forty-five-plus years of gospel music service. We never want to have an attitude of competition or haughtiness. Each group has their own unique sound and style. That is what makes this genre so special. We are all working on the same team, so we should all be striving for the same purpose: to bring people to the Lord. We pray that will continue to be our focus and that we will always be found in the will of our Savior who has blessed us with the opportunity to serve Him in this way.