Editor-in-Chief Chris Unthank talks for a few moments with the 2017 Breakthrough Artist of the Year The Wilbanks! Get to know this talented family group!
Chris Unthank: For those who aren’t familiar with The Wilbanks, give us a brief history of your ministry.
The Wilbanks: The Wilbanks have been involved in music ministry in some capacity for many years. Terry and Rene’ began in the mid 1970’s as music ministers in their local church, developing various groups and choirs. Their daughter, Monica, began singing with them as a teenager in the early 1990s, and Jason joined the group when he and Monica married in 2001. We’ve toured throughout the U.S. and Canada since 1991 singing at events of all sizes, in brand new churches with less than 50 members to much larger conferences and camp meetings.
CU: You guys have a unique sound that isn’t heard of often in Southern Gospel that mixes Southern Gospel, country and black Gospel. To those who have never heard you before, how would you describe The Wilbanks?
TW: We are frequently asked, “What style are you?” We’re still trying to figure that one out! We just love music! Jason is a native Texan, but the rest of us grew up in Michigan not far from Detroit “Motown.” We were certainly influenced by that soulful sound, but our roots hail from Arkansas and Mississippi and a lot of our family like their music “southern fried”. Terry’s Dad is 87 and still has several guitars laying around the house and will pick them up and break out an old hymn or bluegrass song. Rene’s Dad was a huge George Jones fan. Monica developed a love for the “young country” sound as well in the early 1990s. We minister to such diverse audiences that we strive to have something that will hopefully strike a chord with everyone. Plus, variety is the spice of life!
CU: Who have been your biggest musical and spiritual influences?
TW: Wow! That could be a long list! Terry’s Grandfather was a preacher back in the days when they did extended tent revivals and outdoor meetings and were ridiculed and harassed for being “holy rollers”, etc. We have a rich heritage of those who believed The Gospel message to their core. Each of us have also had various pastors and Bible college teachers and mentors who have invested in us. Carroll McGruder was a friend and encourager to our family for many years and a great mentor when it came to the industry. Musically speaking, I don’t know anyone that’s been involved in Gospel music for any length of time that couldn’t list names such as Bill and Gloria Gaither and Dottie Rambo among their influences. So many of their songs have such a timeless message. Along with them, Andrae’ Crouch, Edwin and Walter Hawkins, and the Winans family have influenced our writing and sound.
CU: You recently wowed the crowd at our 2017 Absolutely Gospel Music Awards and took home the coveted Breakthrough Artist of the Year award. What brought you guys to this place and where do you see yourselves going from here?
TW: That was totally unanticipated and we we’re certainly grateful to be chosen for that award! We’ve had the opportunity to participate in various artist showcases the last several years at the National Quartet Convention. That, along with some other similar events, hard work and of course the favor of God have given us the opportunity to connect with some key industry people that have encouraged, invested in us and are helping to promote our ministry. We’re not looking to be famous simply so that The Wilbanks can become a household name and say we’ve been on the top of the charts but with more exposure and notoriety comes open doors and more opportunities to minister. Obviously, exposure can draw a crowd, but our ulterior motive is to draw a crowd to HIM!
CU: How do you choose the songs you do?
TW: When we start writing and arranging for a new album we always consider style and attempt to have variety because as we already mentioned, we want to be able to reach as many people possible. We feel like we’re on the right track when a parent comes to the product table and says, “My little boy/girl wants your cd.” The college kids want to know if they can download our music to their phone and the grandparents are there as well. Ultimately, we consider the content. We want each song to have a message; whether it’s a song of worship or lyrics that encourage and remind us that God is in control no matter what!
CU: What is a concert like with The Wilbanks?
TW: Anything worth doing is worth doing well so we make every attempt towards a polished and quality sound musically, technically, etc. but we want to “have church”! We just try to flow with what we feel God wants for that moment otherwise it’s going to be just another group singing some songs and selling a product. There’s somewhat of an order but to say there’s a set list would be a stretch! If we do a song from an album that goes along with “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus” or another old hymn then we may go right into that. On rare occasion is there not an altar appeal because if there’s 5 or 5,000, somebody has a need. If everyone of us there are already saved, we still have various needs for renewal, strength and healing.
CU: What has God been teaching you lately?
TW: I love the line in a song on The Isaacs latest album that says, “I pray you find me faithful every field you find me in.” Sometimes when the schedule has been hectic, vehicles have broken down, we’re feeling worn out and wondering if we’re making a difference, we get an email or phone call from someone telling us how one of our songs has just helped get them through a hard time or how they were ready to end their life and saw one of our videos and it got ahold of their heart. That’s what drives us! We’re not going to hear testimonies and praise reports every day but we have to remain faithful to whatever God has called us to. Whatever field your in, no matter how insignificant your work may seem, someone is always watching and you never know when just one word can change someone’s life.
You can find out more information on The Wilbanks by visiting them online at www.wilbankssingers.com.