With last month’s article paying tribute to the early days of the National Quartet Convention, I figured it only appropriate that this month’s article cover some of the highlights from NQC’s 60th Anniversary Celebration. A lot of southern gospel history was celebrated and made at this year’s convention. I have enjoyed several NQCs over the last two decades or so, and I must say, this year’s convention was the most enjoyable I have ever attended. After so many highlights on and off stage, celebrated singing group reunions, laughs, and stories shared, I left with my cup running over. I will attempt to sum up some of the highlights for me from Christian music’s oldest and largest event.
I mentioned several reunion performances, all of which were major highlights for the week. It is hard to narrow down the reunion performances in this article, as there were so many that week. I have heard nothing but rave reviews of the reunions of the Inspirations, The Hopper Brothers, and The Nelons, but unfortunately I was unable to catch these performances or view them online. I will attempt to review some of the performances that I did have the privilege of witnessing.
Beginning the week in strong fashion was The Kingsmen Reunion. Squire Parsons, one of gospel music’s class acts, chose to share what is usually his solo stand with his longtime friends and comrades this year. Parsons, Ray Dean Reese, Mark Trammell, Ernie Phillips (looking great following his cancer treatments!), Arthur Rice, and Nick Bruno brought the hits and memories to the stage in fine fashion, and even allowed current Kingsmen Bob Sellers, Randy Crawford, and Josh Horrell to share in this moment. The young guys exhibited great class as well, never attempting to upstage their predecessors. With strong performances of “Look For Me At Jesus’ Feet”, “Is That the Old Ship of Zion”, and “Stand Up”, the mighty Kingsmen once again proved why their legacy has endured so well.
The energy in the room for the Dixie Melody Boys Reunion was electric. It is no secret that Ed O’Neal University has nurtured some incredibly strong young talent, yet the current DMB lineup features all seasoned professionals. Ed O’Neal, Willie Sawrey, Josh Garner, and Jerry Skaggs bring a lineup that I’m sure Mr. O’Neal would be proud to cement his legacy with. The presence of longtime DMB dynamo McCray Dove was sorely missed, as Mac had a prior commitment to meet, but inasmuch as Mac’s void was evident, the welcome face of longtime instrumentalist Larry DeLawder was the highlight of the reunion. Alongside DeLawder, EOU Alumni Jamie Caldwell, Dustin Sweatman, Rodney Griffin, Derrick Boyd, Nathen Widener, and Matt Felts all brought the tried and true DMB enthusiasm back to the stage, especially on their signature classics, “When I Cross to the Other Side of Jordan” and “Ride That Glory Cloud”. The “Dean” of EOU had quite a spring in his step as well.
Gold City has honored their past frequently, and even though the return of Tim Riley, Mark Trammell, Jonathan Wilburn, and Jay Parrack was not necessarily a long-awaited gathering, it still remained every bit as memorable. The additional treat here was the addition of The Band of Gold, who until NQC had been absent from Gold City reunions. Obviously, it couldn’t have been easy doing so since the passing of drummer Doug Riley, but Mike Hopper naturally did a fine job filling in alongside Channing Eleton and Adam Borden. This legendary teaming plowed through their hits, “In Time, On Time, Every Time”, “Under Control”, “I’m Not Giving Up”, and “When He Calls I’ll Fly Away”, and as anyone could imagine, the response was loud and long.
The Perrys had already staged somewhat of a reunion two years back at the 2015 NQC, so the fans were ready for more, and The Perrys certainly did not disappoint. Beginning with Randy, Libbi, and Debra, the family quickly and even chronologically paraded Tracy Stuffle, Loren Harris, Nicole Watts-Jenkins, Joseph Habedank, Nick Trammell, Bryan Walker, Troy Peach, Andrew Goldman, Jared Stuffle, and Matthew Holt to the stage in a long and rapid medley of #1 and Top Ten hits, followed by their usual barn-burning performance of “I Wish I Could Have Been There”. Few seats remained occupied by the end of their stand.
I was excited to see that the Southern Gospel Music Association hosted their most successful fundraiser in several years with their Induction Ceremony on Tuesday. Several featured artists took the stage singing gospel hits and classics, as the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame welcomed Troy Burns, Randy Shelnut, LaBreeska Hemphill, and Tony Greene into their Class of 2017. If you are not a member of the SGMA, you MUST join TODAY. For only $20 per year, you can be a part of electing next year’s inductees, and making sure that the history of our music remains in the public eye!
I enjoyed a handful of mainstage performances during the week. The Dixie Echoes continually outdo themselves with their tight harmonies. Randy and Scoot Shelnut, Mark Cates, and Stephen Adair have hands-down one of the finest quartets in our industry, period.
The return appearance of the Gaither Vocal Band was a heavily anticipated one, and one on which they did not let down. Not only are Bill Gaither, Todd Suttles, Adam Crabb, Wes Hampton, and Reggie Smith a powerful team, but they looked SHARP. Gaither modeled their garb after the legendary Rangers Quartet from the 1940s. Thank you, Mr. Gaither, for such a classy nod to the past.
The Gospel Harmony Boys now celebrate 65 years of class and dignity in our music. Their presence has always been welcome, yet for some reason, often taken for granted. Some groups of their stature would accept performing two songs at a morning showcase in poor fashion, but not these gentlemen. These good men are always eager to sing for and greet their many friends. They have never failed at demonstrating their willingness of being a credit to the gospel music industry, no matter how big or how small their role may be at that given moment. Clacy Williams is a model of consistency at the tenor roll; Baritone Scott Adams is as pleasant and smooth as any baritone behind the microphone; 20-year-old Brandon Stone is already a “smart bass singer” – focusing on blend and phrasing first – a kid with a bright future ahead of him; and Scott Brooks is simply one of the finest lead singers and communicators in gospel music today, who can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of us young folks. Never, NEVER underestimate The Gospel Harmony Boys. Even after 65 years, they are still among the finest.
The Diplomats took the stage without the lovely and talented Rita Pearson this year. Mrs. Rita took a significant fall early in the week, and had not recovered sufficiently enough to venture to the stage for the group’s stand. Love and prayers to you Mrs. Rita!
And perhaps the most touching moment of the week was the performance of Michael Helwig and The Blackwood Brothers, as Helwig sang to perfection the classic, “I’d Rather Have Jesus”. Michael, though clearly weak and exhausted from the trip from Nashville to Pigeon Forge, gave an emotion-filled performance. Yet even as the tears fell, his voice broke nor faltered. The quality remained through the very last note. Without doubt, the mark of a true professional.
Equally or even more memorable for me are all the hours I spend visiting with my friends. I know that many of the friends at Facebook’s “We Love Our Southern Gospel History” page are truly grateful to Hemphill Brothers and the Gospel Harmony Boys for opening their booths to a “roundtable” session of hilarious road stories between both older and younger artists alike. Thank you to Les and Clark Beasley and the Board for a great time. To the countless list of friends who I sat with, ate with, or even passed by briefly for a handshake or hug, thank you for a wonderful week!
Feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you ever attend one of my solo concerts or one of the concerts with Jordan’s Bridge (Phil Barker, Rick Sheets, and myself), please stop by the table for a visit! See you next month!