One of the most popular mixed groups today is the Dunaways. They’ve quietly found a home at the top of the charts and have consistently put out solid music that have blessed the hearts of thousands of people across the world. It’s been 5 years since the Dunaways have released new music, so we decided it was time to catch up with Tammy Dunaway and Kanah Dunaway-Lovern and find out more about what they’re up to and their latest recording, Blank Page…
James Hales: A lot of people may not realize this, but the Dunaways have been around for a long time! Give us a brief history of the group.
Tammy Dunaway: Yes it’s been over 25 years since the Dunaways began this journey as a family group. The songwriting and first gospel recordings go all the way back to 1982, before Kanah was born.
JH: Give us a run-down of who makes up the Dunaways today.
Kanah Dunaway-Lovern: Randall and Tammy Dunaway, as well as myself and we all live in Philadelphia, MS. We also have Landon Villines from Compton, AR and on lead and rhythm guitar, Caleb Sanderson Philadelphia, MS. Bethany Lemon Hurt oversees the product office and radio promotion.
TD: A little plug for our town…Philadelphia is the home of country music star Marty Stuart. He is currently building a museum here called Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music. We are looking forward to seeing it opened. He is also owner of a huge collection of Country Music memorabilia.
JH: What music and what artists inspired the Dunaways to sing?
TD: The “style” influences began in childhood. Gospel, Blues, Rock, Country. Then there is bluegrass. We did not know where that came from until I found my birth family in Louisiana. The ancestry on my birth mother’s side includes songwriters, bluegrass musicians, and people who make acoustic instruments. My birth fathers family revealed Pentecostal music. The late Murrell Ewing and singer Vonnie Lopez are related. Their grandparents were siblings.
KDL: The Dunaways had two records out by the time she met them all in 1994. It is amazing that both key elements are very dominate in the sound. DNA is a powerful thing!
TD: Artist’s would be The Rambos, The Hinsons, and The Isaacs
KDL: Dolly Parton, Allison Krauss and The Cox Family, and many more.
TD: We are influenced by our musical culture as well. Mississippi is the birthplace of the blues and of course Elvis was born here. We were exposed to a lot of old school black gospel as well.
JH: While most groups run up and down the highways each week, you guys don’t seem to travel like that. Is this by design?
TD: It was by design, but not our design! (laughing) It took a while for us to catch on! We struggled with all of this early on because we felt we might be breaking some unspoken rule. We remember hearing people talk about (work ethic) and somehow the amount of dates per year reflected a work ethic.
The truth is, we are blessed to have pastored the same church for over 20 years. We go through building programs off and on, teach various classes, etc. Randall currently serves as a district presbyter for our church organization. We’ve owned a Christian bookstore and a recording studio, all while maintaining a music ministry.
Radio has always been very important to us and a huge part of our ministry. The first singles began around 1996. Since 2003 we have tried to always keep something out. We know when people listen to the radio, many times they are alone. Whether it be driving to work or doing housework. That is a perfect opportunity for music ministry. It works great if the anointing is involved.
David did this very thing when he ministered to King Saul.
Over time, we finally began to understand. We are all unique and not meant to all be the same. What we thought it was got thrown out the door and we got ok with accepting God’s plan.
When we look behind us, we can clearly see a pattern that has emerged. When we record, we usually travel 3 years or so with each project. We do not record every year because we try our best to fill our projects with songs that we can make use of for a while.
We have worked in the ministry full time with both elements since 1999. We are still recording, doing concerts, and traveling longer distances than ever. We have been amazed to see our music and ministry grow into the world abroad. God always operates in the realm of faith and we have to trust that.
JH: How do you balance pastoring a church and traveling?
TD: We have been very blessed to have two associate pastors. Randall would never be ok with staying gone for long periods of time, but the church is certainly in very capable hands when he is.
JH: Do you feel having a multi-faceted ministry (music/preaching) sets you guys apart from the average gospel group?
KDL: Yes. If it is not in the realm of ministry it’s a bit of a foreign feeling to us. Just like anybody else, we have our niche and we do our thing. If you want entertainment for the Christmas banquet, we probably would not be the best choice. (laughing)
TD: Overall, a group may have a challenge with balancing things like we do, or maybe it’s a revolving door with group changes. We all have our personal battles of sickness, death, family trials. It’s always going to be something no matter who you are. Our obstacles might differ a bit in precisely what they are, but it’s about even for everybody.
JH: Tell us about your new recording, Blank Page. What makes it different from what you’ve done in the past?
TD: Blank Page is the first self-produced recording since 2002.
We went a year and 1/2 longer than we usually do between projects. Church in the Kitchen was aging and it affected everything from radio to ministry funds. In 2016, we had the misfortune of buying a house contaminated with black mold. I had a life threatening 2 year battle with mold illness.
Life happens and we have to deal with how it comes to us.
Because of all this, we scaled back on our recording budget. We did the production ourselves and that took away an outside creative element, and that caused a bit of change. I was serving in the producer capacity with this record and made some changes in instrumentation. Change can be a healthy thing sometimes and we hope that it proves to be the case this time.
JH: Tammy, you wrote, or co-wrote almost half of the songs on this recording. Tell us about a couple of the songs you wrote and how you came to write them.
TD: I wrote a lot throughout my sickness. The mycotoxins made me so sick that there was not much else I could do and my brain was so affected that this too was a challenge.
I wrote some crazy stuff. One song that did not make it on the record (of course) was a song called “Baby Johnny”. It’s a song about an electric guitar player who found Jesus. He was a very excited new convert who convinced his pastor to let him have guitar liberty in church. It involves a sacred cow and a barbeque.
Two words…Mold Illness! (laughing) Yeah it does that!
“Here’s My Goodbye” was written close to the beginning of that sick time. The message is: I’m gonna go ahead and leave a goodbye note in case the rapture takes place. It’s light hearted and meant to be on the fun side. The other is “Sometimes Mercy Hurts”. This song was written when I was at my lowest place. I had become so sick by then I really didn’t know if I would survive.
JH: What is your first single?
TD: “Faith Like That”
JH: How have the trials you’ve gone through over the years better prepared you for ministry today?
TD: We would lack compassion, understanding, mercy, grace, and never be able to help other people without those experiences.
JH: In your many years in ministry, what is the greatest lesson you have learned?
TD: Never assume anything. Music people tends to have big imaginations. The Word says to cast down imaginations. It really is key.
JH: What is God teaching you right now?
KDL: One day at a time. Live in the moment and resolve to be OK with it if everything changes tomorrow.
To find out more about the Dunaways, check them out at www.dunawaymusic.com