If you love Southern Gospel Music, tight harmony, and scripture-filled music, you are probably well aware of “The Female Quartet of Southern Gospel Music” known as Sweetwater Revival. They hail from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Yes, you heard that right, Minnesota! Many find it surprising that a Southern Gospel group of ladies would come from the far North, but Sweetwater Revival has found that people are hungry for Southern Gospel music everywhere, and Minnesota is no exception! This year their quartet will celebrate a decade of music ministry.
In 2004, founding member Katie Paull was living in Nashville, Tennessee, and singing with “The New Speers.” This was a ministry was formed by Faye and Brock Speer’s oldest son, Marc Speer. Katie states, “To even be a small part of the Speer Legacy was a phenomenal blessing. I had lived in Nashville for about four years waitressing and pursuing every music contact I could get my hands on. This included meeting with various A&R reps from record labels around town, doing demos with producers, pitching myself to songwriters to be a demo singer, and singing all over town in various venues. I learned so much during this time about the music industry and I will never regret my time there.
“I eventually felt the Lord leading me back to Minnesota,” Katie continues. “I had sold my bed and a lot of my furniture, and then I awoke one Saturday morning to a message from Marc Speer saying he’d heard about me from a friend. He was interested in me auditioning for his alto position. I almost fell off my couch! Upon auditioning and joining The New Speers, one of my greatest joys became reality. At that point I decided to stay in Tennessee indefinitely.
“Singing and traveling with The New Speers was one of the greatest joys of my life. Eventually Marc decided to disband The New Speers and I was heartbroken. During that time of transition, I felt the Lord leading me back to Minnesota. Moving home was very difficult in some ways because I thought that had to mean I was giving up my dream. In reality, God provided just the opposite. I moved home to discover my songwriting mother was in rapid speed, having written hundreds of gospel songs and my dad said, ‘Why don’t you just start your own quartet?’ And thus the vision for Sweetwater Revival began. I don’t think it would have happened without my parents’ belief in my vision for an all-female quartet.” Through much prayer and many auditions with various singers, Katie and her mother Cathie formed Sweetwater Revival. Their deepest desire was to find quality women who could sing and harmonize, but most importantly had a heart for Jesus Christ both on stage and off.
Through prayer and seeking the Lord’s guidance for their ministry, Katie and Cathie were inspired to call the quartet Sweetwater Revival. They took inspiration from John 7:37, “Jesus stood and said, if any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” Also Isaiah 55:1, “Ho, everyone who thirsteth, come you to the waters.” Cathie states, “I love the analogy of water and Jesus being the Living Water that quenches our thirst. He truly is the only One Who can transform our lives and revive us on a daily basis.”
The group currently consists of Katie Paull, Korissa Olson, Amanda Ellison, Kayla Krizek, and songwriter/manager Cathie Paxson. These ladies, known as “The Female Quartet of Southern Gospel,” work together to minister to people all over the country through meaningful lyrics and beautiful harmonies.
When an audience experiences Sweetwater Revival in concert, they will find out that the concert is much more than music alone. Katie says, “One thing that has been important to us is having scripture-filled music. That is a vital part of each project that we record. In addition to that, we have found that our music ministry is more than just music. Anyone who has ever attended a Sweetwater Revival concert will tell you that the sharing of God’s Word is a big part of our ministry. We also share our testimonies and words we feel God has placed on our hearts but as Isaiah 55:1 tells us, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” I know and have faith that if we choose to be His vessels in this way, whether through the singing of a song or a spoken word, God’s Word will not return void. He promises us that.”
Radio personality Vivian Belknap enthusiastically applauds the group’s songs. “We’ve been playing their music for some time now at KKGM AM 1630 in Dallas, Texas, and also streaming at www.kkgmam.com. I’m live on the board for three hours on Sunday afternoon, and I play at least two, sometimes three cuts of their music during that three hours. I always get phone calls about their music, with people asking ‘Who was that?’ One listener even ended up calling our corporate office asking who was singing!” Vivian happily informed the listener who was singing. She adds, “One song that many listeners respond to is ‘Colossian 3:1-3.’ We also get a very positive response for ‘A Hallelujah Homecoming,’ ‘Until Then,’ ‘He’s The Alpha and Omega,’ and ‘Blessed Assurance.’ We love them in Ft. Worth/Dallas!”
Radio stations are currently playing “A Hallelujah Homecoming,” written by Cathie Paxson Music (BMI). The song just charted on the Singing News Chart at #55 in March. Other radio singles listeners may recognize are “When Someday Becomes Today”, “The Night is Coming”, “We Will Arise”, and “Daddy’s Hands”. Katie points out that without wonderful radio promoters like the group’s own Susan Whisnant and United Independent Artists, many spirit-filled, life-changing songs would never make it out to impact listeners.
Sweetwater Revival has released eight CD projects, a DVD, “LIVE at the Mall of America”, and a complete line of vocal tracks and sheet music. Any of these can be ordered online at www.SweetwaterRevival.com . Their brand new project Heirloom (A Collection of Hymns and Harmonies) was released this past spring. Listeners will find a fantastic array of beloved hymns, harmony filled original music, and a cappella favorites on this newest project, produced by multiple Emmy, Dove, and Certified Grammy Award winning producer Darren Rust.
Sweetwater Revival continues to minister at various concerts. Katie shares, “One event we are heavily promoting and excited about, is our Annual ‘Hallelujah Homecoming Concert’ featuring The Talleys as our special guests. This exciting night of Gospel music will take place on Saturday, June 6th at 6pm. The Concert will be held at Bethel University in Benson Great Hall, St. Paul, Minnesota. Tickets can be purchased through our website or through Bethel’s Box Office at 651-638 -6333. All seats are reserved, so please call now to get your best seats!”
You can find Sweetwater Revival online at www.SweetwaterRevival.com and on facebook at https:// www.facebook.com/SWRMinistries. For booking contact the group’s Nashville Booking Line (615) 300-1283, visit the website, or send mail to Gospeltown Records, c/o Sweetwater Revival 1934 130th Lane NW, Minneapolis, MN, 55448
By Paige Givens and Katie Paull
Photos Courtesy of Josh Stokes of http://stokesfoto.com and Katie Paull
First published March 2015 by SGN Scoops digital magazine. For current issues of SGN Scoops visit the main page.
Tags: Christian artists, christian country, gospel music, Katie Paull, Paige Givens, sgn scoops, Sweetwater Revival
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By Sheri LaFontaine
We’ve heard it said that blondes have more fun, but there is a group of gingers that will tell you a very different story. According to a Clairol Color Attitude survey, 71% of redheads think that the word “bold” best describes them, which is 24 points ahead of blonds. This certainly makes sense, being that redheads are known for their fiery passion.
Just like Little Orphan Annie, Opie Taylor, Lucy, Prince Harry and Reba, our Southern Gospel industry has experienced many carrot-tops in the spotlight. From the ultimate Irish tenor, Larry Ford, to the living legend, Lou Hildreth, no one can deny the talent that comes with those orange locks.
Scientists say that red hair and blue eyes are the rarest combination in the world, which makes Olivia Collingsworth a unique beauty.
Sheri: Where did your red hair come from?
Olivia: My red hair actually came from my great Grandpa. After I was born my parents could not figure out where it came from, because nobody in our family had red hair except for one of my cousins and she got it from a different side of her family. My parents had only seen black and white photos of my dad’s Grandpa, but one day they saw one in color and realized he had red hair. Kinda put two and two together!
Sheri: Do you like it?
Olivia: Since I was little, I never really minded my red hair! I always kinda liked being different than everyone else!
Moving from one baby of a talented family to another. Miss Kennedy Hayes of the Mylon Hayes Family is winning the hearts of audiences across the country. Born on October 31st, she truly is the perfect little pumpkin.
Sheri: What’s the best part of having red hair?
Kennedy: The best part about being a redhead is that it is rare! And to have brown eyes is unique, and it’s how God made me! Sometimes I wish I didn’t have red hair when people ask if I have a temper to go with it.
Sheri: Have you ever been made fun of because of your hair?
Kennedy: Since I am home-schooled, I have never been teased, unless you count my brothers. When I was maybe four years old, we were walking on the beach and a lady asked my mom if she colored my hair! Wow…some people can ask funny questions!
We couldn’t possibly write an article like this without speaking to the amazing tenor with the bushy red mustache, Larry Ford.
Sheri: Are you actually Irish?
Larry: Yes, I am very Irish. My dad’s family is, of course, Fords. My mom’s family is Kennedy.
Sheri: Have you ever been to Ireland?
Larry: Our first trip to Ireland was in 1995 and it was really a homecoming for me.
Sheri: Is there a downside to being a true redhead?
Larry: Along with the red hair there’s often a tendency to have really white skin that doesn’t much like the sun. I’ve always had a “farmer’s tan” and more freckles on my left arm (driving with the window rolled down) than my right arm. One time I was at a church in the Florida Keys. On Saturday the pastor and I went out to snorkel and catch lobster. Always mindful of how easily I burn, I applied Bullfrog sunscreen to my face, neck and arms. We probably spent two or three hours out on the water. Later that afternoon, I felt a burning sensation. The two or three inch strip between where my swim shorts and T-shirt did not meet, was cooked. Also, the backs of my knees were cooked. I couldn’t even bend my legs to walk. I was walking stiff legged when I walked into church the next morning. Note to self: ALWAYS take the time to apply sunscreen to every area that might even possibly be exposed to Florida sun. If you don’t, it can be extremely painful and dangerous for your skin. However, the lobster was really good.
Next we spoke with the triplets that named their group after the hue of their beautiful hair.
Sheri: So, how do you like having/being Red Roots?
Red Roots: We love being redheads because it makes us different in a lot of ways. We aren’t crazy about the sunburns but everything else is all right.
Sheri: Where did you get it from?
Red Roots: We got our red hair from our mom and she said that when she was young, people used to tease her about being red headed by saying a funny phrase. “I’d rather be dead than red on the head.”
Poor Momma Red Roots.
Josh Singletary is one of the brightest people in the business today. And I’m not just talking about his hair.
Sheri: What are some of the things you hear a lot from the fans?
Josh: I’m constantly asked if I color it. And the red hair confirms to people that I’m from Ireland, even though they know tons of redheads that live down the street that are as redneck as they come.
Sheri: Any perks that come with having orange hair?
Josh: Well, regardless of the hundreds of folks in line for the ride, my youth director never had any trouble at theme parks, knowing where we were in the line for a roller coaster. And he seemed to ALWAYS know when MY turn on the roller coaster was done!
A true sweetheart in this industry is the beautiful, Misty Freeman.
Sheri: Do you have any Irish in you?
Misty: I’m a mutt so I’m sure there is Irish in there somewhere.
Sheri: So how has life been for you, as a redhead?
Misty: Growing up, it was never popular to have red hair. Only older people thought it was pretty. But as a teenager I started loving it. I felt different but in a good way. My husband jokingly says he married me in spite of my red hair. When our daughter was born I just knew she’d have red hair. It was the first thing I asked the nurse “does she have red hair?” To which she sternly replied, ” She’s healthy!” She had pretty dark brown hair! Which Bryce was happy about.
Fast forward two years, I’m having my son and never ever thought I’d have a redheaded son. But the first thing I hear is Reba Rambo in the delivery room saying, “look at that red hair!”
They showed him to me and his hair was bright orange and all I could do was giggle!! What a fun surprise. We definitely get a lot of attention with those red curls but we’ve also had a lot of negative comments too. One man in line with us one day said, “poor little guy having to grow up with that hair”. I hope he grows up to love his.
Sheri: Where did you get it from?
Misty: I get it from both sides of the family. My mom had red hair and my dad did when he was a baby. I have aunts and cousins that are redheads too. The older I get the more I love it!
Only 1-2% of the world’s population are natural redheads. Although parting the red hair can hardly be compared to parting the Red Sea, it is still a rare and extraordinary miracle of God. Some could call it luck, but I think that Joel Hemphill said it best when he penned the song, “Don’t Call Me Lucky, Call Me Blessed.”
Tags: josh singltary, Lou Hildreth, Misty Freeman, Olivia Collingsworth, Red heads, Red Roots, Sheri LaFontaine, southern gospel
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Randa Jordan of the Jordan Family Band tells SGN Scoops…
This weekend was our first time being a part of the SESGMC (South Eastern Southern Gospel Music Conference) in Tifton, GA. What a fun, two-day event with so much great talent. Over 40 groups performed and each did an outstanding job!
My family and I sang on the Friday afternoon showcase and the Spirit of the Lord was truly there in the midst! We won a spot to sing on main stage and once again enjoyed the spirit of the people and their warm reception. We also enjoyed catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.
Every soloist, duo, trio and group had a great time at this event hosted by Ricky Atkinson of Ricky Atkinson and Compassion. It is growing and becoming something special in the South Georgia area. Make plans to attend this two-day event in April of 2016! You will be blessed and have a great experience in Southern Gospel music!
For more information on the Jordan Family Band click HERE.
Tags: christian country, Jordan family band, Ricky Atkinson, Ricky Atkinson and Compassion, SESGMC, Southeastern Southern Gospel Music Conference, southern gospel
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By Robert York
singing and playing – during the remainder of the season at Dollywood. Traveling during their off season, the group began the search for a new baritone. The double duty for Andy was a great load for one person to do.
during the month of April, which was Dollywood’s International Festival. To make the final decision for the baritone position they brought each of the selected men to sing on four shows per weekend.
Tags: Andy Stringfield, Brian Alvey, Bryan Walker, Christian Music, Dollywood, gospel music, Kingdom Heirs, Loren Harris, southern gospel
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Southern Gospel Music: Artistry vs. Variety Show
When I was originally asked to write a monthly article, the good folks at SGN Scoops wanted me to write about issues that I think artists and industry leaders need to address. This is a biggie that I’ve wanted to address for a while. My roots are in this music, but through the years, I’ve been fortunate and blessed to step outside of Gospel music and work with some of the biggest names in secular music. I’ve been very blessed to have so many artists from so many genres record music I have written. I’ve been produced by Michael Jackson’s producer, worked with some of the best in Country music, and been able to produce singers that influenced me as young artist.
I’m not telling you all of this to brag about my accomplishments. I want you to know that what I am going to talk about in this article is something that my experience qualifies me to talk about. What I am about to say is not just my opinion; it is truth.
For years, Southern Gospel music has fought for its place as a genre in the world of music. I’ve seen the frustration within the industry as Southern Gospel was snubbed by major awards shows such as the Grammys and even the Dove Awards. I have talked to artists in Southern Gospel, who for the first time in their career are struggling to get quality dates and sell enough product to warrant a record company’s involvement. I’ve seen the artists try to evaluate the problem and the focus or blame always seems to be on anyone and everyone except themselves. The churches only want praise and worship music, the record company didn’t get their song high enough on the charts, and the fans don’t seem to care if the music is good or not. I’m going to focus on what the groups, singers and industry leaders need to take a hard look at. I believe the content of this article is a critical part of the Southern Gospel music survival kit. I really hope you can handle the truth!
If you’ve ever been to Branson, MO, or Pigeon Forge, TN, you will see a city full of theaters that offer variety shows of all kinds. Billboards line the main highways and they all have one thing in common. They are all covered with people that you’ve never heard of. In fact, any one of those singers may be seated next to you at a restaurant, and you would not know who they are. The only thing that might make you recognize them would be if they have their shiny, over the top stage costume on that no ordinary person would ever wear.
I worked in Branson for a year, and it was enough to make me realize that if I stayed there, I would lose any identity I had as an artist because the only kind of entertainment that Branson seemed to offer were variety shows. In a variety show, you have your comedian, your slapstick humor that seems to work with any crowd, and music that they know will work because most of it has been a hit for an artist, past or present.
A variety show, while entertaining at times, is NOT a musical genre. It’s a show that is filled with humor, themes and music that has been proven to work in front of most any crowd. Because of the guaranteed reaction of the proven material, the talent level becomes less important and there is absolutely no room for any kind of individual artistry.
Branson and Pigeon Forge are not popular towns for songwriters, because none of those theaters will take a chance performing a new song that hasn’t been proven to work over and over again. Artistry and creativity is not a necessity for a variety show. Variety shows are most popular with older crowds because most seniors don’t listen to the radio, and they don’t really care who they are listening to as long as they hear and see a show that makes them laugh and enjoy themselves. This is the demographic of Branson, MO and Pigeon Forge, TN. While you may hear some great singing in these destinations, you will rarely see an original artist.
Let me give you a real life example of what I’m talking about. This is something I experienced first-hand. I was singing with a group called Priority. They had been the host gospel quartet at the popular Silver Dollar City theme park for two years. They had developed a show that worked, but they understood that they had buried any and all creativity as an artist to do what they were doing. They did it because it was safe. Each singer was paid directly from the park and there was no risk. We did a show that the people loved. In fact, during the one year I was there, we performed in front of a million people.
Record companies and management firms in Nashville work hard to get their acts in front of a million people, but exposure means nothing if that audience only sees what they can see anywhere. We did all the things that would get an immediate crowd response, whether it was an old hymn, or a joke that they’d heard a million times and still laughed at. We played it safe. To those million people, we were just one of a hundred groups in Branson that did, “Just A Little Talk with Jesus,” and “Amazing Grace.” The individual singer or the group as a whole was a nameless, faceless entity, known as a variety show. Priority was made up of really talented guys, and they knew they wanted out of the variety show business, and that is one reason they hired me. They wanted a sound and songs that would bring them back as an artist.
During our time at the park, I wrote a song called, “Every Knee Shall Bow.” We decided to stage it in our sets. It went over like a lead balloon. Was it because the song wasn’t any good? I don’t think so, because later, that song would be nominated for a Grammy Award by a popular artist. The simple truth was that in a variety show setting, there is no room for artistry or originality.
Tags: Can You Handle The Truth, Christian life, David Staton, entertainment, gospel music, sgn scoops, southern gospel
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By Tina Wakefield
Four young women with a heart and passion for God and music mix together to create a transforming experience for any audience. While listening to the Hall Sisters perform, one could close their eyes and feel as though they had been transported back in time to the days of The Andrew Sisters where harmony was queen. Jessica, Natalie, Lydia, and Valerie Hall possess great talent for singing and playing their way into the very heart of their audiences. The Hall Sisters enjoy a variety of musical styles, and perform music from all genres including Gospel, Bluegrass, Folk songs, and Oldies, as well as fiddle and instrumental tunes. There is even an Annie Moses Band influence that is obvious within the group, coming from the instruction the girls received from this popular band.
Jessica Hall, the oldest of the sisters, plays mandolin, guitar, and piano and is the alto singer for the group. Jessica is also considered the leader of the group and is responsible for arranging the music for The Hall Sisters. Jessica says that in learning to lead, “I had to learn that I was not right all the time. To be a real leader, you need to be humble and willing to accept correction from others.”
Being the one in charge can have its humorous side as well. Jessica was responsible for starting an a cappella song on a specific note. Unfortunately, she forgot the note and started the song too high. The group had to stop and restart the song on the correct note and that’s one moment she’ll never forget! Jessica says that while singing she feels the Lord’s pleasure and as long as she can sing, she is happy. She adds that their parents have been their spiritual leaders and encouragers and the grandparents have been the prayer warriors praying for unity and safety as they travel.
Natalie Hall is a gifted musician as well as singer, possessing the ability to play the violin as well as the mandolin. Natalie’s goal is that others would be drawn to Jesus through the light that shines in her. She is the high voice for the group and Jessica says that her voice is “one of the strongest that she has ever heard.”
Music is Natalie’s ministry to reach others but it does not define her totally. She enjoys being outside with her dad whether cutting grass, trimming bushes, or working in the garden. If she wasn’t singing, Natalie says she would most likely be a Dental Assistant working for her father and also at home learning to be a homemaker.
Natalie truly has a strong tie with her family and loves spending her spare time with either parent. Just as she enjoys time with her dad outside, she equally loves to cook with her mom. Natalie has had her share of kitchen disasters and told us how a recipe went wrong. She was baking cookies with her mom and turned the page for the remainder of the recipe, but the page stuck and she ended up with a totally different recipe to finish the cookies. As it turned out, the cookies were mixed with a granola recipe, which was definitely interesting. The family didn’t eat very much of that recipe, but they do love her homemade bread.
Lydia Hall has the great ability to light up the stage when she begins to minister through song and violin. Her steadfastness is based on the fact that, as she says, “I need Him everyday, and every hour of my life.” Lydia continues, “We live in a dark world but music can definitely penetrate the darkness and I want everything I do to point to Jesus.”
Lydia would love to perform overseas someday, as music speaks every language and she would love to meet others in different regions of the world. She has a tender heart for orphans and children and loves to understand how they see Jesus. A song that The Hall Sisters perform called: “Some Children See Him,” is a favorite of the group because it speaks about children from all nationalities and how they view Jesus.
Lydia’s beautiful voice can soar from alto to soprano for the group and her favorite song to sing is, “Brethren, We Have Met to Worship.” She describes this song as glorious and worshipful and their performance of this song makes this writer smile.
Lydia encourages older singers who may be thinking of retiring and wondering if anyone still wants to hear the old songs to never give up. She feels that people love the old songs for the memories. These songs can recount a time when things were better for most people and the world was not so crazy. Even movies reach back and take songs from The Golden Era because they anchor people and give them a secure hook to the past.
Valerie Hall is the youngest member of The Hall Sisters. Valerie laughs, “It is hard learning to take correction from my older sisters!” She says that learning to pull her share of responsibilities of a singing group has been good for her, but if she could be the leader for just one day it would be fun to be the one correcting the older sisters. Honestly, she said she would not change a thing about The Hall Sisters because she feels the presence of God when performing and loves “feeling” the music when she plays.
Valerie sings soprano and plays the cello for the group. She says that she loves to relate to the audiences, smiling at them and seeing them smile back, and making sure she conveys the message behind the song. For Valerie, it is hard doing the same thing everyday, but she would never want to stop because she loves feeling the Lord’s presence when performing. To other young people interested in music, she says: “Keep going, don’t ever give up, but make sure that you are doing it for the right reason: to glorify God. It is worth all the practicing. It is definitely worth it!”
We are sure to be hearing more from The Hall Sisters in the very near future, as they are one of the up and coming young groups in Gospel music. The ladies have just finished filming several music videos in Nashville, TN. in January to be aired on YouTube. They have plans to return to the studio this spring to work on a full Christmas CD and another album.
Be sure to see The Hall Sisters in concert when they are in your area and you will be blessed by the music, spirit, and energy of these four young women. You may purchase one of their current projects entitled, Snow and True Blue Love on their website www.hallsisters.com .
Written by Tina Wakefiled.
First published by SGN Scoops digital magazine, February 2015. For current SGN Scoops issues, click HERE.
Tags: Annie Moses Band, bluegrass, Christian artists, christian country, Folk music, instrumental, sgn scoops, southern gospel, The Hall Sisters, Tina Wakefield
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The annual “SAVANNAH GOSPEL SPRING SING” will be held on Thursday April 9, 2015 in Savannah, TN at the Hardin County High School Auditorium beginning at 7:00p.m. Josh & Ashley Franks will be hosting the event that will feature, Gaither Homecoming Artist, JEFF & SHERI EASTER, and Dove Award Winning Quartet, BRIAN FREE & ASSURANCE. There is no ticket needed. General Admission is $12.00 at the door, day of event, plus a special free-will love offering will be received. For more information, visit www.joshandashleyfranks.com. Doors will open one hour before concert.
Tags: SAVANNAH GOSPEL SPRING SING, southern gospel concerts, Southern Gospel News
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Veteran tenor singer Matt Felts joins his hometown brethren
When the Lesters were in search of a tenor singer last fall, the long-time family group couldn’t have envisioned all of the pieces to the puzzle fitting together as seamlessly as they did. Into the picture stepped Matt Felts.
“It truly is like coming home,” Felts says. “I joke because we’re all from St. Louis. We all get each other’s humor. We all get each other’s food connections. We are watching Cardinals (baseball) games non-stop on the bus.
“You can watch people how they treat people on and off the bus. The way they treated me and my family coming in has been unbelievable. The ministry is why they do it … period. I’ve traveled with lots of great guys, lots of great singers. These are without a doubt the best. Every week feels like a family vacation. I’ve never had more fun.”
Felts spent the previous five years with the Dixie Melody Boys. “When they were looking for a tenor (when the Lesters became a male trio), I heard they were looking, and I instantly called my wife (Jennifer),” Felts remembers. “I said, ‘The Lesters are looking, and I want to take this job.’ It wasn’t the right season (at that time), so I said, ‘We’ll just wait.’
“Justin (Wells, the group’s previous tenor singer) actually texted me and said he was resigning. We were in the car, and I looked at my wife and said, ‘That’s it.’ I felt the season (with the Dixie Melody Boys) was coming to an end. I texted Brian (Lester) right then and said, ‘I’m interested in the job.’ He asked me to come up the next week.”
Felts – a St. Louis native – was born less than a mile from the Lesters’ residence. “We were amazed to watch God’s plan unfold as we began to search for a new tenor,” group manager and lead singer Brian Lester – who stands alongside his son Jonathan as the other vocalists in the trio – shares. “Matt and our former tenor, Justin Wells, have been close friends for years, so they already had a connection, which is how Matt first learned we were looking. Matt is not only from St. Louis but lived just a couple miles away from our home. It was truly a perfect fit. He has fit in so well very quickly.”
Felts adds, “The Lesters were in our house. We knew who they were. They were a household name for us. The earliest group I knew was the Lesters.”
Felts’ first experience in Southern Gospel Music came as a member of the Ohio-based GloryWay Quartet. That was followed by one year with the Skyline Boys, three years with the Monument Quartet and a six-month stint as part of Perfect Heart. Then, he joined the Dixie Melody Boys. Felts admits that those past experiences have helped shape him as an artist.
“I’ve tried to glean vocally – but not just vocally, also life – I’ve tried to look at how they did it in this industry for a lifetime,” Felts shares. “It’s been positive for the most part. Ernie Haase has been a like a brother, and there’s Allison Speer and Mike Allen.
“Ed O’Neal gave me free reign. He said, ‘You have ideas … go.’ Not everything works, but you learn.” That creative freedom was essential for Felts, who has a background in marketing. “They (the Lesters) knew my background,” Felts says. “I had a great support staff around me, and what we were able to accomplish with Ed was great.
“They (the Lesters) basically said, ‘What are your ideas? What can we do?’ That’s something (positive) for a guy who is in marketing. We’ll just be talking and new ideas will come. There is a momentum swing right now for new opportunities and new growth.”
One of those new opportunities involved the Lesters filming a live CD and DVD in Boston, a project that is now available. “It’s exciting to bring Southern Gospel to Boston,” Felts points out. “They eat it up every time.”
Felts’ marketing foundation was molded while he was a student at the University of Missouri. Felts also played baseball for the Tigers, graduating in 2001. Felts – a first baseman and relief pitcher – had the opportunity to play professional baseball, spending time in the minor leagues as part of the Kane County (Ill.) Cougars, Springfield/Ozark (Mo.) Mountain Ducks and Canton (Ohio) Coyotes. Felts is related to former New York Yankee great Don Mattingly – who is now the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers – and his wife’s family is related to Major League Baseball Hall of Fame member Honus Wagner. “We are a baseball family,” Felts says.
However, that coveted opportunity on the diamond proved to be a trying period of time for Felts. “I grew up a pastor’s son,” Felts explains. “That lifestyle in baseball is very different. I felt that was what I wanted to do, but I knew that wasn’t for me. Music was always at the front. I always wanted to be in music. The Lord was in music.”
Included among Felts’ favorite Lesters songs are “He Is,” “It’s Gonna Be Wonderful,” “My Savior First of All” and “He Didn’t Throw the Clay Away.”
“Clay was my testimony,” Felts points out. “Coming out of baseball, I felt like I had thrown my life away. I felt like I had made too many mistakes. That song just ministered to me.”
While Felts changed careers at that time, he most recently transitioned from a career with male quartets to becoming a third of a male trio now. “It’s stretching your wings artistically,” Felts says. “I love quartets. It’s nothing against that, but that’s all I’ve ever done. In some ways, you become stagnant. The arrangements they (the Lesters) do, it awakens something in you. It’s exciting.”
The 37-year-old Felts admits that the support he has received has been overwhelming. “We are thrilled to have Matt and his family join the Lester family,” Brian Lester shares. “He has already been such as great addition, and our fans have embraced him.”
Felts adds, “It breathes new life into your career. The entire industry, the day I announced I was going over to the Lesters, I had people all over the industry congratulating me. A lot of quartet fans couldn’t understand how excited I was, but I knew there would be a lot of variety to the program. That’s exciting.”
Be sure to see The Lesters when they are in your area. For more information visit the Lesters website.
Written by Craig Harris.
First published by SGN Scoops magazine in February 2015. For the current issue of SGN Scoops go to the homepage.
Tags: baseball, Brian Lester, Christian Music, Craig Harris, Dixie Melody Boys, Jonathan Lester, Justin Wells, Matt Felts, sgn scoops, southern gospel, St. Louis, THE LESTERS
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Signal Mountain, This week’s Harmony Road Television program features videos and music from Canton Junction with the classic “Wouldn’t take Nothing for my Journey Now”, Devin McGlamery with the touching “While I Still Can” along with Phil Cross and “I am Redeemed”. The program also includes Brian Free and Assurance and the acclaimed video “Say Amen”, and “The Promise” from the Talleys.
Hosted by gospel music veteran Les Butler, Harmony Road is now available to over 85 million television homes across the country in addition to online streaming, ROKU, mobile app and more,
Distributed by Harmony Road Productions, the program features the best in Southern Gospel music and video. It can be found each week on The Heartland Network, The NRB Network (including DirecTV, streaming and mobile app), WATC57 in Atlanta, WGNM-TV in Macon, GA/Phoenix City, AL. Also find the program on the WALKtv network (including ROKU), Harmony Gospel in Greeneville, SC, DCT3in Middle Tennessee, TV24 in Anniston/Gadsden, Charter Cable in Clarksville, Cookeville/Crossville, Sevier County, and Lebanon and WMJN29 in Decatur/Athens/Cullman, AL. Harmony Road is streamed at www.bbntv.org, Affiliates have also been added in Jackson, TN, Beaumont, TX, and Harrogate, TN. and Northeast North Carolina.
Allan Rhodes of Rhodes Media Center and WMJN29 is the programs technical director. More information can be found at www.wmjn29.com.
Tags: brian free and assurance, Canton Junction, harmony road, Southern Gospel Music, Southern Gospel News
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A NEW CHAPTER!
By Charlie Griffin
The Family Tree. From an early age we are given our heritage and told about our family tree. The information in that tree lays the foundation of who we are and gives us a sense of belonging. Even in the scriptures, the family tree was handed down from generation to generation. Some of us call that oral history in the Bible the begats. Through the generations detailed in our Trees, the family’s legacy lives on.
As Americans, we gladly share our Family Tree or roots and are not ashamed to stand tall, being proud of our heritage. The desire to be free, in a land that upholds freedom and liberty, is part of democracy’s foundation. Many have given their lives to continue our freedoms and have helped create what we see as the greatest country on earth. The patriotic service mantle is handed down to new generations every day. We proudly celebrate our heritage with Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays.
Gospel music legends like The Stamps, Blackwoods and countless others laid the foundation for Southern Gospel music, quartet style. There have been many groups that have shared these talents over the years. Sadly, time runs its course and some of theses groups are no more. Fortunately, the Pine Ridge Boys are still carrying on a rich 52-year tradition that started with the likes of Jim Stewart, brothers Darius and Wayne Shuford, Charlie Burke, Miles Cooper, Laddie Cain, Jack Henderson, Reese McKinney, Joel Duncan, Ned Wilder, Farrell Henson, Ray Dean Reese, Charles Abee, Everette Greene and Eldridge Fox. These men and others were part of the Pine Ridge Boys history.
Today the Pine Ridge Boys mantle has been passed on to a different generation of men. It is today’s Pine Ridge Boys configuration that is drawing acclaim for their rich quartet harmonies. Larry Stewart (formerly with the Singing Americans), Wayne Shuford (original PRB member and with the Trav’lers Quartet), Ivory Luke and Duane Rizzo have polished the Pine Ridge Boys sound with the timeless songs and innovative music arrangements that captivate audiences young and old alike.
Larry Stewart grew up always around and singing Gospel music. His Dad, Jim Stewart was the founding bass singer of the Pine Ridge Boys. But Larry’s singing talent began to blossom as he sang locally with The Regals. Later he sang with the Anchormen Quartet, before joining the Singing Americans as bass singer and manager. His rich bass tones have earned him Singing News fan nominations along with other accolades over the years. Yet after singing Gospel music for so many years, today when you talk to him you learn of his never-ending love of this timeless music. You will also see a man who takes his faith and Christian walk with greater appreciation and determination. His words and actions are making an impact today like never before.
Wayne Shuford is the founding tenor of the Pine Ridge Boys with his brother Darius on piano. Shuford is widely known from his time with the award winning Trav’lers Quartet. For forty-five years he sang and managed the group. A member of the SC Gospel Music Hall of Fame and a Living Legend Award recipient, Wayne is known for his vocal talents and the ability to interpret a song with finesse and heart. A true Gospel music gentleman, his friendly smile greets everyone no matter where you see him while his strong faith still influences his music. Now singing baritone, he is able to share the history of days gone by, as well as creating new history with today’s Pine Ridge Boys through his mentorship and love of singing Gospel music, Southern style.
Duane Rizzo sings lead for the Pine Ridge Boys. His love of Gospel music is traced back to Buffalo, New York. It is there he fell in love with Southern Gospel quartet music as a young boy at Garden Spots Promotions Pennsylvania concerts. He met and became involved with the Keystone Quartet as a teenager. Rizzo’s memories of music are mixed with his Italian Christian heritage while singing with his family and others in the local area. A retired police officer, upon moving to the Carolinas, Duane sang in a barbershop quartet and with some big bands yet his love for Southern Gospel music never waned. He was asked to audition to sing lead with the Pine Ridge Boys seven years ago and, well, the rest is history. Yes the retired policeman has a life-long affinity with Southern Gospel music.
Ivory Luke sings the tenor for the Pine Ridge Boys. He is no stranger to Gospel music as he has been singing in churches since five years old. His first experience with quartet Gospel music came at the ripe old age of 19. His tenure includes time with Sonrise and the Crusaders both from the Columbia, SC area. Ivory continues to sing the music he loves so dearly with a new vigor. His ability to connect with an audience is unmatched. As Ivory croons a ballad his faith shines in his delivery of every lyric and note. You will be captivated by his positive personality anytime you meet him. He has never met a stranger and will talk to a fence post.
Change is inevitable and time moves on. Some traditions withstand the tests of time. Different and new generations assume the leadership into the future. Now today, when you hear and see the Pine Ridge Boys you will enjoy a group steeped in a solid tradition of Southern Gospel music. Even more so, you will hear a group that is renewed in commitment and continues to stage Gospel music rich in full quartet harmonies. Music arrangements that cause you to clap your hands, pat your feet and nod your head with approval are commonplace at a Pine Ridge concert.
The Pine Ridge Boys tradition is alive and well.
Be sure to share the Pine Ridge Boys music and message with your friends as you can follow the group on Facebook, twitter and via their website. For scheduling, music orders and more information contact Pine Ridge Boys, Larry Stewart at 305 Water Oak St, Inman, SC 29349. Phone 864-473-8849 or email Larry@PineRidgeBoys.com .
Tags: Charlie Griffin, Duane Rizzo, Ivory Luke, Larry Stewart, Pine Ridge Boys, Quartet Music, southern gospel, Wayne Shuford
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