Since 1995, the powerful, soulful, and energetic voice of Arthur Rice has been an anchor in the signature sound of the Kingdom Heirs. Rice’s incredible lead vocals delight audiences all over the world. He has experienced great success in his career having been nominated for many industry awards. Rice also serves as the President of the Southern Gospel Music Association and a deacon at his home church FBC Sevierville.
Gospel Music has always been a part of Rice’s life.
“I’m the youngest of four kids and the only boy in my family,” relates Rice. “My dad sang in several quartets along with my mom and oldest sister even before I was born, so I’ve been around church and singing all my life. I started singing solos with my family when I was old enough to stand in a chair.”
It wasn’t long until the gospel group bug bit young Rice.
“Then I started playing bass guitar for my dad’s quartet when I was seven and sang lead for them when I turned 14. I went with a mixed group called the Gerald Payne Family when I was 18 and that was when Eldridge Fox heard me sing.”
Fox’s notice eventually led to Rice’s first major mainstream quartet position. Rice served as lead singer and bass player for the legendary Kingsmen Quartet from 1983 – 1989. It was a natural fit as Rice and his family were already acquainted with the group.
“My family had always been friends with the Kingsmen through Ray Dean,” explains Rice. “My dad’s quartet was the first group Ray ever sang in and we’re second cousins. A short time after being in concert with the Kingsmen, Foxy called and asked if I would be interested in singing with the mighty Kingsmen. That was in 1983. I was there till ‘89 and I left the road for a year to help take over my dad’s shop after he had a brain aneurysm. The Lord healed him and gave us many more years with him.”
Following his tenure with the Kingsmen, he sang with fellow Kingsmen member, Squire Parsons, for five years before joining the Kingdom Heirs, where he has remained for 22 years.
Rice cites many great groups and vocalists as inspiration for his own unique, recognizable sound.
“We had one gospel station in our area; my dad turned all the radios to it then pulled all the knobs off so nobody could change the station,” laughs Rice. “So about all I grew up listening to was gospel music. I loved it all, but I guess my biggest influences were the Kingsmen, the Inspirations, the Happy Goodmans, and the Statesmen. But, when I was around 16, I discovered Ronnie Milsap. Wow, what a voice and range.
“After my voice changed at 14, my mom found a voice teacher for me,” Rice continues. “She drove me the hour trip every week until I was old enough to drive myself. I took lessons for seven years. Mr. Brookshire was from Juilliard but unlike most teachers we talked to, he allowed me to sing gospel music instead of just opera. I’m very grateful that my mom believed in me enough to make that sacrifice.”
Rice’s incredible voice is featured on the newest CD from the Kingdom Heirs.
“Our latest album, ‘The Last Big Thing,’ is a great album full of incredible songs. It has two top-five songs already on radio and the title song was voted 2018 Song Of The Year,” says Rice.
This hit project also includes a new release that pulls on the heartstrings.
“Our latest radio single is ‘Heaven Just Got Sweeter.’ It’s written by Jerry Salley and Dianne Wilkinson. We were going in the studio to record tracks for the new album and we had already finalized our songs when Jeff’s dad passed away from bone cancer. Dianne sent me a copy of the song to just play for Jeff to encourage him, but after I heard it, I thought it would encourage a lot of other folks. Little did I know that in just short few months, how it would encourage me when I lost my middle sister from cancer in October 2017,” Rice shares.
This is the mission of Rice and the group as well. It is of the utmost importance to show God’s love, comfort and encouragement through their music.
“While I was with the Kingsmen, I was driving the bus late one night, listening to some preaching on the radio,” recalls Rice. “I heard that old preacher say: ‘I’m just a nobody, trying to tell everybody, about somebody, who can save anybody.’ I loved it so I adopted that as my mission statement.”
Rice and the rest of the group are blessed to minister to many people all over the country as well as the world. While they travel for several months of the year, they primarily perform at Dollywood in Tennessee.
“The great thing about being at Dollywood most of the year is being able to sing to so many new faces everyday. I always ask how many are seeing us for the first time and even after all these years I’m still blown away with how many in our audience have never seen us before. We have a good following like any other group that come to see us on a regular basis, but being in a secular theme park affords us a great opportunity to present our music and message to basically the whole world. Dollywood has never told us what we could or couldn’t sing or say over the years, and we really take the responsibility that the Lord has given us very serious. We could just sing some fun songs or just something to make people clap and have a good time, but we believe God put us here for a reason. We decided years ago that we were gonna pick songs that were spiritually and scripturally sound and that’s what we do. Sure we have fun and want people to laugh and have a good time, but we also want them to leave knowing they heard about a loving Savior and his name is Jesus.There’s a world of hurting people out there and we need to give them hope. We need to give them Jesus,” states Rice.
Christ and the music come first for this ministry minded group.
“All people want is ‘real,’” Rice explains. “They don’t want to see us be perfect, they want to see how we deal with day to day life. We fail miserably to be perfect. As Paul says, the things I want to do I don’t do and the things I don’t want to I keep doing over and over but, God is faithful. We just need to brag on Him. I love to share stories and experiences of how the Lord can be everything to us. He loves us and wants us to include him in every aspect of our lives from the smallest to the large. That’s how to witness, we just live it, just be real in front of people.”
Rice has had some very real moments with issues like dependency and depression.
“Back in 2000 I had back surgery; I had been on a lot of very strong pain medications and after my surgery it really starting affecting me physically and mentally,” recalls Rice. “I lost 60 pounds because I couldn’t eat anything and I was slowly going into depression. No matter how much I prayed and read the Bible I couldn’t get out of the hole I was in. I had a doctor’s appointment and I know now it was God that ordained that visit. I’d never seen that doctor before and it was almost like she knew what was going on before I even told her. She helped me with some medicine for the depression. After going cold turkey to get off all the pain meds, it gave me a whole different respect for folks that go through that stuff. But the Lord helped me and brought me through it all, and I’ve not had anymore issues with my back, praise the Lord.
“About 2002, Barbara Huffman interviewed me for another publication and we talked about my depression and what the Lord did for me,” Rice continues. “Fast forward 12 years, I’m standing at our booth at NQC and a young man walks up to me and says, “You don’t know me, but I was addicted to painkillers. I had attempted suicide and when I was in the hospital, my nurse gave me your article to read. I accepted Christ and he helped me get through the worst time of my life.’
“I had forgotten all about the article but God was still using the testimony of the most difficult time in my life to encourage someone else. The apostle Paul says that we comfort others with the same comfort that was given us.” It is moments like this that put life into perspective for Rice.
On Oct. 29, Arthur Rice will be honored by Dr. Jerry Goff at the Creekside Gospel Music Convention, with the Jerry Goff SGNScoops Lifetime Achievement Award. This event will feature stories, songs, and people from Rice’s career in Southern gospel music.
“I’ve never really aspired to win awards or accolades of my own. Those things are nice but in the grand scheme they’re really not important. When I was in my teens, my pastor gave a message about blooming where you are planted. I took that to heart and that’s how I’ve tried to live my life. God has allowed the music that I love to put me in places and situations to be a light and I’m very grateful that He has allowed me those opportunities. I may not have accomplished everything that I could have but I’ve done way more than I ever dreamed.”
“I’m the least deserving of anyone to be recognized so you don’t know how honored I am to receive this, and from one of my all time heroes,” confesses Rice. “When I started with the Kingsmen we worked a lot with the Goffs. Jerry gave me a copy of his books at the time and they so inspired me to want to be a better Christian. I still have them in my collection.”
The future is looking bright for Rice and the Kingdom Heirs as we approach the last few months of the year.
“I’m so excited about our future and what God has in store for the group,” Rice exclaims. “We have a pretty unique situation. We are right in the middle of a secular theme park and basically the world comes to us. We get to tell a lot of people about Jesus and the devil doesn’t like that. He has tried his best to destroy us, but God is faithful. We covet your prayers that we will stay faithful to the Lord and that he will continue to allow us to be a voice crying in the wilderness.”
By Justin Gilmore
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in October 2018
Read the latest issue of the SGNScoops Magazine HERE.