Sing People Happy: A Conversation with Guy Penrod
By Justin Gilmore
Fatherhood is an important responsibility. A father, along with a mother, is tasked with raising up their children to be loving, God-fearing citizens. Legendary Southern gospel vocalist, Guy Penrod, has been blessed with eight children of his own and knows the importance of being a faithful and loving father. Over the course of his career, Penrod has also experienced the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father. With the current global pandemic essentially shutting down much of the music industry, Southern gospel groups and artists have been struggling to make ends meet. In addition, both fans and artists alike miss the concert experience.
Penrod, in partnership with Thrive Media Streaming, is bringing his classic live concert experience to viewers all over the world on June 21st. “Concert On The Couch: A Father’s Day Celebration,” features Penrod and his band performing beloved hymns and worship songs in a night of praise. I recently had the honor of speaking with Mr. Penrod about this event as well as his storied career.
Justin Gilmore: First off, let me start this whole thing by saying I am a huge fan of yours. I’ve been a fan for a number of years, especially your work with the Gaither Vocal Band. So, it is an honor for me to speak with you today.
Guy Penrod: Well thank you buddy. Thank you for your kind encouragement.
Gilmore: For those who don’t know or are not familiar with you, how did you get your start in Southern Gospel Music?
Penrod: You know, the start of that for me would probably be with the Vocal Band. I didn’t travel and sing in any groups prior to being with the Vocal Band, just because of the way life went, you know. I grew up singing, enjoyed it all the way through high school and college.
Gilmore: Who are your musical influences?
Penrod: That’s a broad question. A real influence for me not just vocally but character wise was George Beverly Shea. I grew up listening to him and fell in love with his rich baritone voice. I loved the way you could understand what he sang. I’m a big lover of voices: Nat King Cole, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson. I lived out west so we listened to a lot of country music. Those voices meant a lot to me as I grew up. On the Gospel side of things, Jake Hess and the Blackwood Brothers were favorites of mine. My grandmother had an 8-track and I’d listen to the Blackwood Brothers in the carport and sing along at the top of my lungs.
Gilmore: Speaking of music, let’s talk about your latest album.
Penrod: The latest thing we have is ‘Blessed Assurance,” which is around one or two years old now. It is a compilation of hymns and worship songs like “ I Surrender All,” “The Love Of God,”and more. We wanted to pick songs that lend themselves to sing along.
Gilmore: Any meaningful fan encounters over the course of your career?
Penrod: Many, many, many wonderful people that have been encouraging and supportive all along the way. Many names pass through my mind: a little lady named Sue Johnson from Atlanta used to show up at just about every concert that I did east of the Mississippi. Eventually, bad health, now she’s singing up in Heaven. Through the years so many people like that. I think of a little boy, he had a difficult disease and it hit him out of the blue. He ended up at twelve years old; he passed away from that, but that concert likewise, his folks brought him. I was one of the only things he responded to. He was completely wheelchair bound, quadrapeligic, couldn’t speak, but just a precious little dude with a wonderful spirit. He would come alive during those concerts, hearing music like that. Fought a hard battle and the Lord just went ahead and took him on to Heaven. But wonderful, wonderful people that are still here and encouraging us and showing up for concerts and supporting what we’re doing.
Gilmore: What is the most memorable experience you’ve had in your career?
Penrod: Oh my! I’m not good with singling out things like that for the most part. You know, there have been so many it’s hard to just zone in on one. It’s different things based on the different aspects of my life. Getting married to the most beautiful woman on the earth, the greatest wife, was obviously right at the top of that list. Having kids: seven boys and one little girl. Now, they’re all growing up and starting to have kids themselves. Now, I’m a grandparent of a beautiful four month old girl and two more on the way! Both girls, one in September and one in October so in the course of about ten or eleven months we will have three brand new grandbabies on the ground. All girls.
Penrod: Thank you! So, that’s hard to beat that. Jump over into the professional world and what I’ve done through the years, it’s just a dream come true, to get to sing on so many wonderful records. Through the Sandy Patty years, and Steve Green, Larnelle Harris, and Wayne Watson, 4Him, Point Of Grace. We could just go on and on with people that have allowed me the privilege of singing on their records. It just amazes me. Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and you know, it’s fabulous. Then to scratch the itch of those R&B things, getting to sing on James Ingram’s record, who was a real big influence in my vocal, musical life, too. Loved his voice and the way he communicates. You know, it just goes hand in hand with the other experiences musically. In the Vocal Band years, getting to travel the world and sing at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Red Rocks, London, John Wesley’s Church, the Sydney Opera House, my goodness! And I’m just a little hayseed from Aberline, Texas. If God gave me the magic to write down whatever I wanted to happen and that’s what would happen, I would have never dreamed that stuff. Just a thankful man. Just like when you called and asked how I was doing: better than I deserve. That’s a real true statement. From one perspective it is.
Gilmore: Right. My next question is: what illustrations or analogies do you use in presenting the Gospel in a concert setting?
Penrod: Oh goodness. That’s a loaded question. I have found that the most effective place to be is, you obviously hide the Word in your heart, memorize it, internalize it, and stay read up, as our minds forget, and pour over it. So, with that hidden away, then when you go out, I tend to try to empty myself and ask the Spirit of the Lord to just calm my mind. Obviously not to remove it, but to empty it of me, and I kind of lay my thoughts or plans for the evening at His feet and say: just speak through me I pray, Holy Spirit. Minister to what these people here tonight need. I find that it’s an effective place to be because when you step out there, He responds in real time. He usually doesn’t show up until He is needed, but stays as long as He is needed, in certain circumstances. Obviously we walk with Him all the time and need Him all the time, but when it comes to the application of sharing the Word or teaching or singing or preaching or exhorting or encouraging or listening or counseling, it’s a certain aspect of Him that fills you up in that moment. I found that He will just fill your mouth if you are bold and courageous enough to step out in front of a crowd or into a room with just one person and minister, that He will use you, recall in you the things he has planted there through the years. Sharing a perfect message is a challenge for us as imperfect humans, you know. So I find leaning on the Spirit of the Lord and being bold, not trying to sneak Jesus into anybody, but just straight up looking folks in the eyeball and saying: God loves you, He’s for you, He’s with you. He’s here tonight and wants to minister. The key is you just gotta let Him in…He said I will draw all men to me.
Gilmore: My next question is simply: How has singing Gospel music impacted your life and your family?
Penrod: Well, it’s immeasurable really. All encompassing. It’s a vehicle by which the Lord’s blessed us with every good thing. I mean, like anyone, if you follow the Spirit of the Lord’s promptings and new heart He’s given each one of us, in Christ, He says He has removed the old heart of stone, then you yield it to Him. Acknowledge Him in all your ways He will direct your paths. Therein lies the secret to happiness. It’s that right there. I think just resting and waiting on Him for doors. Don’t push. I have done that as a young man and as a middle aged man probably still will push on a few out of hard headedness, but usually it’s a matter of waiting on the Lord, who will open the doors. We walk through them. But I would say the building of family, the relationships, the influence and all those things are gifts from the Lord. So I just pray for His wisdom and strength to walk in that honorably.
Gilmore: Since Father’s Day is coming up soon, what does fatherhood mean to you?
Penrod: Well, I had a good example of a father. I know a lot of folks don’t, but I know a lot of folks do. It’s a heavy responsibility. It is interesting how God made things so organic really. A man grows up and becomes attracted to the opposite sex and before long, one catches his eye and they end up married and rather ignorant at what life holds and to go about handling it. The Lord looks down and says it is good. If you are right in the middle of that, He is a part of the equation. His plan for you is to just trust Him day by day. As new and ignorant as I was when I got married, the Lord led us along, and then when our first baby came, I didn’t know how to deal with a baby, but that’s the beauty of the power of the Lord. He’s so capable that He gives babies to young kids like me and my wife, not that old, but here we are with a baby you know. Then after that, another and another and another, and I just find that if you have enough faith to keep going, He has enough supply to keep supplying. I don’t know that it is a matter of any certain thing, one thing or the other, that as fathers we do. It’s a compilation of all of the small decisions, but the big one being: center your worldview in the Word of God, the Holy Bible, and then acknowledge the Lord in all your ways and He will direct your path. Then be transparent and we’re gonna make good decisions and have wonderful successes as fathers. But we are also gonna make bad decisions and have failures as well. For the most part, it is something we should do out in front of the family so everyone sees how the Lord works through the ups and the downs. I think at the end of the day, if we trust Him and live openly for Him in front of those we love, that’s the best example of a father, mother, sister, brother, friend, or whatever relationship you want to put on there.
Gilmore: How are you and the family holding up during this quarantine?
Penrod: Everybody’s had a challenging time here, haven’t they. Well, we are just grateful for the Lord’s protection which He said He gives to all His children. No evil shall befall you. No plague shall come near your door. I just read that this morning in the devotional we read. Such is the case here. Just have believed it, proclaimed it, we’ve been blessed with no cases in our family and just a couple in any friend groups around the entire nation. But specifically, the little area where we live, I don’t think we’ve even had a case in our county. We have such a large family so we just kinda came out here to our farm and compound during that time and did a whole bunch of barbequing. So I’ve put on some pandemic quarantine weight that I gotta get rid of. We are happy as we could be and thankful for God’s protection and pray for those who have been affected by this that they will trust in the Lord for His touch and His healing. The Word says: “By His stripes we are healed.” Go ahead and claim it and kick that disease out!
Gilmore: Amen! Lastly, talk about your upcoming Father’s Celebration Concert.
Penrod: We are really excited. It’s been a challenging time for our industry. We were kind of the first bunch of workers in the marketplace that got shut down because of the restrictions on the sizes of our gatherings, and probably the last ones who will go back to work as they start lifting these restrictions. In that timeframe, we’ve been praying for how the Lord would have us move forward. He has supplied, through a friend of mine and new acquaintances, technology by which we can do live streaming on a very highly technical platform that enables the highest quality sound and highest quality pictures and video content to roll and very capable worldwide bandwidth so that we can produce quality concerts and events out and around the world. We’re just the first in our field to get to use this platform and really excited. We are gonna be from the Franklin Theatre in Franklin, Tennessee and my band will be with me. We’re playing in an empty auditorium, but in front of a whole lot of people as the cameras go. Gonna lift up Jesus with hymns, worship songs, and live music that ‘sings people happy,’ like much of my buddies have said before. We wanna sing people happy, full of the joy of the Lord and strength and boldness for the days ahead. Encourage them that there’s a wonderful harvest to go reap, we just have to get out there and get after it. So, it’s gonna be on June 21st, Father’s Day. The virtual doors open at 5:00 p.m. and the concert starts at 6:00 p.m. Central Standard Time. Go to guypenrod.com and click on “Concert On The Couch,” that’s what we’re calling our series and kicking it off with me. They’ll be directed to the home page and a video invitation with instructions on how to reserve an online viewing pass. That pass will get you into the concert on the 21st. There is no fee required. No ticket price. Just register and your in. But we do ask that if you’re capable of making a donation that you do so. We have a button set up for donations, but for those who have had a tough time during this quarantine and they’re low on cash, we don’t want you to miss this. So you’re free to come on in. Invite your friends and loved ones to jump down on their couch and be encouraged. And those who don’t know the Lord and you want to share the Gospel with, we’re gonna share it real plainly that night, so invite to go sign up, get a pass and plop down on the couch for some popcorn and have a good night singing and listening to a good concert.
Gilmore: Thank you so much for talking with me today. It has been an honor.
Penrod: My pleasure. Thank you for such a good interview. God’s blessing on what you’ve got going there.
“Concert On The Couch—A Father’s Day Celebration From Franklin Theatre” premiers for one-time online viewing at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Virtual doors will open at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time with special pre-show content. Filmed recently at the historic Franklin Theatre outside Nashville, Guy Penrod’s “Concert On The Couch” is being made available in partnership with Thrive Media Streaming. Exclusive online viewing passes, available for a suggested donation of $5, can be reserved by registering at guypenrod.com.