The Master’s Trio really didn’t know what they were getting into when the Southern gospel group agreed to perform in the Gospel Music Showcase at the Kentucky State Fair (this past summer).
“There was a gentleman at a church in Bath County, which is near here,” remembers Trio tenor Kevin Willis, a resident of Mt. Sterling. “He was really pushing for us to be a part of that. He had been talking with the guys at (Bath County) Farm Bureau and was actively involved in it.”
So, the Master’s Trio, a group that has only been around since 2017 but is comprised of gospel veterans, agreed for a chance to sing and share the ministry on a larger stage.
“When the fellow told me about it, he didn’t mention anything about it being a competition, so to speak,” smiles Steve Black, a South Point, Ohio, resident who says he can see Ashland, Ky., from his back door. “We didn’t realize (the showcase would be a competition) until we were filling out the paperwork.”
As it turned out, the Master’s Trio was named Best Variety Group along with Best of Show at the annual event, held Aug. 22, 2019, at the fair. The event is put on by the Kentucky Farm Bureau with local Farm Bureau organizations sponsoring the entries for the show. Hundreds of gospel music fans packed into a second-floor conference room for an afternoon of soloists, trios and traditional quartets.
The Master’s Trio received a monetary prize along with two large ribbons and trophies commemorating being judged best in the division and Best of Show.
“We went down there and it was a blessing that came our way,” says Black, the group’s lead singer. “We appreciate that.”
Black’s cousin, Mike Chatterton, a retired law enforcement officer from Poca, W. Va., sings baritone and rounds out the group.
Taking the stage last, out of 12 entries, the Master’s Trio turned heads with rousing covers of the Down East Boys’ “Every Word” and Greater Vision’s “Rolled Back Stone.” While the Trio was honored and humbled to receive the accolades, it was really another opportunity to share the word and encourage those in attendance.
It’s the philosophy of a Trio that tries to live as its name suggests. “We don’t want to just be known as three guys up there singing,” Chatterton says. “We want to use this as a ministry.”
As we gathered around a table at Willis’ home, ministry was evident. The group had just earned one of the highest statewide honors, but the members talked much more about how God had blessed the undertaking, which began on April 8, 2017, at the very same table.
Willis, who began singing with his parents as a sixth-grader in Dixon, Ill., had been a part of several groups before locating in Mt. Sterling, where he at one time served as the worship pastor of First Church of God. His Southern gospel roots had taken him to several groups in Indiana and Illinois, most recently with Common Bond, a well-known regional group based in Mt. Sterling at the time. Willis joined with Black, who had retired from the construction business, and Bryan Hatton to form the Master’s Trio.
Hatton soon left the group, but Black says that was an opportunity for God to provide. “We prayed the Lord would lead someone our way,” he says. “It’s kind of ironic, but this is how the Lord works. Our baritone (Chatterton) is my cousin, so I have known him all my life, basically. He had called me before and asked if I knew a group that needed a singer, but at the time we didn’t need anybody.
“I thought I would call back. Mike had been in a revival service and the preacher said, ‘What can you do for the Lord? What can you do in his service?’”
Chatterton had been singing some solos in his church but when Black called a few days later, he jumped at the chance to join the Master’s Trio.
Black continues, “So we got together and God has blessed this thing more than we ever thought he would. The biggest blessing is to be able to share the message of the gospel.”
Black and Chatterton have been singing gospel music for more than 40 years.
The style is decidedly Southern gospel and the Master’s Trio delivers a message of Christ wherever they can. The group is based in Mt. Sterling, but simply lists its hometown as “Central Kentucky” on its Facebook page, and while Black and Chatterton reside in the Kentucky-Ohio-West Virginia Tri-State area, the bulk of the group’s appearances have been in central and east-central Kentucky.
Willis, who works as a truck driver, says the group has been as far south as Tennessee and will be making its third trip to Kewanee, Ill., about an hour southeast of Davenport, Ia., this fall.
The music is outstanding and the singers are all talented, but sitting down with the group after their regular rehearsal session revealed the intangible that sets the Master’s Trio apart. At times, these grandfathers cut up with each other like little boys. “Honestly, this is more like a brotherhood, if that makes sense,” Black says. “If you can’t get along with the person you are singing with, it’s going to reflect to the people listening.”
Since the fair, the Master’s Trio has received many congratulatory messages and they’ve struck up a friendship with The Noblemen, the popular Shelby County quartet that won that division at the fair. By chance, the groups were seated next to each other throughout the Gospel Music Showcase and Black says they will put on a joint concert at Camargo (Ky.) Church of God.
The group is also looking forward to releasing their first CD. The project was recently recorded and includes a song Willis wrote with his college buddy, George Mick, entitled, “A Blessing’s on the Way.”
Right now, the Master’s Trio is blessed by simply sharing the gospel in song. It’s a passion and a life.
Says Willis, “The story is told that when I was one week old, I was pushed under the front pew at a singing because my mom and dad had a quartet singing somewhere.” He laughs. It’s because the story underscores that singing about Jesus is simply in the Master’s Trio’s blood. And it’s there to stay.
Master’s Trio has well-known connections
Kevin Willis remembers those days when he was a student at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois and singing with a gospel group.“We used to do a lot of stuff hanging out with the Cathedrals,” he says. “Particularly, the piano player at the time, Roger Bennett, kind of hung out with us.” Bennett, a member of the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, would stay with the Cathedrals until the group retired. He then helped form Legacy Five but passed away in 2007 at age 48.
For Steve Black and Mike Chatterton, the connections are much closer. First, they are both related to country and bluegrass music Hall of Fame member Ricky Skaggs and commend his deep faith. “He’s got the goods,” Black smiles.
And Black and Chatterton became close to one of gospel music’s all-time greats, Squire Parsons. “Mike and I sang many church homecomings with the group Squire used to sing with the Cavalrymen, before joining the Kingsmen,” Black says. “In that group was Conrad Cook, another great songwriter, as well as Squire’s brother Virgil. A few years later, Mike became a neighbor of Squire’s. I think it’s safe to say that Mike has been in touch with Squire more than I have. As a matter of fact, Mike was asked by Squire to make the first trip with him when he went to join the Kingsmen.”
By John Herndon
First published on kentuckysings.com, September 11, 2019 (kentuckysings.com/tag/masters-trio/)
John Herndon is a regular contributor to SGNScoops Magazine
John Herndon is a writer for SGNScoops Magazine and also has a website called KentuckySings. John is a Kentucky native who was raised listening to gospel music. As a child, the Sunday morning routine always included the Gospel Singing Jubilee and his summers were filled with all-day-singings-and-dinner-on-the-ground listening to local groups just about every Sunday. He remembers seeing The Prophets at his county fair when he was seven years old and eventually, he became a huge fan of The Oak Ridge Boys, The Imperials and J.D. Sumner and the Stamps. John spent 20 years in the located ministry and during this time, he began writing local sports for The Anderson News in Lawrenceburg, Ky. For the last 16 years, he has been the full-time sports editor of that paper. John has won over 100 awards from the Kentucky Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and Landmark Community Newspapers. He loves listening to gospel music or playing one of his guitars. John lives in Lawrenceburg with his wife, Stephanie, and a 17-year-old daughter. He has three grown children and four grandchildren.
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