The Masterâ€™s Trio really didnâ€™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).
â€œThere was a gentleman at a church in Bath County, which is near here,â€ remembers Trio tenor Kevin Willis, a resident of Mt. Sterling. â€œHe 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.â€
So, the Masterâ€™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.
â€œWhen the fellow told me about it, he didnâ€™t mention anything about it being a competition, so to speak,â€ smiles Steve Black, a South Point, Ohio, resident who says he can see Ashland, Ky., from his back door. â€œWe didnâ€™t realize (the showcase would be a competition) until we were filling out the paperwork.â€
As it turned out, the Masterâ€™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 Masterâ€™s Trio received a monetary prize along with two large ribbons and trophies commemorating being judged best in the division and Best of Show.
â€œWe went down there and it was a blessing that came our way,â€ says Black, the groupâ€™s lead singer. â€œWe appreciate that.â€
Blackâ€™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 Masterâ€™s Trio turned heads with rousing covers of the Down East Boysâ€™ â€œEvery Wordâ€ and Greater Visionâ€™s â€œRolled Back Stone.â€ 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.
Itâ€™s the philosophy of a Trio that tries to live as its name suggests. â€œWe donâ€™t want to just be known as three guys up there singing,â€ Chatterton says. â€œWe want to use this as a ministry.â€
As we gathered around a table at Willisâ€™ 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 Masterâ€™s Trio.
Hatton soon left the group, but Black says that was an opportunity for God to provide. â€œWe prayed the Lord would lead someone our way,â€ he says. â€œItâ€™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 didnâ€™t need anybody.
â€œI thought I would call back. Mike had been in a revival service and the preacher said, â€˜What can you do for the Lord? What can you do in his service?â€™â€
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 Masterâ€™s Trio.
Black continues, â€œSo 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.â€
Black and Chatterton have been singing gospel music for more than 40 years.
The style is decidedly Southern gospel and the Masterâ€™s Trio delivers a message of Christ wherever they can. The group is based in Mt. Sterling, but simply lists its hometown as â€œCentral Kentuckyâ€ on its Facebook page, and while Black and Chatterton reside in the Kentucky-Ohio-West Virginia Tri-State area, the bulk of the groupâ€™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 Masterâ€™s Trio apart. At times, these grandfathers cut up with each other like little boys. â€œHonestly, this is more like a brotherhood, if that makes sense,â€ Black says. â€œIf you canâ€™t get along with the person you are singing with, itâ€™s going to reflect to the people listening.â€
Since the fair, the Masterâ€™s Trio has received many congratulatory messages and theyâ€™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, â€œA Blessingâ€™s on the Way.â€
Right now, the Masterâ€™s Trio is blessed by simply sharing the gospel in song. Itâ€™s a passion and a life.
Says Willis, â€œThe 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.â€ He laughs. Itâ€™s because the story underscores that singing about Jesus is simply in the Masterâ€™s Trioâ€™s blood. And itâ€™s there to stay.
Masterâ€™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.â€œWe used to do a lot of stuff hanging out with the Cathedrals,â€ he says. â€œParticularly, the piano player at the time, Roger Bennett, kind of hung out with us.â€ 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. â€œHeâ€™s got the goods,â€ Black smiles.
And Black and Chatterton became close to one of gospel musicâ€™s all-time greats, Squire Parsons. â€œMike and I sang many church homecomings with the group Squire used to sing with the Cavalrymen, before joining the Kingsmen,â€ Black says. â€œIn that group was Conrad Cook, another great songwriter, as well as Squireâ€™s brother Virgil. A few years later, Mike became a neighbor of Squireâ€™s. I think itâ€™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.â€
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 calledÂ 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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