Few groups in any genre of music have been able to enjoy such a longstanding presence in their industry as The Kingsmen Quartet. Since their beginning in 1956, this beloved group of singers has continued to bring us songs of hope for the Christian life. Their quartet harmonies have provided a constant soundtrack for decades in a world that is continually changing. Listeners have enjoyed their Southern Gospel style, their incredible musical talent, and their powerful testimonies for almost 60 years.
If you ask any member of this much-loved quartet what their secret is for remaining such a strong influence in Gospel music, they will tell you that there is actually no secret at all – The Kingsmen Quartet is simply following the call that God has placed on their hearts to minister for Him through song, and He is doing the rest!
Started by the three McKinney brothers in the hills of North Carolina, The Kingsmen would go on to steadily gain a large following in Christian music. Many renowned artists have been blessed to call The Kingsmen home for a time. Such artists include Eldridge Fox, Big Jim Hamill, Squire Parsons, Johnny Parrack, Anthony Burger, Ernie Phillips, Ed Crawford and Gary Sheppard. The group has received numerous awards, including Dove awards, Hall of Fame awards, and Singing News awards.
The Kingsmen have five members past and present in the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, which are Eldridge Fox, Jim Hamill, Anthony Burger, Squire Parsons, and Ray Dean Reese. The group is also in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Christian Music Hall of Fame. The Kingsmen Quartet currently consists of Ray Dean Reese, Brandon Reese, Bob Sellers, Chris Jenkins, and Randy Crawford.
While each member uses his wonderful musical talent to make inspiring music, he also brings other gifts to the table to make the ministry run smoothly. Ray Reese is the bass singer for the group and he also owns and manages The Kingsmen Quartet. Brandon Reese, Ray’s son, is the sound engineer and road manager. Bob Sellers sings lead and manages the group’s strong social media presence online. Stage manager Randall Crawford sings baritone and emcees the group’s shows. Chris Jenkins sings tenor and is the product manager for the quartet.
Ray Reese attributes the longevity of the group to the calling that they all share. “We have always felt a calling to do this. It was passed down one singer to the other. It’s been a great opportunity and we have been blessed. Longevity is first of all the Lord and secondly dedication to His call.” Being part of the group definitely takes hard work and dedication, as they travel to sing at more than 200 functions a year, which takes them away from home and family.
Chris Jenkins points out that although it’s hard being away from family, the friendship among the men make life on the road easier. “The camaraderie has been great on The Kingsmen bus with us from day one. We all laugh and cut up and have a good time and when you’re gone from your family and your home that long you’ve got to enjoy who you’re traveling with or it gets hard!”
Bob Sellers says, “We’re often privileged to experience God move in a real and powerful way, whether it be for salvation, healing, peace, or whatever those who respond are seeking. Those are my favorite moments, and they go a long way towards reaffirming that all the miles driven, birthdays and ballgames, anniversaries, sicknesses, etc. missed from being on the road 200 plus days a year are truly worth it.” These moments usually happen at the altar call given by the group at the end of a concert.
Ray Reese remembers one particular altar call experience that impacted him. “There was a big singing in Chattanooga, TN, one night and during the singing the invitation was given and there were so many people that came down to the altar. That was a great evening and a great thrill to us.”
Music lovers who are fortunate enough to experience The Kingsmen in person will see exactly what the group’s calling is about during the concert. Randall Crawford explains, “It’s about Jesus. Pure and simple. We are going to have fun – but we are going to let the Holy Spirit have His way.” Randall mentions his favorite part of the concert. “Seeing the faces of longtime fans of the group light up when they hear one of their favorite songs. Seeing the folks singing along to every song. It lets you know your music is touching their lives.”
Bob points out that a Kingsmen event is more than just a show. “Oh, we still cut up and enjoy what we do without apology, but we’re careful to do our very best to let the message be proclaimed in a real where the rubber meets the road sense of the matter. All groups today sing in more church services than true concert settings and I’m sure to a degree that plays a role in furthering the ministry aspect verses just the entertainment perspective. I still cringe a little when someone says they enjoyed ‘the show’ or use some other vernacular along those lines. Our greatest blessing is to see someone come to know Jesus as their savior, rededicate their life to Him, overcome an addiction, and leave a burden at the altar. The greatest compliment we can receive is for someone to say they felt the moving of the Holy Spirit and received a blessing. It’s not our doing, but His! We simply seek to be His willing vessels.”
The guys reminisce about some laughs they’ve had on the road. Randall says, “True story: Our tenor, Chris, had just joined the group when we sang in a service in Hot Springs, AR. During the second half of the program Chris went up to hit a insanely high note and blew a bulb out of the lighting system for the stage!”
Bob says, “Some of the funniest things happen at the product table. People are hilarious! I had a guy ask if we would sing the song ‘Louie, Louie,’ a song made popular by a Seattle-based rock group called The Kingsmen in 1963. He actually argued me down when I tried to explain that we weren’t the same group!”
The Kingsmen Quartet recently released an album entitled Battle Cry, which was produced by Jeff Collins at Crossroads Records. “As producer, once we had selected songs for this recording, Battle Cry, I felt like we were going to have something special. The tracking sessions went really well and then when the guys came in for the vocal sessions and we had a few songs done, I knew we were going to have something special! Man, can this group of guys sing! I’ve been a Kingsmen fan since my teenage years and have produced many Kingsmen recordings over the years. Battle Cry will go down as one of my favorites.” Bob says, “Believe it or not, we all love every song on Battle Cry. We each have our favorites, but I honestly think every song could be released as a radio single and do very well.”
Ray mentions a couple of upcoming Kingsmen Quartet events that you don’t want to miss:
- Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO- September 2
- National Quartet Convention, Pigeon Forge, TN-September 28 through October 3 (performing Tuesday night and Thursday night)
Ray Reese talks about how the group’s name was formed in 1956. “The brothers became The Kingsmen because of Who they were serving in their ministry. God, the King.” Today, the call to serve their King is still what keeps The Kingsmen singing and sharing His story six decades later.
To learn more about The Kingsmen Quartet, visit their website at http://kingsmenquartet.musiccitynetworks.com/, and follow them on Facebook (Kingsmen Quartet) and Twitter ( @KingsmenQuartet).
Photos courtesy of Singing News, Craig Harris and Kansas Sellers.
By Paige Givens
First published by SGN Scoops in June 2015. For the current issue of SGN Scoops, visit the SGN Scoops mainpage.