Imagine if you will, a teenage girl at a gospel sing in 1995. She’s sitting on the right side, the middle pew, in a little Pentecostal church located in a small town in northern Florida. She’s 17, and she wants to sing like them. She wants to be like them. They are her heroes at this point in her life.
She’s ecstatic when she gets to meet them briefly and speak to them, but deep down, never knows if she’ll ever be able to sing well enough to get where they are in gospel music.
Now, imagine that same girl 25 years later at a Southern gospel concert hearing that same group. She has witnessed them accomplish so many amazing things since that little town of Cottondale, Fla. However, no achievement will ever compare to the lives they’ve helped lead to the Kingdom of Heaven. This young woman, now a mom, is watching them on stage with tears. She sees a new dynamic on the stage that she didn’t notice as a teenager because she wasn’t a mom yet. That young girl was me, and that group was the Whisnants.
The Whisnants have an incredible legacy and tradition that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. Both Jeff and Susan were born with it in their blood. Their sons, Austin and Ethan, have something special that came from both sides of their family, which will carry on for many years to come.
In 1970, around the old upright piano in John and Betty Whisnant’s house, a family began singing in the Appalachian foothills of Morganton, North Carolina. The voices of children blended with their parents as the sound of a gospel song filled the house. From that time forward, they were known as the John Whisnant Family. Years passed as John, Betty, and their sons Jeff and John sang together, but as the family matured, change was on the horizon.
Susan started singing with her mother and father at the age of 12, and they were known as the Roland Dry Singers. She sang with them until she met Jeff when she was 20.
“My daddy’s a pastor, so we did many revivals. There were a lot of Friday and Saturday night concerts and stuff like that. That’s how I met Jeff,” says Susan.
They were singing together in Whitesburg, South Carolina during their first meeting.
“Our hearts did not mesh there. Jeff had his girlfriend there. My momma would elbow me and go, ‘Susan, you got to talk to him.’ I’d say, ‘Momma, he’s got his girlfriend here.’ I finally agreed, (and) on July 4th weekend of 1985 or 1986, Jeff and I went out for our first date, and then I knew he was it. I came home and I told Momma and Daddy that I was going to marry him. I told them there was only one problem. ‘He doesn’t know, and I don’t know how I’m going to convince him to marry me.’ Jeff didn’t have that peace (at first). I had always prayed for God to give me that peace, so I wouldn’t miss who God had for me. That’s how I started singing with the Whisnants. Jeff and I married in May of 1988,” Susan remembers.
The Whisnants signed their first record deal with Sunlight Records, in September of 1988. They went to the National Quartet Convention with Sunlight Records, and stayed with Sunlight Records until 1995. They then made a big move and started United Independent Artists (UIA). Their very first song was ‘I’ll Stand for the Lord’. It went to No. 7, and it was their very first Top 10 song.
“God blessed us when we took that move. It was a total step of faith,” recalls Susan.
Susan and Jeff have been together for 32 years. With a love story like theirs, it’s easy to see that they have been truly blessed. Their family and their ministry are blessed immensely.
While at their concert in June of 2019, I noticed something fascinating on the stage. Long-time member Aaron Hise has been a part of the group for 19 years, so he watched Ethan and Austin grow up. As I watched them perform and listened to Austin and Ethan sing, I could see that Aaron looked on with pride as those two talented boys sang praises to their heavenly Father also. It wasn’t only Susan and Jeff that was so proud of how far they had come, but Aaron was just as excited to hear them.
As I told Susan what I had observed on the stage that night; she was astounded. This was unnoticed by Susan, and she mentioned she’s unable to stand back and watch them all, or it might bring her to tears. It was great to speak so candidly with Susan about their ministry. I was amazed to hear about their rich family legacy and their love story. It was fun for me to be able to share with her what I experienced as I sat in the audience that night, as an adult listening and watching with fresh ears and eyes all over again.
If you ever get the chance to go and listen to the Whisnants, make sure you go out and see them. They are unquestionably a blessing. I can tell you that they live what they sing. They are fun and personable. You certainly won’t meet a better group of people.
Both Austin and Ethan, and the whole group, have new releases available now. The Whisnants recording, “He will be God,” was just released in September, 2019, along with “Man of Your Word,” by Austin and Ethan.
If you would like to book the Whisnants for an event, you can find their booking information on their website at www.whisnants.com/contact.html. Don’t miss an opportunity to see them or have them at an event near you.
By Angela Parker
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in October 2019