What a joy it is for me to write on a group that is quickly growing in popularity, the Williamsons. I met them a little over a year ago and right off became a fan of their music. 11th Hour has had the opportunity to share the stage with Donnie, Lisa, Karl and Darin on several occasions. Not only have they become one of my favorite groups, they are truly some of my favorite people to be around as well. You can tell exactly where their hearts are, which is definitely on Christ.
The Williamsons started singing in the Midwest around 1969, later to reorganize in 1998. The current group consists of Donnie Williamson and wife, Lisa, Darin Hebert and Karl Rice. The quartet has been nominated for the Breakthrough Artist of the Year and the Fan Favorite awards for Absolutely Gospel Music, as well as the top ten Favorite New Mixed Group for Singing News.
Based out of Wetumka, OK, the Williamsons sing roughly 185 dates per year, but that number is sure to increase with their popularity on the rise. The group just celebrated their first number one song, “Shout”, on the Singing News charts for the month of December. The song was the October top spot winner on the SGN Scoops charts.
“We have been so excited and encouraged by all the wonderful things that have happened with our latest project, Tell Somebody,” Donnie tells us. “Our first single, ‘It Was the Word,’ written by Lisa, was our first top five song on the Singing News charts. The song also went to number two on the SGN Scoops charts. Now, ‘Shout,’ which was written by Lee Black and Gina Boe, has done really well for us. We are truly blessed as the first Southern Gospel group from Oklahoma to achieve this honor.”
Donnie Williamson began singing with his parents, Woody and Pinky Williamson, around the age of 12. He carries on his family name and music tradition proudly. With musical influences such as the Imperials, Cathedrals and Happy Goodmans, music has always been at the forefront of Donnie’s life. He has also worked many years in the funeral home business. Donnie handles all of the group’s business and a portion of their booking. When time permits, Donnie works in the studio that he and Lisa own, Homestead Studios, in Weleetka, OK.
Lisa Chesser Williamson started singing in church around the age of four. She was taught to sing by her biggest musical influences, her parents, Larry and Debbie Chesser. Lisa is also – like many of us – a huge Hinsons fan. Lisa is a terrific songwriter as well. She contributed several songs on their project Tell Somebody. She always had a desire to sing and travel. The Lord definitely honored her prayer.
“I remember writing an essay in seventh grade about what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was so detailed that you would have thought that I could see into my future! God knew what He was doing. He placed a desire in my heart, a calling on my life and then gave me the gifts and abilities to fulfill it. I am thankful that He allows me to do His work,” says Lisa.
Donnie and Lisa met through music, of course, at a singing in Okemah, OK. He had the group under a different name then, the Homesteaders. Lisa was singing that night in a group with her sister. A few months later, Donnie contacted Lisa about joining his group. After singing together for five years, Donnie and Lisa were married on September 13, 2003. Together, they have two daughters. Sadie is 10 and Olivia is eight. The girls have made nearly every mile with their parents since they were newborns.
“Our crazy lifestyle seems normal to Sadie and Olivia. They have never known it any other way,” Lisa shares. “It has been really exciting in the past few years to see some of their talents starting to develop. They sing a song or two with us each night. There is just something so special, as a mom, to have them stand beside me, singing their little hearts out.”
Like many other road babies, Sadie and Olivia know that life can be different while riding a bus with their mom and dad. There is work for school that still has to be completed and school activities can be difficult at times, due to scheduling.
“Being on the road most of the time, we have to make a point to incorporate family time into the mix. We enjoy visiting zoos, amusement parks, and whatever else we can find to do that is fun along the way,” Donnie says.
Speaking of which, the Williamsons and 11th Hour had a playful face-off on a go-cart track while in Pigeon Forge, TN back in November. Both of our groups were in town attending the SGN Scoops event, Creekside Gospel Music Convention, held by Rob Patz. We were runner up to the Williamsons for their spot at number one for the month of December on the Singing News charts. The group’s bass singer, Darin, made the joke: “11th Hour should have the chance to be number one at something.” To the dismay of the highly competitive lead singer of 11th Hour, Grant Gibson, Darin walked away as the race winner that day. Both groups, along with our other friends who raced along with us, had a great time that day.
Darin Hebert started singing at the age of 16 with a few friends from his hometown of Oak Grove, LA. God later opened the door for him to join a local group from Arkansas, which led him to the Williamsons. He joined what was called The Homesteaders his senior year of high school and has been with the group since. Darin married his high school sweetheart, Kallie, in September of 2008. He says that he absolutely could not do what he is blessed to be doing, if it were not for the continued support of Kallie. The two of them have one son, Patrick, who is six years old. When he’s not on the road, Darin enjoys hunting and fishing.
Darin, like many young artists, attended the Stamps Baxter School of Music. He was greatly influenced by Tim Riley of Gold City and the late Harold Gilley. “I have been blessed to get advice and create relationships with several top bass singers in our industry. Those guys have helped me more than they will ever know,” Darin states. “I have been able to spend personal time with Tim Riley at his home. Also, Harold Gilley drove 900 miles to Oklahoma on two separate occasions to work with me. These two men took time out for me, time that could have been spent with their own families. That is something that I will cherish forever.”
I asked Darin to tell us what he sees the future holding for the Williamsons. “I have been with the group for 10 years. I have seen us grow, together and individually. Our goal continues to be that of reaching more people for Christ. If I can have a small part in that, then I will consider my time with them a success. I do not believe that we have a lot of time left. As long as there is a seed that we can plant or a life that our songs can touch, I will continue. I will retire when Jesus retires me,” Darin responded.
Karl Rice grew up in Summerville, SC and found a love for Southern Gospel music when he was 14 years old. His musical influences varied but he gives credit to his inspiration to sing tenor to Ernie Phillips, Michael Hayes and Steve Ladd. “Hearing Ernie hit a B flat, almost a full octave above a high C, on the ending of ‘Love Lifted Me,’ was the first Southern Gospel song that I heard that totally blew my mind,” Karl shares. He first sang tenor with a group, Holy City, at the age of 15 that was based out of the Charleston area.
“I had never sung tenor before that time and I cannot thank my friend, Mike Bolen, enough for bearing with my first couple of years learning. My heart goes out to everyone that was a part of Holy City,” Karl laughs. He later attended R.H. Rolling’s School of the Arts in his hometown and majored in vocal performance.
After leaving Holy City, Karl found a new ministry home with a group known as Chapter Four. This group of guys eventually evolved into the Anchormen, where Karl shared seven years of his talent. “I owe a lot of my professional success to this group. I always saw myself as a lead singer that could sing tenor. I dreamed of the day that I could wake up on a Sunday morning without having to sing soprano. I found that chance and joined the Williamsons. I am the happiest, now, that I ever have been singing,” says Karl.
Karl joined the Williamsons in October of 2013. He relocated with his wife, Daniela, and stepdaughter, Grace, from North Carolina to Wetumka, to be near the rest of the group. He too, along with Darin, is an avid hunter. His free time at home is spent with his family and in the woods or fishing, although he says that fishing is just a time killer until hunting season swings back around. Karl says his favorite outdoors place to visit is Tellico Plains, TN.
I asked Karl what keeps him on the road. He responded: “Souls. All the success and accolades are great. But, I am not concerned with praise to my name or to the group. I used to get caught up, like many others, wanting to make it big. The Williamsons just celebrated a number one song for the month of December. That is a huge accomplishment and blessing, for which I am grateful. But, I would much rather see a sinner receive the best gift that they can ever receive than any earthly award or acknowledgment.”
Not only is Karl a dynamic singer, but he is a fantastic musician as well. He can play 10 different instruments. Karl contributes his harmonica playing abilities to the stage on a few songs, along with his dobro and bass guitar skills. He and Donnie both share in the piano playing duties for the group. Lisa plays the bass guitar, also, from time to time. The Williamsons hope to add more live music to their performances in 2016.
The Williamsons recently became affiliated with Les Butler’s Family Music Group record label and Butler Music Group management. Les has been a part of the Southern Gospel music industry for many years and is experienced in several areas. He is excited to have the Williamsons on board with his management team.
“I met Donnie Williamson several years ago while serving on the Southern Gospel Music Guild together. It did not take me long to see that Donnie was a sharp businessman with a passion for Southern Gospel music. I made note of that. Last year, when I left Singing News Magazine and Solid Gospel Radio to start my own companies, Donnie was one of the first people I called. A handshake later, we were on our way.
“In the last year, it has been my honor to work with the Williamsons in the areas of management, record label and radio promotion. We have been blessed with a number one song, top videos, magazine covers and a datebook that is really making progress. They have it all within their group: incredible singers, top-notch writers, musicians and a sharp leader in Donnie! The Williamsons have arrived and they are here to stay,” states Les.
The latest release from their project, Tell Somebody, is called “Monday.” The song is written by Lisa herself, and is already receiving attention on radio and the song charts. “Monday” has a powerful message for our world today, especially to parents. The song sends the message to live out the life of Christ throughout the week in front of our families and friends, after we have left the four walls of the church. The group released a music video to YouTube in September of last year. In just a short time, the video was viewed several thousand times. Be sure to take time to watch the video and be listening for “Monday” on your Southern Gospel radio source in the coming months.
With hearts of gold, the Williamsons start this New Year off with eagerness to continue doing what God has called them to do. They are in the process of collecting songs for a new project, which I personally anticipate. The Williamsons have several first time goals this year, such as being a part of a mission trip to Kenya this summer with the World Mission Team. I encourage you to prayerfully consider having the Williamsons for a service. You can view their schedule at www.williamsonsmusic.com.
By Jaquita Lindsey of 11th Hour
First published in the January 2016 edition of SGNScoops.
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