In 1969, The Williamsons Gospel music group had its beginning when Woody Williamson, a Baptist pastor, brought his wife Eula Mae – nicknamed Pinky because her hair was red, his son Donnie and his daughter, Tennie to the platform to sing. They sang for their church and began singing at other churches in the area and this was the root that helped to grow into the current group.
The Williamsons continued with the occasional singing dates until about 1979 at which time Donnie joined the Antone Indian Family, a Native American group from Canada singing Southern Gospel music. He traveled with them for a couple of years and came back home to go to college. After returning to college however, he was always singing or playing with various groups. Donnie states, “You kinda get the Gospel music bug and you can’t get rid of it.”
In 1998, Donnie organized The Homesteaders Quartet, not intending to do much traveling; but Donnie was surprised at how popular they became and before long they were doing over 100 dates a year.
In late 1999, Donnie’s sister felt she needed to stay home because her husband had recently been saved and she was also having some health issues. Although Lisa was singing with another group, Donnie asked her to fill in for his sister and she accepted the position. On New Year’s Eve 1999 Donnie asked Lisa to join the group permanently. Lisa says, “We decided we liked each other so much we would stay together forever,” and they were married in 2003. They traveled as The Homesteaders Quartet until 2010 at which time Donnie returned to his roots by renaming the group The Williamsons. Now the music of The Williamsons continues.
Lisa Chesser Williamson grew up in a ministry family with pastors, musicians and singers on both sides of her family. She decided at the age of four she wanted to sing in church with her mom and dad, Larry and Debbie Chesser, to no one’s surprise. Lisa fell in love with Southern Gospel music at an early age and cannot remember when she was not singing. Lisa says along with her family there was another special family who helped to spark her interest in singing and that was the Doziers from Paul’s Valley, OK. The Dozier family came to her father’s church to sing and listening to them at six years old, she knew that was what she wanted to do as an adult. In the seventh or eighth grade she had to write an essay on what she wanted to do when she grew up. Lisa says, “I wish I had a copy of it to this day because I wrote in detail everything we do each weekend. We would leave out on Thursday night to sing Friday, Saturday and Sunday and come dragging in to our regular work week to take care of business and then leave again the following Thursday; and this is exactly what we do today.”
Lisa’s mom and dad taught her everything she knows, but she loved the other family groups too, like the Hinsons, the Hemphills, the Goodmans and the Paynes. She wrote her first song when she was 12 and has currently written 80 to 85 songs. She writes the words and although she does not read music she has the tune in her head. Lisa then teams up with Donnie and sitting down at the piano Donnie translates the melody into written notes. They have become so much a part of each other; Lisa says Donnie can almost read her mind. This partnership is obvious during their time on stage.
The Williamsons are a part of the Butler Music Group, and Donnie credits Les Butler with being a great asset in the area of management. The Dominion Agency books for the Williamsons and handles their promotion.
Donnie and Lisa’s daughters Sadie, 10 and Olivia, eight, are enrolled in public school and are part of the gifted and talented program, and also in the home bound program which allows them to travel and stay current with schooling. Both are at the top of their respective classes.
Donnie says they usually bring the girls on stage to sing at least one song with them. They can already sing harmony and Donnie says he wishes he could say they have worked with and trained the girls but actually they have picked most of this up on their own. Sadie has an alto voice and Oliva has a soprano voice, and at the age of six could come in and find the high tenor part herself. Given their family heritage, they are blessed with natural talent.
Their mission statement says a lot about the Williamsons. “We will share the Gospel through music in order that the lost may come to Christ, the Christian be uplifted and provide quality Christian entertainment in a way that will honor God.” Donnie emphasized that it is always in that order. He believes that there is a small group of people who can be reached only through Gospel music. Donnie shares that the second part of the mission statement is to be an encourager for the Christian in a hurting world. Entertainment is not their ultimate goal but they use entertainment to share the Gospel. Donnie states, “I am willing to use anything that is moral and Godly to help share the Gospel message.”
Donnie and Lisa operate Homestead Studio near their hometown of Weleetka, OK. Lisa is the studio engineer and they both produce. The reason for the studio is to help artists who live in the Midwest to have closer access to a recording studio. They do more vocal recording and editing than music tracks. They use a lot of Nashville musicians to make their music tracks. They work with studios like Crossroads and the Butler Music Group to lay down the instrumentals and then bring the tracks back to their studios to record the vocals.
Donnie says they have artists drive up from the Dallas/ Ft. Worth area and also fly in from Canada to record at their studio mainly because of Lisa’s engineering talent. The artists appreciate the comfortable atmosphere and the kindness and expertise of Lisa during the recording session. For more information about Homestead Studio you can contact Donnie through their website listed below.
Darin Hebert is the bass singer for The Williamsons and as Donnie likes to say that they grew their own bass singer. A little group in Oklahoma called Inheritance Trio came to Darin’s church in Goodwill, LA to sing. He was about 16 or 17 and he got to sing one song with them and nothing more was said. About six months later, one of the members of the Inheritance Trio knew that Donnie was looking for a bass singer and recommended Darin. Darin said, “That just shows you how small the world is and how important it is to sing every chance you get.”
He started with The Williamsons in 2005 and was still in high school, driving almost every weekend between Louisiana and Oklahoma to minister with the Williamsons. He would leave Louisiana on Thursday or Friday and sing with the Williamsons through the Sunday AM service and then drive back to Louisiana in order to go to school the next day. He graduated from high school on a Thursday and moved to Oklahoma the next day.
Darin married his high school sweetheart, Kallie Berndt, in 2008, and in 2009, God blessed them with a son, Patrick Brian Hebert. They now live just outside of Weleetka, OK and he enjoys coaching his son’s T-Ball team when he is in town.
We got to hear The Williamsons recently in concert in Roanoke TX and enjoyed his rich bass voice. Les Butler of Butler Music Group, says, “Darin has a cut, tone and range that rivals any bass singer in southern gospel music”.
Karl Rice is the tenor singer and when asked what he wants the world to know about him, he just says: “Karl Rice loves Jesus.” He has been writing songs for four or five years, and was with the Anchormen Quartet for over four years before joining The Williamsons as their tenor. The first recorded song Karl wrote was “Heaven’s Hope,” recorded by the Anchormen on one of their Christmas projects.
On the Williamsons’ latest album, Tell Someone, the song “Healing For The Hurting” is co-written by Karl Rice and Donna King. He said that one of the things on his bucket list was to write with Donna King. “I had this song on the back burner and I knew it needed some work. She helped me get the message across and worded the right way.”
Karl loves to hunt and fish and to smoke meat and his favorite food is his own cooking. Karl, his wife, Daniela, and daughter Grace now make their home in Wetumka, OK. Karl is not only a great singer and songwriter, but is proficient on the guitar, piano, Dobro, mandolin, and harmonica along with other stringed instruments. His wife, Daniela, was born and raised in Wiesbaden, Germany and they met at a gospel singing. Daniela and her sister went to an Anchormen Quartet concert and 12 days later her sister married the bass singer. As Karl and the bass singer were sharing a house at the time, Karl would go with the bass singer to the girls’ home where a relationship grew with Daniela and about six months later they were married.
Bo Chesser is the adopted son of Larry and Debbie Chesser and when his school schedule allows, travels with The Williamsons singing and playing his trumpet. “My life kind of got off to a rough start. My biological mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol and I was the typical ‘crack’ baby.” Because of that he was placed in a foster home at six days old but even then God had a plan for his life. The foster home in which he was placed became his adoptive home.
Because of his birth mother’s addition it was assumed that Bo would be mentally challenged. He was extremely underweight the first few months of his life and had severe tremors as his body withdrew from the drugs, but after a few months he gained weight and was a normal baby with no mental challenges. His adoption was finalized when he was two years old.
Bo’s dad, Larry Chesser, is a preacher and when he was eight years old, Bo was alone in his room, thinking about what his dad had preached, and he accepted Jesus into his heart. He feels so blessed to be raised in a Christian home. He started traveling with the Williamsons when they were known as the Homesteaders Quartet. He started playing the mandolin when he was nine. When he entered the fifth grade he began playing the trumpet, never expecting it to take him where he is now. Because of his trumpet playing ability he has a full ride band scholarship and academic scholarship to East Central University.
Bo Chesser, is now 19 and enjoys exercising and runs as many Five Kilometre runs as possible. On the bus headed to the next concert Bo tries to do some kind of work out. His favorite food is the lettuce wraps from P. F. Chang’s.
Be watching for The Williamsons latest project, a hymns CD, later this year with Les Butler producing. The Williamsons in concert are a delight and a blessing as you watch and listen to their performance. Their love for the Lord and their ministry is shown both on the stage and off. When they are in your area please make it a point to attend their concert. For more information about The Williamsons and their schedule visit their website at williamsonsmusic.com.
By Vivian Belknap
First published by SGN Scoops digital magazine in August 2015.
The Williamsons will be appearing at Creekside Gospel Music Convention 2015, November 2nd through 5th at Smoky Mountain Convention Center, Pigeon Forge TN. Join this great group and many other artists for showcases, jam sessions, evening concerts, midnight prayer, Lou Hildreth Honors Dr. Jerry Goff, the 2015 Diamond Awards, more. Tickets are FREE, order here. For more information click on the website. For a full listing of artists scheduled, click on the Creekside Facebook page.