“Tribute: an act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect or admiration.” That’s the first definition that comes up in a word search online for the word tribute. Gospel music has all kinds of tributes. I was present in the side section with some of the artists in 2010 at the National Quartet Convention when they paid tribute to some of the notable artists in a celebration of 100 years of Gospel Music. Now THAT was a tribute! We see tribute tours of older artists in different genres, different styles of Christian music, and we see tributes to great athletes of years gone by. But one group of four men based out of Nashville, Tennessee, are spending their lives paying tribute to what Gospel music represents and Who has been the theme of songs down through the years.
We’re visiting with Tribute Quartet this month, and you’ll love what they have to say to us about their motto: “Preserving the Heritage and Promoting the Future of Gospel Music.”
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PRESERVING THE HERITAGE
Tribute Quartet wasn’t formed by a pair of rookies to the Gospel Music world. Lead singer Gary Casto, along with baritone and pianist Josh Singletary, formed the group after spending time traveling with one of the most notable family groups in Gospel Music history, The Wilburns. Being with such a seasoned group of singers can also be a learning time for a young artist.
“I learned how to love the people. I’ve always loved people, but I really paid attention to how to love the people from the position I was allowed to have. It is a different experience because your attention is spread in so many directions. It’s one of the most exhilarating and rewarding aspects of what we do!” says Josh of his time with the Wilburns. Gary adds, “I learned to always give 110% when fulfilling the call God placed on my life. And always sing great songs, and remember that we are in the uplifting business.”
Groups like the Wilburns made their mark because of great songs. Probably their most popular song that they recorded was “Outside the Gate,” and Tribute, falling right in line with their name, paid tribute to them by re-recording it on a project called Hit Replay. Tribute has a unique way of staging this song and Josh recalls how it came about.
“Tony Gore and Jonathan Wilburn were members of the group (The Wilburns) at the time that it was recorded and staged. Tony had the idea one night, to take off singing it a cappella whilst leaving the stage. It stayed in the group’s program from that point on. When Gary and I were members, we closed the program every night singing it a cappella and walking down the aisle. Tribute found it fitting to keep that tradition. It really is a beautiful moment.”
While “Outside the Gate” from their Hit Replay project was a great success, there are a host of other songs on it that you will remember, as well as a sequel to that project, titled Hit Replay Again. I asked tenor Riley Clark what it meant to him, as a young artist, to keep these songs alive.
“It’s so important,” he replies. “The songs of those projects were so beautifully written and have lyrics that are absolutely still relevant to our world today. I also love the way most of our audiences remember them and light up when we start singing them.” “I believe it is very important,” adds Gary. “I state this night after night: a great song is a lasting song. There have been many great songs over the years that people need to hear. That’s why we keep recording the Hit Replay series.”
When one looks at groups that made a lasting impact, like the Wilburns, you can’t help but realize that all of it hinges on the song. The song selection process is vital for artists. They have to find songs that fit them, fit their message, and then arrange them to meet the needs of the group vocally.
Gary takes us through part of that process. “We collect songs all year from writers and publishers. Then, we meet with our record company, Daywind Records, and our producer, Roger Talley. The sifting begins to ultimately settle on 11 songs to present to the public.” This is an often time consuming process, but a process that pays off when they see an audience moved and ministered to by the song’s lyrics, melody, and harmony.
PROMOTING THE FUTURE
Tribute doesn’t stop at preserving the heritage left behind by so many great artists and songs. There are new roads to be traveled, new venues to sing in, new avenues to reach out to audiences and fans, and new songs to be sung and heard. One thing can be found upon a deeper look into the ministry of Tribute: they put action to their intentions.
One way to promote the future is to invest in young talent. That’s where tenor Riley Clark and bass singer Anthony Davis come in. One might say that Gospel music had an ‘arresting’ effect on Anthony from the start, as he was formerly a police officer who attended his first Gospel concert by seeing a lineup of men whose talent and impact still are felt today: the Gold City lineup of Jay Parrack, Jonathan Wilburn (the Wilburn heritage continues, and still continues today with Jonathan Wilburn and his son, Jordan, known as Wilburn and Wilburn), Mark Trammell, and Tim Riley.
“I was hooked instantly,” Anthony says. “I sat amazed the whole time thinking, ‘if they can do what they are doing, and I can do what they are doing, then why am I not doing what they are doing?’ I set out after this new dream, trying out for my first professional group in the local community center with the Dixie Echoes after Billy Todd had announced his retirement. After traveling for many years with a part-time group in Kentucky, I was hired with this great group of guys and welcomed into the Tribute family.”
Investing in the young talent of Gospel music comes from knowing the young talent in Gospel Music. The men from Tribute have a front row seat to some of the finest youth in Gospel at the Steve Hurst School of Music, where they all serve as part of the faculty. At a concert with Tribute, you will hear Gary speak very highly of the school: “Foremost, I’m a fan of this music, and want to see it continue for many years to come. With that in mind, I can’t think of a better way to aid in that process than by investing in aspiring artists who have a desire to sing the Gospel,” he states. And their investment has proven to have a great return, as Riley Clark was a student for many summers at Steve Hurst School of Music before joining Tribute.
It would be difficult to promote the great future of Gospel music without having great songs to stage. For several years running, Tribute has found themselves in the mix for Song of the Year many times, along with scoring top plays on songs like “Good News From Jerusalem,” an effort from the mighty pen of Dianne Wilkinson and co-writer, Jerry Salley. “’Good News from Jerusalem’ has probably been my favorite radio release that I have been a part of,” says Anthony. “It’s the whole Gospel story, rolled into one powerful song!” Riley adds, “I have a few songs that speak to me every time I sing them, one being ‘Homecoming Day.’ I have friends and loved ones that have gone on to be with the Lord that I can’t wait to see, but I also have a Heavenly Father that I long for now like never before. Secondly, but equally as good, would be ‘God of All My Days,’ from our newest album, Journey of Hope. It’s one that speaks to me frequently on and off the stage. I try to remember those lyrics any time I’m going through something.”
Of course, having younger men on a bus with you all the time provides an opportunity for a good story. Anthony Davis says, “Gary is quite ‘jumpy,’ so even when we aren’t trying to scare him, he scares easily. So, we instead gave up on not trying to scare him, and now ALL of us try often! We have many videos that someone might leak to the press and to various social media outlets.”
That someone is Josh Singletary, and his presence online with their jokes and pranks makes for great entertainment, as well as a nice outlet for people to see a different side of Tribute. “We have reached a time in history where the population is more engaged visually and socially by technology than they are by any other form of media,” says Josh, of Tribute’s social media outlets. “We, as ministers of the Gospel, have been allowed the freedom to make a positive presence and impact in a massive social sphere. The same goes for the business side of things. The cliché, ‘out of sight, out of mind’, plays a big role, as well. If it is not known you’re there, how will ‘they’ know you even exist, much less have anything positive to say? So it plays a very big role by aiding in accomplishing any goals we have with the public platform we’ve been given.”
These men have been given gifts; they’re using them vastly on and off the stage, to foremost give glory to God, but to also have a positive impact on the people they are around. So whether it’s logging on to their website to see what they’ve been up to lately, or listening intently to the message of the Gospel in each song they sing, you can find yourself being blessed and encouraged by the ministry of Tribute Quartet. Preserving the heritage, and promoting the future of Gospel Music? Mission accomplished.
By Matt Baker
First published by SGNScoops digital magazine in July 2015.
For the current issue of SGNScoops digital magazine, click here.
For more information on Tribute, click here.