Southern Gospel Music is known as quartet music for its traditional four-men-and-a-piano set-up. Over the last few years, Southern Gospel has evolved into a popular form of music across the United States and overseas. There are only a few groups who live up to this customary Southern Gospel description.
The word tribute, when used as a noun, is defined by Dictionary.com as â€œa gift, testimonial, compliment, or the like, given as due or in acknowledgment of gratitude or esteemâ€ (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/tribute, June 20, 2017). That is the perfect description of this group. When you meet the Tribute Quartet, you will understand how four voices and a piano can truly excite and energize your day on the radio or in person. They are a tribute to Southern Gospel Music, and their testimony and music is a gift to share.
Preparing the Gift
In 2005, the Wilburns (led by the husband/wife tandem of Jackie and Elaine Wilburn) decided to retire. However, a couple of the Wilburn group members were looking to sing on. And sing they did. In a short time, Wilburn members Gary Casto and Josh Singletary were enjoying presenting gospel music. Yet, Casto and Singletary had a vision of a quartet that was focused on music and ministry.
The veteran singers began a new vision without a name in December of 2006. Now, the group had signed to record with BSA World Records. Time had come to name the new group, but no one name had caught their attention.
â€œGlen Bates of BSA World Records made the suggestion of Tribute,â€ Singletary recalls. â€œThere were no other names. Thatâ€™s the one that was suggested. We all thought about it and loved it, so we stuck with it.â€
From the first Tribute Quartet outing, the enthusiasm and energy caught the attention of Gospel Music lovers, young and old alike. Over the following months, the word began to spread about this new, young group that was energizing churches and concert stages in the Gospel Music world.
By 2008, Tribute Quartet began to receive some industry awards and a variety award nominations as well. In short, the Tribute Quartet was making its mark in brief time.
Winds of Change
The year 2008 also brought the first change for Tribute Quartet and filling the vacant tenor position was Brian Alvey. In 2009, the group signed with Crossroads Music, joining their stable of recording artists. Excitement Tribute-style greeted fans.
After singing with Tribute Quartet for two years, Alvey left the group in June 2010 for a marketing and promotions career. After a short stint with the Voices of Lee, 18-year old Riley Harrison Clark replaced Alvey. In early 2011, Dennis Dugger decided to come off the road. The new Tribute bass singer came as a former law enforcement officer, Anthony Davis.
As we all know, life goes on, and so did the Tribute Quartet. In 2014, Tribute Quartet signed a recording agreement with Daywind Records, moving this aspect of the ministry closer to the Nashville, Tenn., home base.
Polishing the Testimony
The current line-up has allowed the group to evolve. Producer Wayne Haun has worked with the group to refine their sound. Riley Harrison Clark is a fan favorite with his big ballads and interpretation of songs. Josh Singletary is known for being an anchor, providing stability and incomparable musical talent. His crooner sound has set him apart from other baritones in this genre, and you can always count on him for a good time. Gary Casto adds to the group with his unique sound and writing, and Anthony Davis has come a long way to becoming one of the best bass singers in the industry.
Tribute Quartet has made many appearances at the National Quartet Convention, Silver Dollar City, Dollywood, and on television networks such as Fox News, DayStar and the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). Their tours are from coast to coast and border to border. They have never met a stranger along the way, and their journey is truly getting better every day.
Members on a Mission
â€œI was around 16 years old when I discovered that a genre of this music existed,â€ Singletary shares. â€œI was still interested in many types of vocations, but Gospel Music continued to grow in me. I guess it was soon after I discovered the music that I found interest in the profession of it.
â€œI joined The Wilburns as pianist in March of 2001. Iâ€™ll never forget and will always be grateful to Jackie and Elaine Wilburn for that opportunity. My first day on the job with the Wilburns was a Gaither Homecoming taping in Indianapolis, Ind. It was quite the first day for being so green.â€
Faith is important to Singletary.
â€œI was six years old and curious about the baptism I witnessed that day,â€ Singletary remembers. â€œMy father proceeded to share the Gospel with me, and I trusted Jesus that evening. Even though I was very young, I distinctly remember how my thoughts began to change, how my outlook began to change.â€
In todayâ€™s world that experience still speaks volumes to the Gospel Music believer.
But as you talk with Singletary, you find out that family is near and dear to his heart.
â€œAgain, there is so much that is important to me,â€ Singletary explains. â€œIf I were to start listing everything important to me, this would turn into a novel. However, contrary to my profession, Iâ€™ve always been a homebody. Even as a teenager, I wasnâ€™t one to be out all of the time. My home is very important to me. I have found that coming home to my house with my beautiful wife is by far the thing I most look forward to.
â€œMy wifeâ€™s name is Kahlie (pronounced Callie). We met years ago, and she always jokes about how annoying I was â€¦ but, I prevailed. We became very close friends and in 2013, I asked her to marry me. (On) Dec. 21 of the same year, we were married. Other than still getting butterflies in my stomach, my first thought when I see her is, â€˜Letâ€™s go to the house and chill.â€™ Due to our schedules, we donâ€™t get much time to ourselves. So, being my favorite place to be, thatâ€™s my first thought. I donâ€™t take anything in my life for granted. My family, friends, ministry, and everything else is a provision that I am blessed with.â€
Casto is creating a name for himself with his penned lyrics. His vocal styling will warm the hearts of those in concert attendance. His love of Gospel Music, his faith and love of life shine, and you can see it.
Casto has loved Gospel Music for most of his life.
â€œI realized I wanted to sing at an early age when I attended my first concert at my home church,â€ Casto points out. â€œThe artists that day were the Calvarymen Quartet with Squire Parsons. That was in West Virginia.â€
Over the years, Casto had the privilege to travel with several groups, including New Revelation Quartet, the Southmen, the Harvesters, Monument Quartet, the Wilburns and now Tribute Quartet.
â€œI believe I can say that each group will always hold a special place in my heart for different reasons,â€ Casto notes. â€œBeing with each group has given me experience to be able to be where I am today.â€
Being brought up in a Christian home and community, Casto characterizes his faith this way.
â€œI will never forget that day (of salvation),â€ Casto says. â€œIt was on a Friday night at 10 minutes after seven at the age of 13 at an old-fashion revival at my home church. The spirit of the Lord was tugging at my heart, and I couldnâ€™t wait to get to the altar.
â€œThere is a song we recorded several years ago, â€˜That’s Why I Love Him So,â€™ which speaks about the Lord’s faithfulness. I can truly say this road Iâ€™ve traveled for many years hasnâ€™t always been easy, but I can say that the Lord has always faithful and walked right beside of me on this journey. Iâ€™m blessed with a family who has supported me all these years in ministry and has encouraged me to always serve the Lord and to follow my heart and dreams. I say this a lot … I sing what I love, and I love what I sing â€“ Gospel Music. This gives me the opportunity to tell the world about Jesus. Iâ€™ve had the opportunity to travel to many countries, but I pray the Lord allows me more opportunities to reach more folks in other parts of the world.â€
Riley Harrison Clark
Clark was a teenager when he was exposed to Gospel Music.
â€œI have actually not been around Southern Gospel my whole life,â€ Clark points out. â€œI was first truly introduced to this kind of music when I was around 13 at the Steve Hurst School of Music. Groups such as the Talleys, the Mark Trammell Trio at that time, the Pfeifers, and Tribute Quartet â€“ to name a few â€“ attended the school my first year there. My dream wasnâ€™t necessarily to sing in a group but to sing wherever I could. It just so happens the first opportunity that God orchestrated was with Tribute. That was seven years ago, and I was 18 years old.â€
Tribute is the only group that Clark has sung with professionally.
A common thing with Tribute Quartet members is faith and family. Clark is no different.
â€œI grew up in a Christian home, always involved in church,â€ Clark shares. â€œI started helping in childrenâ€™s church when I was very young, and as I got older, I had more responsibilities within in the youth as well as on the adult praise team. Long story short â€¦ I knew it all. I knew who God was, what He was about, what He was capable of, what He did and even that He did it for me. However, it wasnâ€™t until just a couple years ago that I actually accepted all of that for myself, resulting in me falling on my face in a Publix grocery store parking lot in Florida and giving my all to Him.â€
Clark has a growing family.
â€œMy family â€“ my wife Megan and two kiddos, Colbin and Charlee â€“ are my world,â€ Clark says. â€œThey keep me going and give me something to look forward to every week I get off the road. The look on their faces when I walk in the door is indescribable.
â€œI am blessed. Thatâ€™s my first thought when I see my wife Megan Rae Clark. We met at a summer school for music. As a matter of fact, it was the Steve Hurst School of Music that I had mentioned previously. We got married on the 4th of May in 2013. She has been my best friend much longer than she has been my wife. I couldnâ€™t do life without her. She keeps me on track and focused on whatâ€™s ahead while remaining entirely devoted to the present. She is the greatest mother to our kids and wife to me. Again, I am blessed.
â€œAlso, my voice, God has been gracious to give me the voice He has. I realized a long time ago it isnâ€™t something to take lightly so I do my best to keep studying and honing my craft as much as I can.â€
Davisâ€™ story is even a bit more different than his cohorts. He didnâ€™t grow up around Gospel Music.
â€œI grew up Church of Christ, and so Southern Gospel Music was a genre foreign to me,â€ Davis explains. â€œI did not hear my first Southern Gospel song until I was a junior in high school, but (I) knew instantly that my love for singing and the voice could be showcased through this avenue. I did not realize until several years later, after starting my law enforcement career, that there was an industry in which people sang this music on a professional level as a chosen career. Somewhere around 20, I decided I wanted to explore the idea of singing.â€
Prior to joining Tribute, Davis traveled with a regional group from Kentucky.
Like the other group members, faith comes center stage for Davis.
â€œI was saved in a small, country church, my home church, when I was 12 years old,â€ Davis shares.
A Dottie Rambo hit is one of his favorite songs.
â€œâ€˜Too Much to Gain to Loseâ€™ is one of my favorites, not because I sing it, but because Ms. Dottie was definitely inspired to write that song if for no other reason than I would one day hear it,â€ Davis says. â€œLife, with all of its difficulty and challenge, is just a small price to pay for eternity, for those who fight the good fight and keep the faith. Certainly, Heaven will surely be worth it all.
â€œMy hope is to remind people that in this broken, sick, lost, and dying world that they are not alone, that there is a God who knows exactly where they are and what they are going through, who loves them so much that He gave His only son for them. Traveling from place to place, (I am) singing and sharing what I believe is the greatest love story ever shown, through song.â€
The mission of this award-winning group is simple when you talk to them. They want to â€œmake a difference.â€
â€œWe want everything we do to have a positive impact on the world, not only the world around us but the entire planet,â€ Singletary emphasizes. â€œI believe if you put all you have into something, understanding it is Godâ€™s will for you to do so, the outcome of whatever efforts you put forth are endless. God has given us a tool that can be responded to in many different ways by all people that hear it. Our hope is to get it to the folks that know nothing about the Savior we sing about.â€
The Tribute vision is simple â€¦ to â€œstay focused, sharpen our craft as best we can and pray that we are prepared to walk through whatever doors open before us.â€
More information on Tribute Quartet â€“ which is booked through the Harper Agency â€“ can be found here.Â
Photos courtesy of Tribute Quartet and Craig Harris.
By Charlie Griffin
First published in July 2017 SGNScoops Magazine.