Youth in Gospel: Eli Fortner
By Lyndsey Chandler
I am pleased to introduce to you Eli Fortner, formerly of the legendary group, the McKameys. He is 25 years old, and until recently, traveled with his family group, which included his parents, grandparents, and an aunt, based out of Clinton, Tennessee. The McKameys retired at the end of November, 2019.
The McKameys are one of Southern Gospels most loved family groups. In 2019, they entered into their sixth decade of spreading God’s message of love and hope through their music. If you are a true gospel fan then you may recognize songs that they sang like, “Right on Time,” “God on The Mountain,” and “There is Jesus.” This group has been such a blessing through their many years of traveling. So, when I was making my decision on who to interview, I knew I wanted to talk with Eli; not only give honor to him, but to his family as well.
Fortner was around the age of five or six years old when his family first put him on stage. He was just three years old when his parents bought him a drum set for his birthday.
“I started guitar backstage at a McKamey concert,” says Fortner. “My pop would carry two or three, and one was laying backstage. I hollered at him from backstage while he was on stage and asked if I could play it. To be honest, I don’t remember what he said, but I heard a ‘Yes.’ Then Pop saw I had an interest in it, so he gave me one of his the next day. I still have it and use it every now and then.’’
If he was not traveling, Fortner would probably be in construction. His pappaw was a contractor and so is his older brother, Brad. It is kind of a family trait. One thing that is on this musician’s bucket list is to play at the Hollywood Bowl. His favorite fast food is Chick-Fil-A. Besides playing music, he is a bit of a collector of vintage music gear and instruments.
“If I’m not on the road, I’m in my home studio,” Fortner says. “God’s blessed me to do what I love for a living, so even if I’m not working for other artists in my studio, I’ll still be making music. Other things you might find me doing is reading or detailing cars… I’m random, I know.”
Fortner relates an incident that was a bit embarrassing.
“I was on tour with Jeff and Sheri Easter, who I dearly love, and the second song was ‘Over and Over.’ I played the intro and all was fine, and then I got a little too proud of myself and went to play the turnaround and completely bombed. Not just missed a note, like it was an epic fail. Everybody had that, ‘You’re fired,’ look on their face, and Jeff went to sing the second verse and pointed his hand to me, making a gun shape with his index finger and thumb acting like he pulled the trigger. I was embarrassed but also laughing at myself and of course all that were on stage were laughing.
“Jeff and (the others) still won’t let me live it down, and a couple weeks after it happened, a friend, Jared Easter, texted me and showed me it was on YouTube ‘cause the church live streamed the service that night… I’ll never be able to live it down. Moral of the story.. stay humble or you’ll fall flat on your face!” concludes Fortner.
Music is a passion for this young man. “Like, I’ve never thought about setting it aside and doing something else. And every time I hear something cool, like on the radio or streaming, I get inspired and I know inspiration comes from God (because) the Bible says so,” Fortner shares. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my gift is not my own, but that it comes from God and that it’s my responsibility to use it for him and give it back to him, and hopefully I’ll inspire other people to do the same. So that’s my motivation.”
I asked Fortner what the message is that he would like to get out to young people. His response was: “Not only should you practice and learn as much about your talent as you possibly can, you should also learn as much about God as you can. Read and study. God reveals himself to those who want to learn about him.
Fortner continues, “However, talking from my own personal experience, nothing has taught me like my own personal life experiences. Everybody goes through something, but you have to remember, like Psalm 23 says, we go through ‘paths of righteousness for his name’s sake’, not ours. When you’re a gospel artist you’re representing his name. Not yours. Don’t forget that.”
By Lyndsey Chandler
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in January 2020.
Find out more about Eli Fortner HERE