While riding up the escalator that took us to the walkway level, I pulled out the tickets from my purse for the Memphis Quartet Show. Just around the corner was the entrance to the room that would fill with music, Gospel quartets, fans and vendors for the following three days. A blue banner with the event’s name printed on it welcomed us inside. Immediately, music met my ears. “The first group music be on,” I thought. A row of booths covered the width of the room and just above the backdrops I spotted the rear of the bleacher seating. We continued to walk along the edge until we came to a stop beside the bleachers. As ushers asked to see our tickets, then lead us to our seats, I pulled out my cell phone and “checked in” to the event on FaceBook. Soon we were lead to the front row of the middle section where we sat by some new friends we made on the bus. All the while, the Blackwood Brothers were singing a song that said “what was good about the good ole days.”
Glad that we only missed a few songs from the opening quartet, the Blackwood Brothers, I pulled out my netbook to take notes as they began singing God Made A Way. Of course, this classic featured their bass singer, Butch Owens. Billy then introduced their lead singer, Michael, and his solo It Is No Secret. The Blackwoods are known for sticking with the good old songs (plus songs that sound old) and there’s one called The Old County Church that I always enjoy. The fun part about this song is the chorus, which actually switches to a different lyric each time they reach it – on one round it will be the chorus to Shall We Gather At The River, and the next time it will change to the refrain of In The Sweet Bye and Bye, Leaning On The Everlasting Arms, etc. It really is a fun song! Next, their tenor began singing the ballad that begins, “Walk with me, walk with me; lest mine eyes no longer see…” Switching to another up-beat number, Everyday Will Be Sunday came next, along with How Great Thou Art. In the middle of the latter, Billy paused and reminisced how we don’t always sing all the verses of the hymns in church and that the ones we skip are some of the best. They were sure to sing more than “the first and last” of How Great Thou Art – standing ovation. “Can you say praise the Lord?” Billy asked the standing crowd. He took the next few moments to speak of the time they’re going to be spending in the studio recording a new CD of hymns…acapella! They closed us out with a preview of It Is Well (with my soul) that featured Michael. This hymn also brought the crowd to their feet as the nights emcee, Duane Garren shouted, “The Blackwood Brothers Quartet!”
“I don’t know about you,” Duane continued, “But we’re having a great time here in Memphis! This is my idea of quartet singing right here: two microphones, a piano player and four guys pouring their hearts out. Let’s put our hands together from Pensacola, Florida – the Dixie Echoes Quartet!” A couple toe tapping quartet songs kicked off the Dixie Echoes program – On The Other Side, On That Wonderful Day and Living Deep Within My Heart. (Ya’ll have to be patient with the song titles; I’m a little rusty with the Dixie’s material!) Randy senior took a moment to share what it was like for him to come to the Cook Convention Center when he was a boy to the Quartet Convention. After introducing the group, their pianist (Ben Hart) played an instrumental. Randy went on to explain that not too long ago he was listening to some “true four part harmony” and how he really liked the sound. (He honestly admitted that the bass singer will sometimes “steal” one of the other notes – so you’re only hearing three parts, though four are singing.) Yet, he wanted to do a song that was true four part harmony. So they did! It was called If You Know The Lord. Afterwards, Randy acknowledged that singing like that, “It takes a little thinking…and Gospel singers aren’t known for thinking.” LOL Then he asked the crowd if they wanted to hear another one and the answer was yes! Roll On Jordan was the selection and the crowd loved it so much they encored it. “I’m glad you like the bass and the tenor,” said Randy as he strapped on his acoustic guitar with a grin, “That’s a big part of quartet singing.” Before they began the next song, he took a moment to give God glory for the two miracles that were standing on stage with them. Their tenor “Junior” and Randy’s son “Scoot.” At one time both were told by doctors that they wouldn’t make it…yet, here they were… singing of the One who brought them through! The song they went on to sing was written by Scoot and called Crumbs From The Table. Randy said, “Songs like that make 42 years’ worth the while.” Little Is Much closed their program with a celebrated standing ovation.
Before the next quartet stepped on stage, Duane brought out a special guest to officially welcome the Quartet Show attendees to Memphis, Mayor A. C. Wharton! The mayor warmly greeted everyone and showed a contagious amount of enthusiasm for Gospel Music being back in Memphis. At one point he pointed down at the stage and exclaimed, “This is your real birthplace! They say Nashville is music city but THIS is music city! This is the real thing!”
Once the Mayor bade the crowd goodnight, Duane stepped up to introduce the next group, “They just found out this week that they have their first #1 song on the Singing News Charts! From Nashville, Tennessee the Tribute Quartet! Like most of the groups that had already been on stage that evening, Tribute didn’t do a whole lot of talking but spent their time singing. A song called Thank The Lord opened their set and It Always Gets The Darkest and Through Me The Cross Lives On followed. When Josh sings that ballad (The Cross Lives On) it’s impossible not to be riveted! He convinces you the message is true with each expression and gesture. It Makes Me Wanna’ Go came next before Gary quickly introduced the group with, “Are you glad to see Anthony, Riley and Josh tonight?” Homesick Angel followed and when they encored it, Josh ran over to the piano to play on the last chorus and remained there while Riley sang Homecoming Day. (Which received a standing ovation.) From there the set went right into that number one song, Good News From Jerusalem! This one really had the crowd fired up – no wonder it went to number one! After everyone was on their feet Gary exclaimed “He’s alive!” and they encored it one more time before leaving the stage.
“Here’s a gentleman who has been inducted in the SGM Hall of Fame a few years ago,” said Duane as he introduced the Dixie Melody Boys. Ed O’Neal, whom Duane spoke of in the introduction, kicked off their set with First Day In Heaven. A few more oldies by the names of Glory Road and Victory Road followed, and then Ed reminisced about Memphis. He said, “I remember the first time I went to a Quartet Convention, it was right here and I never got over it.” He thought it was a great thing to be back in Memphis. Turning to his young lead singer, he asked him to sit down at the piano and sing a special song. It was a Squire Parsons tune that Aaron sang, called Mama. He sang it just with the piano and the other three voices backing him up. After hearing the Booth Brothers version of this song, I was captivated by Aaron’s style on the keys and his rich voice. He’s definitely a young singer you’ll be hearing more from! Next, Ed explained that Josh Garner was filling the baritone position for a while because Steven is on vocal rest. Josh was featured on the next song and then Matt sang Oh What A Savior. Once again, Ed answered a question that fans keep asking him, “When are you going to retire?” Ed’s answer is still the same, “I haven’t heard any voice that’s said get off the road yet.” Then he sang us a song – Peace In The Valley. After that song, he took much pleasure in informing everyone that if they saw him walking around holding hands with a pretty lady, that would be his wife of 57 years! “She travels with me everywhere I go,” he said. (Good for her!) Their closing song was I’ve Got Jesus In My Boat. Three encores and a standing ovation later, they stepped off stage so the last quartet of the night could sing.
The Inspirations began their time on stage with When I Wake Up To Sleep No More. With their live band, there’s now eight people on stage in all! They went into another song called In The Savior’s Hands, which they encored acapella…and a bit slower. A few folks popped up from their seats at the end as Martin Cook addressed the audience, “This message is for America today. Leave it in God’s hands. America was founded on this statement IN GOD WE TRUST. Our forefathers said that there would only be one king in America – King Jesus. Let’s do everything we can to get the Gospel in our houses and in our cars and we’ll be a happy nation.” (Can’t argue with that!) After introducing all the group members he featured Steve on I’ll Never Sail Alone. Mike was then in the spotlight with his popular solo If You Only Knew. What came next was a barn burner I can only describe as the “Ladder Song” – I’m clueless as to the song’s real name, but I do know everyone liked it because they encored it twice! I Have Not Forgotten and Shouting Time closed out their program.
After all that great singing Duane appeared on stage to share a golden nugget of wisdom, “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.” Intermission was upon us! I can honestly say I was ready to get up and stretch my legs! Though, I didn’t stray too far – instead, I stood and chatted with a couple from the bus trip the length of the break. When the second half began, I decided to do something a little different; slipping my netbook back in my bag, I decided to just enjoy the rest of the singing!