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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Artist Spotlight

Around 1963 or so in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, a chemistry and physics teacher at the local high school in Bryson City, North Carolina noted that four of his students, whom he had known at church around and about, had taken a keen interest in singing. He began to meet with them after school to play the piano while tutoring them in the basics of 4-part harmony.

Soon the group was singing in churches around the area, and eventually they began to hold paid events at the local venue during which they would sing along with well-known professional southern gospel groups.

One of the groups they invited early-on was The Florida Boys. It would be the beginning of a long friendship that would last to this very day. As time went on, the group of teenagers, ages 14-17, began to garner the attention of some gospel promoters. The group would often open for gospel singings in which The Florida Boys would be the main group.

At one of these concerts, Florida Boys manager Les Beasley began to notice how popular the group was becoming. The fans loved them. So, Les picked up the phone after one of these events and called the most successful promoter at the time, J.G. Whitfield, and told him that he had found a group that Whitfield might wish to use on his many programs throughout the entire south.

Whitfield, on the word of Les Beasley, invited the young group to appear on his regular singings in Atlanta, Georgia at the old downtown auditorium. The group was an immediate hit due to their youth, their enthusiasm, their commitment to the Lord, and their very unique sound.

Soon Whitfield was featuring the boys at all of his gospel singings. Les Beasley also invited the group to appear on his nationally-syndicated TV show, the Gospel Singing Jubilee, which he and The Florida Boys hosted. It wasn't long until these boys were the most popular group in the nation.

When Archie Watkins, Ronnie Hutchins, Jack Laws, and Dean Robinson (two years later Troy Burns), and teacher Martin Cook started the Inspirations, little did they know at the time that they would become a national sensation.

But the Inspirations would go on to sell more records than any other group in southern gospel music from the early 1970s through the early 80s. You could well call that decade the Inspirations' era due to their dominance of the genre. In addition, they were personal guests of Evangelist Billy Graham, who enthusiastically gave them his blessing, and they were featured on CBS News' 60 Minutes in a segment the show aired on southern quartet singing.

Granted, the Inspirations have had their detractors. Their sound is quite different from the accepted 'male quartet singing' of that era. These were mountain boys. And there is a distinct mountain flavor to their singing--a sound that one can find no where else other than the high mountains of western North Carolina.

And the people were ready for something different by the time the Inspirations came along.

I admit I always loved them. While I am partial to a more professional and polished quartet sound, these guys were proud of their mountain heritage, and they brought to the forefront the music that characterizes this area of the country. Their harmony has that lonesome mountain ring to it that is quite distinct. But it's good.

The Inspirations still travel today with some different personnel, although Martin Cook and long-time bass Mike Holcomb are still with the group. But the other members of the group who have moved on are still friends--singers such as Eddie Dietz, Marlin Shubert, and others.

Throughout the years the Inspirations have been known for their solid reputation. The fans have appreciated their Christian devotion and sincerity.

Here is a video featuring two of the most popular songs the Inspirations ever had--'Old Revival Days and 'I'm Going Up to be with Jesus.'

Notice how ole Brother Archie (mountain tenor) leans way back on those high notes.

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