Inspirations remain true to old-time gospel roots
By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com
LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. – No one has to ask The Inspirations what kind of music they bring or the kind of worship experience they prefer. No one.
But somewhere in the concert set list, they are going to give you a rousing reminder.
I like the old-time preaching, praying, singing, shouting
I like the ole time reading of God’s Word
I like to hear those ‘Glory, Hallelujahs’ ringing
I like the old-time worship of the Lord.
– “Old-time Camp Meeting Days,” by Doc Watson
Video from 2021 National Quartet Convention
And there’s little doubt that the packed house at New Liberty Christian Church likes it to. On a Sunday night in early May, they’d descended on this little country church, located more than 17 miles from the nearest towns, for some old time singing and shouting.
Like it? An understatement.
The crowd LOVED every second of it. It was like a camp meeting or tent revival in 1964, the year a high school teacher, Martin Cook, formed The Inspirations in Bryson City, North Carolina. It’s traditional gospel quartet music at its best.
And these days, that same style of gospel being performed by one of the youngest lineups in all of gospel music. Often called “The Young Inspirations” by promoters and fans alike, the quartet’s enduring sound is a natural outgrowth of the seeds planted long before other options were available.
“Growing up, we were always listening to groups like Greater Vision and The Inspirations,” says Isaac Moore, a 21-year-old Georgian who is ably carrying on the Inspirations tradition of Southern Gospel Music Hall of Famer Archie Watkins. “I fell in love with it and it is what I always wanted to do.”
And at the other end of the lineup, 23-year-old bass Wyatt Austin says he had a similar childhood. “I loved this kind of music. I listened to the Chuck Wagon Gang. That’s about all I listened to and I actually joined them (in 2017and 2018) before I joined The Inspirations. It doesn’t get any old-timier than the Chuck Wagon Gang,” he smiles.
It’s a sound that tied most gospel artists together in generations past. But as the genre began to change over time, The Inspirations stood firm in the traditional gospel music sound.
In 2022, The Inspirations are still electrifying audiences with a style that would pass for what Cook crafted in 1964. It’s low bass, high tenor and tight harmonies driven by Lucas Vaught’s lively tickling of the piano keys. In addition the singers wear matching suits and carefully shined shoes, another nod to the gospel tradition.
“There is just something magical about a piano and four voices and the kind of sound it creates,” says Inspirations lead Roland Kesterson. “To me, that’s the old fashioned gospel that The Inspirations sing.”
Kesterson is one of the veterans of the group, filling various roles over the last seven years. Of the current lineup, only Vaught, a 13-year veteran, has been with The Inspirations longer.
“I grew up with groups like the Statesmen Quartet, the Blackwood Brothers, the Rebels, those old-timey quartets,” Kesterson continues. “The music that we sing is based out of the mountains of North Carolina, the Smoky Mountains and east Tennessee and north Georgia. It’s the kind of music we all grew up singing.”
Austin adds, “It’s what a lot of our fans grew up on. We are taking them back to a place where they loved. It’s really touching a lot of people.”
But Kesterson is also quick to note that The Inspirations give credit to the Holy Spirit for churches and auditoriums packed with enthusiastic worshipers when The Inspirations sing.
Conventional wisdom says that The Inspirations and other ultra-traditional groups have a very shaky future in a high-tech music world governed by rapidly changing contemporary tastes. But conventional wisdom doesn’t seem to make it in the door when The Inspirations are in town.
“As we travel America, going from coast to coast, we are finding that more people that are younger are falling in love with this music simply because they have not been exposed to it,” Kesterson says. “They are hearing it for the first time and saying, ‘Man, I like that! The music is wonderful’”
Vaught, who joined The Inspirations as a teenage stringed-instrument prodigy, has also noticed an increasing presence of young people tuned in to Inspirations music. “Just the night before we saw you (April 30), a young boy was there at our concert watching every note I played and sang,” Vaught says. “I spoke to him at intermission and found out he was learning to play and sing and really loved our music. That is just one example but there have been many instances like that.”
It’s a small phenomenon that surprises most people, but not The Inspirations. And Moore identifies with those who are drawn to the same music as their great-grandparents. “I can’t explain it. I listened to a lot of different music growing up, but I just can’t explain it. There was just something about (The Inspirations’) songs, the simplicity of it that caught my attention.
“I think when young people give it a chance, they fall in love with it.”
Just like people have been doing for decades.
And just like Roland Kesterson, Lucas Vaught, Wyatt Austin and Isaac Moore did.
“We are just old souls,” Austin smiles. “We just love the sound and message of Southern Gospel music.”
**Martin Cook, the founder of The Inspirations, passed away on Feb. 23. He was 85 years old. A memorial service was held on May 9 in Asheville, N.C. A video of the service is linked to The Inspirations’ Facebook page.