A Menu of Glorifying God

Lee Collins is all smiles as his Billy Ray’s Restaurant is nearly full at lunch time on June 22, 2021. Collins runs his restaurant on the Christian principles of which he sings. (Photo by John Herndon)

Eastern Kentucky singer Lee Collins’ only desire is to share the message of Christ in all he does

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. — You can get just about anything you want to tickle your taste buds at Billy Ray’s Restaurant but you can be sure that regardless of your appetite, Lee Collins wants to give you the bread of life.

The restaurant has been Lee Collins’ livelihood for more than 30 years and on an early summer weekday, he greeted a lunchtime crowd with a huge smile, often calling them by name or asking about family and friends. It’s the kind of down home atmosphere that has made Billy Ray’s a local landmark. 

But as much as Lee Collins would like for someone to try one of his dinners — the pork chops we ordered were fantastic! — he knows his mission is much more than the hospitality industry. 

“I just love singing about the Lord,” he said as a steady stream of patrons filed by. “That is what I have sung all my life.”

Continue reading “A Menu of Glorifying God”

Living the music

Triumphant Quartet’s Clayton Inman sings “Eye of the Storm” during the group’s concert at Sand Spring Baptist Church on June 17, 2021.

Triumphant Quartet’s Clayton Inman reflects on The Goodness of God seen in The Eye of the Storm. He really is Bigger than Sunday.

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. — Only a few moments before, Clayton Inman had a near-capacity crowd at Sand Spring Baptist Church howling with laughter. 

He’d danced and gyrated while waving a handkerchief in what every fan of Triumphant Quartet knows as one of his signature concert moments, his performance of “White Flag.”1 It’s one of those moments that prompts Triumphant bass singer and program emcee, Eric Bennett, to make some jokes about people not judging the rest of the group by Inman’s hilarious performance.

Clayton Inman delivers a fan favorite, “White Flag,” near the end of Triumphant Quartet’s concert at Sand Spring Baptist Church. (All photos by John Herndon)

The crowd knows it’s coming and can’t help but laugh in anticipation.

But after Triumphant had completed its annual concert with His Heart Quartet at Sand Spring Baptist Church, Inman was reflective about the group’s growing commitment to ministry and how it has literally lived its songs over the last 16 months.

Have they really seen that God is in control “In the Eye of the Storm?” Are they eager to truly sing of “The Goodness of God?”  The songs are favorites from Triumphant’s last two CDs.

“We do sing those songs continuously and they are encouragement in your storm and He’s always been good to us,” Inman said. 

The questions — and the groupt’s awareness of the lyrics they were singing — became even more focused after what Triumphant Quartet experienced during the early morning hours of May 8. 

The group was heading for a concert date in Wisconsin, when nearing Rockford, Illinois on Interstate 39, driver Jamie Bramlett noticed the bus was overheating. He pulled off the road, saw the bus was on fire and awakened the four singers and sound engineer Adam Bradford. The bus and some of Triumphant’s merchandise was destroyed, but what could have been a disaster was averted.

“We are grateful that our bus driver was alert in that he saw it wasn’t going to get any better back there in the engine and he rushed on the bus and warned us to get out,” Inman recalled. “What some folks don’t know is that we all got off the bus and were standing on a hill. Minutes after we got off, we watched the bus explode, blowing everything forward so much that it blew the windshield out.

Fans join Clayton Inman in waving their White Flags at Sand Spring Baptist Church.

“It could have been a lot worse but God’s grace was on us.”

He really had been in control in the eye of Triumphant’s storm and as the group posted on Facebook that morning, “‘in spite of it all, we praise the Lord for His hand of safety and provision.  ‘All my life You have been faithful, all my life You have been so so good. With every breath that I am able. I will sing of Goodness of God.’”

And, again, Triumphant had a front-row seat to God’s care and provision. For more than a year, Covid-19 had erased numerous concert dates and severely limited many crowds when the quartet was able to get on stage. Then, just when restrictions were slowly being lifted, the means of transportation and home-away-from-home were gone in a matter of minutes. 

“We find ourselves living (those songs),” Inman smiled. “We find it true in everything we do. Sometimes when something great has been taken away or something traumatic might happen, He always shows up later with something bigger, better or greater. We don’t see it at the time. Then we look back and we think, ‘Wow!’”

It’s more than just a statement that God is good or that God works. It’s life.

“It takes it to another level because we are living it,” Inman said with a bigger smile. “What I love is that no one was ever up in arms the whole time.”

Triumphant Quartet performs “Sing Hallelujah” from the Bigger Than Sunday album. From left are David Sutton, Clayton Inman, Scotty Inman and Eric Bennett.

On the Sand Spring stage, Triumphant delivered a string of hits interspersed with some of the cuts from the quartet’s latest CD, “Bigger than Sunday.” And it was apparent the singers — Inman, his son Scotty, Bennett and tenor David Sutton — are energized with a passion for music and, most of all, ministry. 

Inman beamed and agreed when asked about a stronger gravitation toward more of a ministry mindset. “We have evolved over time. And I say that because we were in a theatre for our first three or four years. Actually, it was five,” Inman recalled of the group’s origin in the Louise Mandrell Theatre. “Being in a theatre, there had to be an element of entertainment because people were buying tickets to see entertainment on stage in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. There were other theatres there and you had to see how you stacked up against the competition.

“So we carried a little of that over into our road trips. And when we left the stage and went on the road full time, we carried that with us a little bit that element of entertainment, and that’s OK. If you are going to be entertained, why not Christian entertainment?”

Clayton Inman singing “Eye of the Storm.”

But somewhere along the line, it became apparent that ministry was playing an even bigger role in the quartet’s work. Songs became an even deeper blend of biblical theology and every day living. The change might have been gradual and subtle but Inman says the push to ministry has become even more pronounced recently. 

“We have changed even more in the last two-and-a-half years. I have changed more and I believe it is because we have been part of planting a church,” he says of Connect Church in Sevierville, Tennessee. “I have never been part of that before and the vision and mission of the pastor has changed our whole outlook on ministry. I think it bled over into our group.”

Clayton and Sutton serve as deacons at Connect Church while Bennett serves as an elder there. Scotty Inman was also part of the Connect plant but has moved to Kentucky to help plant another church.

The passion is real. Clayton noted that Triumphant would be performing at the Memphis Quartet Show on Saturday night and would then be driving all night to return home so the Bennett could preach in the pastor’s absence Sunday. (A video of that Father’s Day service and the sermon from Exodus 20 can be seen here.)

“I think being part of something that was way larger than what we are as a group changed our hearts and minds and our scope of what we were doing out there,” Clayton explained.

And it has been reflected in the music. 

“Yes” featured a cover of The Newsboys’ “We Believe,” listing some basic theological points and how they relate to life. The latest CD includes a cut, “Don’t Miss Jesus,” written by Scotty Inman, Michael Ferren and Tony Wood, that warns not to get caught up in little things so much that he misses a life with Jesus. 

Clayton Inman.

The songs provide real meat in the sweet sounds of a group that has been voted The Singing News Fan Favorite quartet every year since 2009. And, Inman says, the desire is to give lasting nourishment.

“We do not want to record anything that is not biblically based,” he said.

And right now, Triumphant is living proof that God really is at work. The Sand Spring concert was but a small reminder that God has brought the quartet and many of its fans through the scare of the Covid pandemic. “This concert was canceled, I think, eight times,” Scotty Inman deadpanned during the show. It was really just four, but the big crowd wasn’t counting. 

But the events of May 8 brought something already great into even sharper focus for Triumphant Quartet.

“We had even attitudes because we knew something great had to be coming because of what happened,” Clayton Inman said of the bus fire. “We don’t know that greater looks like, but He does, so we left there encouraged because we thought, ‘Man, this happened and we don’t know why it happened but He’s always faithful to show us something even better. And I can be an encouragement to somebody who is listening to us. 

“You might be going through a troubled or traumatic time where you don’t feel light at the end of the tunnel, but you know, He is very much aware of what’s going on and what’s coming next is going to be bigger, better and greater than you ever expected.”

After all, as Triumphant Quartet’s latest album says, God is “Bigger than Sunday.” 

1The performance linked to his article is from a Gaither Homecoming video, posted on YouTube, and was not filmed at Sand Spring Baptist Church. Because of copyright considerations, KentuckySings does not knowingly publish non-approved material. 

Triumphant Quartet singing its most recent single, “He Walked Out.”

Bringing joy, receiving joy

Bryan Elliott, a favorite of gospel music fans, performs with The LeFevre Quartet at Sand Spring Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg, Ky., on May 13, 2021.

LeFevre Quartet pianist Bryan Elliott reflects on lessons learned and lived through pandemic. And he’s mighty happy to be back on the road

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. — When he sat down at his keyboard Thursday night, Bryan Elliott showed that nearly a year off the road had not affected his very talented hands.

He can still make his keyboard talk.

OK, not quite, but it just seemed that way at times as he accented The LeFevre Quartet or brought the house down with rousing solo work. Elliott played everything from old-fashioned Southern Gospel to classical Christian and a lot in between. And his demeanor ranged from laser-like focus to hamming it up for a camera — mine!

It was more than 90 minutes of joy as The LeFevre Quartet opened the Sand Spring Baptist Church gospel concert series. 

Continue reading “Bringing joy, receiving joy”

Master’s Trio is now The Crown Quartet

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

Like almost every other artist in any genre, The Master’s Trio faced a year like none other in 2020. 

The popular Southern Gospel group, based in Mt. Sterling, had been busy for several years and was gaining quite a following across Kentucky and several surrounding states. The Trio had been named Best of Show at the Gospel Music Showcase at the 2019 Kentucky State Fair, further expanding the requests for concerts and worship experiences.

Continue reading “Master’s Trio is now The Crown Quartet”

With Jay Parrack, it’s about being real

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Tenor Jay Parrack takes the lead during the LeFevre Quartet concert at Shelbyville’s Highland Baptist Church, August 30. From left are Parrack, lead Jordan LeFevre, baritone Mike LeFevre and bass Will Lane.

Acclaimed tenor glad to be back on the road with LeFevre Quartet, sees challenges facing churches and music industry in sharing deep gospel message

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — The boyish enthusiasm gushing from Jay Parrack can make one forget that his youngest child is now of college age.

He kicks his right leg high to punctuate one song. He often clowns with others on stage and even goes through a leg-crossing routine that could seem more Hee Haw than a gospel concert. And more than once during The LeFevre Quartet’s concert at Shelbyville’s Highland Baptist Church, Parrack cuts loose with a “Whoo!!!”

“What you see up here is what you get all the time,” baritone Mike LeFevre says as he introduces Parrack with a big smile.

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Mike LeFevre, right, introduces Jay Parrack to the crowd at Highland Baptist. In rear is Jordan LeFevre.

Make no mistake, Parrack’s fans love every second of his antics. And there’s no doubt he loves being back on the road after a 15-year break and loves the message he brings every time The LeFevres stand in front of an audience.

About an hour before Sunday’s concert, Parrack and I talked one-on-one. It was a little about life on the road and a lot about messaging. During the interview, he reflected on the role of music in the church from the perspective of an artist, for which he’s been acclaimed both in his role with The LeFevres and more than a decade with Gold City, and that of a music minister, a position he’d held over the last 15 years.

He was contemplative. And deep. And most of all, his desire to glorify God shone brightly.

We’d chatted a bit about 2020 and the COVID pandemic — the LeFevres shut down in March, April and May, but have been busy since.  And I asked his thoughts on the state of music in the church today. It’s a hot topic, whether one is talking about the worship styles offered or even the varying degrees of emphasis placed on worship across the broad spectrum of Christianity.

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Jay Parrack gets excited during a song in Sunday’s concert at Highland Baptist Church in Shelbyville.

“Oh, wow!” he chuckled as if to indicate it could be a loaded question. It wasn’t intended to be, but was a sincere inquiry as to how we can do better both in congregational singing and in the Christian or gospel music industry.

“You are asking for my opinion. Everybody’s got an opinion. They are kind of like armpits, everybody’s got one,” he laughed. “Here is what I have seen: I was a minister of music for the last 15 years before Mike LeFevre called me. We have gone a lot to the praise and worship, contemporary, progressive music in a lot of our churches. And you know what, there’s some good new music out there. There’s a lot of good old songs out there.

“There’s some new stuff that I wouldn’t give you a dollar and a quarter for it but there’s also some old hymns I wouldn’t give you a dollar and a quarter for.

“So, all that being said, here’s what I find: Your hymns, your old songs in most of your books, they were written, the majority of those were written, those authors had been through a severe test or trial and they are nothing more than a testimony of God’s faithfulness, his ability  to rescue, His ability to restore or His attributes of protection or salvation. They are not written because back then there were no charts. There were no royalties and all those kinds of things. The writers just wrote from their heart and experiences they have had with God the Father.”

Just like those hymn writers, Jay Parrack was speaking from the heart. Just as he would be doing on stage about an hour later, Jay Parrack was real. He was trying to find a way to bridge where we are in 2020 with what the Biblical ideal really is.

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Jay Parrack and Mike LeFevre (right) react to a piano solo by the LeFevre Quartet’s Bryan Elliott.

He continued, both praising the popularity of music today but cautioning to not forget the depth of many of the hymns

“Nowadays you have No. 1 songs, you have Billboard charts and there’s nothing wrong with all that….I am not faulting that, but a lot of times your message will get weak if you are not careful and you are focused on achievement instead of writing out of a true experience with the Father,” Parrack said.

“You know, think about this. In your older songs, you can find all kinds of songs about Heaven. You can find all kinds of songs about going to Heaven and what it’s going to be like when we get there and what we are going to see and what it’s going to be like to see Christ. You won’t find a lot of songs like that (from today’s writers).  And I think the reason for that is our writers, this day in time, they don’t have it bad here on earth like those old writers had, back then. Some of those (older) writers dealt with slavery, some of those writers dealt with the Great Depression, some of those writers are from different countries, from war-torn countries, They saw terrible, terrible things. We don’t have it bad here, this day in age.  Now it’s been crazy in recent months, but we don’t have it terrible.”

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Jay Parrack hams it up during a song in Sunday’s concert at Shelbyville’s Highland Baptist Church. (All photos by John Herndon)

The LeFevre Quartet, which carries one of the great names in Southern gospel, presents a decidedly traditional concert. At times, one could almost hear Urias, Eva Mae, or Alphus LeFevre with an offering that could have been at home on the Gospel Singing Caravan. But there were other songs, such as the current hit, “Between Prayer and the Answer,” which gave a nod as to how Southern Gospel has evolved since the original LeFevres retired in 1976.

“‘Between Prayer and the Answer.’ What a great song!” Parrack said with a huge smile.

During Sunday’s concert, Parrack stepped to the edge of the stage and poured his heart to a crowd that had filled the church gym as much as possible under social distancing guidelines. He shared that he sometimes wants answers to prayer on his time, rather than on God’s time.

“I am weak in that area,” he told the audience.

As we had been talking one-on-one, Parrack explained why “Between Prayer and the Answer,” on which he solos, has greatly encouraged him.

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Jay Parrack delivers the solo on “Between Prayer and the Answer” as Bryan Elliott plays the keyboard behind him.

“It’s so realistic because we all find ourselves in this waiting room at times,” he said. “We expect God to answer instantly when we ask Him to do something or provide a need, but it just doesn’t work that way. It can every once in a while, but most of the time, He makes us wait. That’s hard. We get discouraged and we get angry and more to ourselves. So we enjoy singing this because it applies to us. We get impatient and we want to take over the situation, when even though it doesn’t look like it, God is still busy working out things for our good and His glory.”

(To see the official Daywind Music video of “Between Prayer and the Answer,” written by Janice Crow, click here.)

During the concert, Parrack speaks with the fervor of a revival preacher, challenging the audience to have a relationship with Christ more than religion. It underscored what he’d been saying about music and gave more than a glimpse of why he returned to the road after serving as music minister at one of the largest churches in Alabama.

Parrack had left Gold City when his children were young. But last summer, things started coming together for a new season of ministry.

“When Mike called me back in late summer of 2019, he called to ask me if I would be interested (in joining the LeFevre Quartet),” Parrack says. “I told him, ‘Mike, my youngest child, my son, is just beginning his senior year of high school and he plays on the football team. I would be interested in your job and your group but I want to be home every Friday night to watch my son play football.’

“And Mike LeFevre said, ‘OK, we’ll wait.’ I got to go to all of my son’s ball games. I got to see him graduate. Because Mike was willing to wait, I could take the job.”

Southern Gospel fans are glad he did. And Parrack believes those fans keep the LeFevre Quartet and other artists on the road ministering through music.

“A lot of people call them the fans, but I hate to call them fans,” he said. “They are our friends. We talk to them and we try to invest our lives into the people that come to see us. We talk to them and we pray with them. They lift us up and we try to lift them. We have a lot of good friends that pray for us. They donate to our ministry. Every chance they get, they come and see us and support us.

“That’s the people that keep Southern Gospel going. They buy our products. And we couldn’t do this without Southern Gospel DJs. I am very grateful for those who put their effort into this.”

But Parrack also sees the reality that many of those friends are aging. And, like many, he’s concerned that a younger generation of potential friends might not appreciate the rich message Southern Gospel delivers.

“Yes. I worry about it,” he said. “I am going to be very real with you. This goes back again to the generation.  You listen to the message in Southern Gospel music, in most of it, not all of it, it’s a very deep lyrical content in a lot of these southern gospel songs. It’s very deep. They will paint God as a good God. They will paint God as a big God and they will also paint God as a just God.

“A lot of the contemporary style, it’s got a different sound, a different feel. I know. I have two kids. They love all kinds of good Christian music. But nine times out of 10, you listen to the message in those songs. They are all positive. They tell you what a loving God he is, and how great He is and how He will help you. The lyrics are a good message and it’s a true message. But never does it get very deep. We have to remember that when we are lost, we are absolutely nothing, the fact that He can’t stand sin, the fact that He sent his Son to take our sin and what his Son went through.

“To me the message in our songs, go a little bit deeper and will be a little bit more realistic. Today’s younger generation, a lot of them don’t want to hear that. It’s never a comfortable topic that God can get angry. But a lot of Southern Gospel music, our message, our lyrics will talk about even that side.

“Please understand that I love and appreciate ALL kinds of Christian music …these are just my findings over the last several years.”

Knowing that bad news makes the good news even sweeter. And knowing that good news is something Jay Parrack can’t hold back. It’s an old time religion being lived in 2020.

He’s on fire for God.

And Mike LeFevre was right. What you see with Jay Parrack, really is what you get.

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The LeFevre Quartet. From left, Will Lane, Jay Parrack, Jordan LeFevre and Mike LeFevre. Pianist Bryan Elliott is not in the photo.

‘Praise Him anyway!’

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Deanna Boone and her son, Matthew Armstrong, came together to form Beyond Grace last year. The duo is turning heads in Kentucky gospel concerts. (Photo furnished)

Beyond Grace turning heads with simple message of victory through Christ

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

Deanna Boone’s formula for a happy life is very simple: Praise God in everything and have fun doing so.

And when Boone and her son, Matthew Armstrong, take the stage as Beyond Grace, it’s obvious that the duo is having a ball while praising God.

“As my mamaw always said, ‘Praise Him anyway!” Boone says with an enthusiasm that girds every song Beyond Grace sings. “Regardless of what you are going through, praise Him!” Continue reading “‘Praise Him anyway!’”

Big moments for a Great God

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The McKameys perform at the National Quartet Convention Spring Break Concert in Sevierville, Tenn., in April. From left are Peg McKamey Bean, Eli Fortner, Sheryl Farris, Connie Fortner and Ruben Bean.

McKameys still giving God the Glory for His goodness as retirement nears

By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com

The question posed to Peg McKamey Bean was simple. The answer, however, was far more complex than expected.

Yet, that answer explained why her legendary family is one of the most beloved in gospel music history.

“Are there any songs you recorded that really stand out in your mind,” we asked Mrs. Bean during a phone interview on Oct. 7. She thought for a moment, then started talking about “Who put the Tears in the Eyes of the Lamb” from September, 1984 and didn’t stop for several minutes. Continue reading “Big moments for a Great God”