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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
“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.