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God's well-oiled singing machine

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By Greg Summers

In June 2007, the Kingdom Heirs introduced Andy Stringfield as their new pianist.

These days, they introduce him as their new baritone.

No, the multi-talented 29-year-old  musician hasn’t given up on the 52 white keys and 36 black keys.

He’s wearing two hats these days for the ambassadors of Southern gospel music.

The quartet will be in concert at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at Second Baptist Church, along with King’s Cause.

While this is the award-winning quartet’s fourth appearance here since 2008, there’s one less person on the tour bus, which “can be seen parked overnight under a light pole in a Walmart parking lot near you.”

That’s because when Kingdom Heirs co-founder Steve French announced his retirement in December 2014, his replacement was already on stage, within a stone’s throw.

It’s now three microphones out front with Arthur Rice (lead), Jeff Chapman (bass) and Jerry Martin (tenor), with Stringfield’s double-double and group co-founder Kries French (bass guitar) and Dennis Murphy on drums.

“It’s a little odd not having four guys on the front line and still being a quartet, but over the past couple years, we’ve been incorporating Andy at the piano more and more, so the transition has actually went pretty smooth,” Rice said. “It’s become a well-oiled machine that God has put together.”

Rice said the change is actually more of an aesthetic look than it is a vocal issue. After being together for 30 years, he said each member knows what to expect. In the past, having a fifth voice came in handy, but the quartet’s recording arrangements didn’t include the extra part if they couldn’t sing all five parts in live performances. 

“Now, with only four parts, we just reverted back to a more traditional quartet sound and doing intricate harmony parts,” Rice said. “It’s a little more work, but as an artist, it makes it fun and challenging.”

Nominated for many gospel music awards through the years by the Southern Gospel Music Association, the Dove Awards and the Singing News Awards, the Kingdom Heirs have become fan favorites. They’ve had No. 1 hits and many top 10 songs, along with a string of 12 top 5 songs in a row. They’ve also had 18 songs nominated for Songs of the Year.

“All the guys are so talented and, as an arranger, it’s been such a blessing to know there’s nothing they can’t sing or play,” Rice said. “We’ve been working together so long now that we can almost finish each other’s sentences. As an emcee, it’s an incredible freedom to know I can call any song and know everyone’s on the same page. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by great musicians and vocalists.” 

Because of their commitment as the “house band” at Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., the Kingdom Heirs have a limited eight week tour schedule each winter that takes them anywhere and everywhere. On Saturday, they just returned from a cruise that included singing engagements in the Grand Caymans and Cozumel, Mexico.   

“Being on the road for a few months is always fun. It’s a little different traveling to concerts rather than being in the same theater everyday for 9 months,” Rice said. “The great part is we do the same thing on the road as we do at Dollywood.

“This is our 30th year at DW and over that time, they (Dollywood) have never told us what to sing or what to say,” he said. “We feel so blessed to have a platform to present the gospel in song and that’s a mission we take very seriously. We all feel that the Lord has provided us a great opportunity, so we want to be faithful to that calling.” 

Watch a performance of the group with their “new look” at www.
youtube.com/watch?v=Bc7Xand8Z9I.

 

Contact copy editor Greg Summers at (803) 283-1156 

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