Gospel concert transcends genre

People who stayed away from the free concert at the Family Life Centre on Saturday because of preconceived notions about the southern gospel label did themselves a tremendous disfavour.  

Good music is good music in any genre. And some qualities, such as faultless harmonies and impeccable instrumentation, should be appreciated by fans of any group, style or category. 

The Kingdom Heirs sing and play gospel music. They are from the southern United States and exemplify that region’s distinctive personality. They are unabashed Christians. But they are also talented professional musicians. 

They perform southern gospel music, they write it and they take part in the production process for the thousands of albums they sell annually. 

They have a commanding stage presence and group dynamic, such that even without a spotlight on Saturday night there was no doubt where the focus of attention was at any given moment.  

If there were any doubt about their popular appeal, it is resolved by one simple fact: the Kingdom Heirs have been featured entertainers at a secular theme park for 26 years. Baritone Steve French, who served as the master of ceremonies – really more like a genial host – shared with his audience the fact that in March the group starts its 27th year at Dollywood, the 125-acre family adventure park in Tennessee, owned by Dolly Parton. 

They are based there nine months of the year and do some touring during their break. 

Some of the popularity of their live performances no doubt springs from the fact that they are not afraid to poke fun at themselves or each other. Guitarist Kreis French, for example, teased his younger brother about being saved, recalling that Steve had been “baptised 19 times – That’s how you learned to swim.” 

When Kreis, pianist Andy Stringfield and drummer Dennis Murphy did two numbers without the quartet, they were awarded a standing ovation. Steve reacted in mock mourning, telling the audience, “Y’all don’t know what you just done.” Accepting the good-natured rivalry between musicians and singers, he joked that if the band came back to Cayman next year, maybe the singers could come along to carry their luggage. 

Certainly the instrumentals did emphasise the point that good music does transcend categorization. “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” was as rousing as any jazz combo would have made it, with a driving piano, soaring guitar and drums that rumbled around, under and through those walls. 

But each vocalist had a chance to shine as well, with solos by baritone Steve, tenor Jerry Martin, lead singer Arthur Rice and bass Jeff Chapman. 

Each showed distinctive range and timbre, indirectly illustrating how four unique voices can meld and complement each other in harmony. 

Audiences in Grand Cayman over the weekend, and in Cayman Brac the previous week, can only be grateful to the family of the late Linton Tibbetts and their friends Maxine, Maureen and Pansy Bodden, for bringing the Kingdom Heirs to Cayman. Mr. Linton’s daughter, Mary Brandes, said they were proud to do it as a way of honouring him. 

Mr. Linton, the Brac boy who made a fortune in the US lumber business and expanded his enterprises to benefit his homeland, enjoyed being able to be generous. By freely sharing the music he loved, his family and friend were honouring him twice over. 

And if the Kingdom Heirs return, non-gospel fans might want to do themselves a favour and give a listen. 

Gospel quartet

The Kingdom Heirs Quartet is comprised of, from left, tenor Jerry Martin, lead Arthur Rice, baritone Steve French and bass Jeff Chapman. – Photo: Carol Winker