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Beginning A New Chapter
Singing News Cover Story

    It may have surprised his fans when Hall of fame tenor Archie Watkins resigned from the Inspirations Quartet of Bryson City. N.C., but it delighted his family. I'll have more about that in a moment.

    Archie was one of the founders and original singing members of the Inspirations - four Swain County High School boys from Bryson City: Archie, Ronnie Hutchins. Jack Laws, and Troy Burns; and a Swain High teacher, pianist Martin Cook. They hit the road singing in 1964 and immediately became successful great and different addition to a business populated by grown men and women.

    Four teenage boys singing harmony may have seemed strange to those who loved the gospel quartets of adults, but the novelty of the Inspirations' youth, mixed with the fact that they could sing with a unique blend of great harmony carried them quickly to national prominence.

    The first time I saw them was in the Asheville City Auditorium not long after they had organized, and they were so young and vibrant that a woman seated behind me said they looked as if they should still be wearing short pants.

    After 45 years on the road with the Inspirations, Archie starts a new chapter of his life.

But they sang like they were fully grown, always smiling and enjoying what they were doing without a modicum of stage fright before a filled auditorium. They looked, sang, and presented themselves as if they were professionals, which indeed they were. Archie's high tenor voice has always been unique among gospel singers, and blending both gospel and country tones into an appealing high harmony became the trademark of the Inspirations.

    That was in the heyday of great male quartets like the Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers, Homeland Harmony, and Kingsmen quartets; and the appearance of a quartet of high school boys of professional quality carried them solidly into the hearts of Gospel music fans across the nation, But now, at the age of 60, Archie has stepped down from the Inspirations after traveling with them for a full three-fourths of his life. It's quite a change from when quartet singing took up his weekends to the extent that he and his wife, the former Cindy Bumgarner, had to marry on a Monday because Archie was away singing on Friday. Saturday, and Sunday.

     “Time away from home was the major factor," Archie says, ''that caused me to resign my position with the quartet. There was no pressure from home, but in my mind was an ever-growing knowledge that I should be spending more time with the family. This has occupied my thoughts for years."

    Finally, Archie succumbed to his own awareness of this situation and turned in his resignation. "After 45 years of singing:' Archie says. "I've spent enough time away from home, and now I want to make up some of that lost time."

    His family includes Cindy, their two daughters. Melissa and Amy, and granddaughter Reagan -and they all are delighted about his decision, 'there is only one thing I want people to know about my dad," says Amy, "and that is that he is who he claims to be. He is without a doubt, the most honorable person I have ever known."

    "I love and respect my dad for many reasons:' Melissa says. "He has always been a wonderful father, a supportive friend, and he is very generous of heart and spirit. His dedication to God and his ministry has been an amazing example to many."

    Even at the tender age of nine years, granddaughter Reagan is also happy about Archie's change of pace. She has always been the pride and joy of both Grandmama and Granddaddy Watkins, and she is especially excited about traveling with them. She loves camping, bike riding, playing ball, and going on adventures with her granddaddy -but don't think for a minute that Archie isn't excited about that, too! I just hope I can keep up with her," he laughs.

    Now, make no mistake: Archie did not retire from singing. He didn't miss a beat starting a new career of solo ministry. His date book is filling fast because of his popularity among people who love his different sound and style of singing.

    After traveling literally millions of miles, Archie is eagerly anticipating his singing days as he goes about this new direction. While he thinks he is slowing down: In some respects, he's realizing that he's also busy with new recordings, video tapings, and singing at revivals, church services, and concerts. In the basement of his western North Carolina mountains home, Archie has a small studio in which he has improved his solo presentations, cut background vocals, and made preparation for the singing appearances ahead.

    "I am thrilled with my chapter in life: he says. "I have always loved good singing and good preaching, and now I will get to hear even more great preachers. I look forward to being a part of revivals and regular preaching services."

    The difference, however, is that his family will be at his side more than ever before.

During his career with the Inspirations, Archie has had the feature vocal on more radio chart-topping songs than any singer ever, including three No. 1 (and Songs of the Year): "Touring That City," "Jesus Is Mine," and "I’ll Not Turn My Back On Him Now." Along the way he has accumulated practically every honor there is in Gospel music -too many to list or even count, but here's a short list: He has been chosen Favorite Male Singer three times and Favorite Tenor four times by subscribers of Singing News In the annual fan Awards balloting. He also has the Norcross-Templeton Award -the highest honor a person can earn in Southern Gospel music-to his credit. And, oh, did I mention that he is also a 2007 inductee of the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame?

    One might be tempted to think that stepping down from a four decades plus career with one of gospel music's genuine legacies might make for a few restless moments, and it has. But not in the way you might think.

    Cindy says Archie has had trouble sleeping at night from the excitement of his new venture. "It is because of the peace of God in his heart, and the fact that now he is truly following the will of the Lord in his life. This was not a spur of the moment decision. He has been much in prayer the last four years, seeking the direction of God."

    Archie says that a great part of his excitement is because he will never again have to travel to singing dates without his wife -“his best friend," he calls her- going with him, Both are looking forward with great anticipation to her sharing the ministry, and traveling together wherever and whenever the opportunity arises. 

    Within a month of his decision to take the solo road, Archie was in the recording studio, and he has recently released a collection of four previously unrecorded songs and six others that featured him over the years.

    And, of course, he's worked on filling the date book. Cindy says Archie has received requests to appear from Nova Scotia to the Holy Land. "His e-mail is filled each day with messages from all corners of the world -including some places we've never even heard of."

Already, Archie faces the best problem a singer could face: Trying to fulfill all the requests that come in and not having enough days in the calendar. So, look for Archie and Cindy to travel beyond the traditional Southern Gospel region of the Southeast. Before long you'll see them in places like Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. They also intend to visit Colorado and Montana on a camping-hunting singing expedition in the fall.

    "Of course, winter in Florida would be nice,” Archie says with a huge grin. 'We're even discussing possible tours of Alaska and Hawaii in the near future. With all the places we've already scheduled, I'm starting to feel like a man who's taking his family on a grand vacation.

    "And, you know, I like sound of that: 'Archie Watkins, Family Man . . .’”

Special thanks to Singing News for permission to reprint this story from the June, 2009 issue.
To visit the Singing News website CLICK HERE

TRIVIA: Archie and Cindy celebrate their special anniversary on June 10.

TRIVIA, TOO: Archie's birthday is January 6 ~ In 2009, he turned the BIG SIX - O!

Archie and his beautiful wife, Cindy, have two beautiful daughters, Melissa and Amy.
On October 9, 1999, Archie & Cindy became grandparents!
P.S. Archie is "Granddaddy" and Cindy is "Grandmamma"

Archie_Reagan_03.jpg (17162 bytes)  Archie_Reagan_Amy.tif (564374 bytes) 
Reagan & Mama Amy, Archie & Reagan
Can you tell that we think she's special? LOL

Archie Watkins Inducted Into
Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame

Still singing the songs people want to hear.

   The pinnacle accomplishment in the storied career of Inspirations tenor singer Archie Watkins occurred on October 11, 2007. Archie was enshrined into the the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame, Class of 2007,  during a ceremony which began at 4 p.m. in the Celebrity Theatre, located inside the Dollywood Amusement Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The ceremony came after a series of related day-long Hall of Fame events.

    Eight Southern Gospel Music personalities were inducted into the Hall of Fame as voted by the SGMA electoral panel. All finalists for the 2007 Hall of Fame class received the mandated two-thirds vote to earn induction.

Singing News Fan Awards
Favorite Tenor ~ Four times
Favorite Gospel Artist - Male ~ 3 times

    "I am deeply honored and consider it to be one of the highlights of my life," Archie said of his Hall of Fame induction. "I am grateful to the electoral committee members who thought highly enough of me and my gospel music career to vote for my induction. I'm also thankful to my family, my fellow - Inspirations, our fans and all others who have been an integral part of my career. But I thank God first and foremost because He made it possible and fruitful."

    In addition to Archie, the Living inductees included: Lou Wills Hildreth (The Wills Family and noted gospel music television host and journalist); and Joel Hemphill (gospel songwriter and The Hemphills). Those posthumously enshrined included: Anthony Burger (Kingsmen, The Trio, Soloist and Gaither Productions pianist); Roger Bennett (Cathedrals Quartet and Legacy Five); David Reece (Rangers Trio, Rangers Quartet, Harvesters Quartet and Gospel Music comedian); Jimmy Jones (Rangers Quartet, Deep South Quartet, Sunshine Boys, LeFevres and gospel songwriter); and James Sego (Sego Brothers and Naomi).

    Archie's Hall of Fame ballot biography that was sent to each Hall of Fame voter reads as follows:

    Archie Watkins is one of Southern Gospel Music's genuine legends and has established himself at the top of his field in success, stature and respect of his peers. He has spent his entire professional singing career of 43 years with the Inspirations Quartet after singing a year with the Bryson City Quartet, a regional gospel singing group from his hometown of Bryson City, NC. Known for his distinctive voice and trademark singing stance on song endings, Archie is the all-time dean of Southern Gospel tenors. His voice is identified as giving the Inspirations their true sound and his tenure with the quartet is a model of consistency in the Southern Gospel Music world.

    Archie was born on January 6, 1949. Raised in a family with a deep love for gospel music, Archie, his father, mother, sisters and brother would all get together regularly to sing and play musical instruments. This led to friends and family organizing the Inspirations in 1964, when he was only 15 years old. A highly-accomplished athlete at Swain County High School, Archie gave up playing school sports in order to sing full-time. Shortly after, the songs "Jesus Is Coming Soon" and "Touring The City" and regular appearances on the "Gospel Singing Jubilee," broadcast in every major television market in the United States and viewed by millions weekly, led to the Inspirations becoming a household name in professional gospel music.

    The Inspirations have placed more songs on Singing News Radio Airplay Charts than any singing group and Archie has had the feature vocal on more charting songs than any Gospel singer ever, including three number one and Songs of The Year "Touring That City," "Jesus Is Mine" and "I'll Not Turn My Back On Him Now." He has been chosen as Favorite Male Singer three times and Favorite Tenor on four occasions by subscribers of Singing News in its annual Fan Awards balloting.

    Previously, in 1999, he received the most prestigious honor given by the Singing News Magazine, the Marvin Norcross Award. Archie is also a longtime member of the Southern Gospel Music Association's Board of Directors. For more info on the Southern Gospel Music Association, visit www.sgma.org

By Tim Gardner


Martin Cook ] [ Archie Watkins ] Ron Hutchins ] Jack Laws ] Troy Burns ] Mike Holcomb ]
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