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The Inspirations Press Info

A household name in any musical genre, the Inspirations are models of consistency in the Southern Gospel Music field. The Inspirations originated in 1964 when Martin Cook, a chemistry teacher at Swain County High in Bryson City, NC, and a few of his students and friends held nightly singing sessions in the basement of his home, purely for fun. Two year later (1966), Martin, a lifetime singer of Gospel songs and an accomplished pianist, two of his high school students (Archie Watkins and Ronnie Hutchins), one of his former students (Jack Laws) and an eighth grader (Troy Burns) went on the road to sing in the big leagues of professional Gospel Music.

The Inspirations immediately took Southern Gospel Music by storm and have remained at its forefront since while achieving tremendous popularity and success. They make up a four-part harmony quartet with an unmistakable sound, striking the medium Of traditional Southern Gospel and country.

The Inspirations have traveled nearly five million miles to sing to Americana in seemingly every place from the smallest hamlet in the middle of nowhere to the major cities. They have sung in almost every state in the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as in Canada. They have also hosted tours to Europe, the Bahamas and the Holy Land. The Inspirations have also sung to the Florida State Legislature, at the North Carolina State Fair and are regulars at the National Quartet Convention, the premier Southern Gospel Music event, held in Pigeon Forge, TN. Realizing that a sound link should exist between the singing at concerts and a business structure for a professional singing group of their stature, the Inspirations set up a regular business corporation in 1971. And always seeking to adhere to the highest standards of Christian principles, the Inspirations even went as far as drawing up a notarized list of "by-laws" in 1973 to rule their conduct as singers and musicians. They still abide by those guidelines. It is no secret that the Inspirations live what they sing.

"Delivering the Goods" to the people through an endless string of quality songs has become the Inspirations trademark. Many of their songs have been automatic hit makers. They have had more songs than any group on Singing News Magazine (the printed voice of Southern Gospel Music) Radio Charts. Three were voted Song of The Year: Jesus Is Coming Soon (called the Song of the Twentieth Century by many Southern Gospel historians and other knowledgeable analysts), Touring That City and Jesus Is Mine. Ironically, Touring That City remained atop the radio charts for five consecutive months and was immediately followed by yet another Inspirations song, When I Wake Up (To Sleep No More), which occupied the top of the charts for eight more months. Jesus Is Mine dominated the charts for four months. The Inspirations have also had three Singing News Favorite Gospel Songs in the past eleven years with I'll Not Turn My Back On Him Now, We Need To Thank God and I Have Not Forgotten, in 2002, '03 and '07, respectively.

The Inspirations have received more than two dozen Singing News Fan Awards, including Favorite Gospel Group or Favorite Male Quartet eight times. They have also received and been nominated for many other awards, honors and distinctions, as a group, a band and individual singers and musicians.

Three happenings significantly boosted the Inspirations rise in Southern Gospel music: appearing twelve consecutive years (1969-'81) on the nationally- televised Gospel Singing Jubilee; being featured on the CBS-TV Evening News in 1970; and becoming the first group to sell more than a million records on the Canaan label. The Inspirations were also featured with the Happy Goodman Family in noted gospel music promoter J.G. Whitfield's "Battle of Songs" that packed arenas across America every weekend in 1974.

But their greatest accomplishment may be developing their homecoming "Singing In The Smokies," which they have promoted since 1966 and grew to become the largest Gospel singing festival in America. The Inspirations' first
such homecoming singing was held on the old Sylva-Webster football field in Sylva, NC. The homecoming eventually became multi-day concerts, and in 1970, was moved to the Sossamon Airport in Bryson City.

Four years later (1974), the singing relocated to the old, defunct Bryson City Airport between Bryson City and Cherokee, which overlooks the Great Smoky Mountains and was renamed "Inspiration Park." The singing then moved indoors to the plush Smoky Mountain Performing Arts Center in nearby Franklin, NC in 2009. It moved back to Inspiration Park in 2012 where homecoming concerts continue to be held twice yearly with Independence Week (July 4th Week) and Fall Color (third Thursday, Friday and Saturday in October) Festivals. Most of Gospel music's headliner groups and several of its leading regional groups traditionally join the Inspirations in appearing at the Singing In The Smokies.

Cook has been a constant member of the Inspirations. Besides being its pianist in a full, live band, he is the group's manager and emcee. The other Inspirations include: Harold Reid, tenor; Matt Dibler, lead; Roland Kesterson, baritone; Joe Brown, bass; Luke Vaught, baritone, steel and rhythm guitarist and part-time pianist; and Myron Cook, son of Martin Cook, upright bass guitarist.

Originating in the heart of God, developed in His word and will, the Inspirations continue to spread the gospel through their music with enthusiasm, vigor and an unyielding dedication as they have since their formation.

PO Box 2355, Bryson City, NC 28713
Telephone: 828.488.3442
Web Site:

Tim Gardner

The Inspirations ~ By Alan Kendall
Grand Ole Gospel Reunion Music History

     Gospel music saw much change during the decade of the 1960s. Television brought gospel music before new audiences, with programs such as the Gospel Singing Caravan, Bob Poole's Gospel Favorites, Singing Time In Dixie, and the Gospel Singing Jubilee. Longtime names such as the Harmoneers, Sunshine Boys, and Homeland Harmony entered into either full-fledged or semi-retirement, and new groups such as the Cathedrals, Imperials, Downings, and Dixie Echoes were formed. The Happy Goodmans and Kingsmen emerged from recent obscurity and joined the elite among full-time gospel groups. But when Jake Hess was once asked what probably changed gospel music the most during this period, he responded with, "It changed when those boys from Bryson City came along." The Inspirations not only launched a phenomenon in gospel music that is still making history over  50 years later, but they set a unique standard of presentation and character that remains today.

    Martin Cook was a high school chemistry and physics teacher at Swain County High School in Bryson City, North Carolina, who loved to sing and play gospel songs. He was the original pianist for the Kingsmen Quartet, and had also played for a regional group called The Silvertones. Around 1964, he began bringing some of his students to the basement of his house, and they would gather around the piano and sing gospel songs into the wee hours of the morning.

    Among the regular attendees at his home singings were 15-year old tenor Archie Watkins; 15 year old lead singer Ronnie Hutchins; 19 year old baritone Jack Laws; and local bass singer Dean Robinson. With this lineup, the Inspirations Quartet was born. The group began accepting concert dates at churches and functions in the western North Carolina and North Georgia areas, and soon created a loyal local following. When Dean Robinson bowed out in 1966, the quartet hired young 14 year-old bass singer Troy Burns. A few months later, the group recorded their very first album for the Mark V label, entitled Our Pioneer Heritage.

    Many of their early albums have become collector’s items, particularly Just As Long As Eternity Rolls, as only a few hundred copies of the album were pressed, after which a warehouse fire destroyed the master tapes for the album.

    Combining the gospel harmonies of the Jordanaires and Original Oak Ridge Quartet with the old timey styles of famous Grand Ole Opry© quartet, the Old Hickory Singers, the Inspirations formed a sound that was all their own, and immediately caused gospel music fans to sit up and take notice. Evangelists Ralph Sexton and Maze Jackson gave them early exposure through their television and radio programs. They soon caught the attention of J G Whitfield and Les Beasley. An appearance at one of Whitfield's sings in Atlanta, GA, proved that the Inspirations were set to take the gospel music world by storm. Les Beasley began featuring the Inspirations on the Gospel Singing Jubilee, and eventually the group became regulars on the show. The members of the quartet dedicated themselves to singing gospel music together, whenever and wherever they possibly could, and the quartet hit the road full-time. In 1970, CBS Evening News devoted a seven-minute segment to the Inspirations. Such an appearance on primetime national television was the type of exposure gospel groups had only dreamed of at this point.

    The Inspirations had several songs during this period that became standards. "What A Wonderful Time" and "When They Ring Those Golden Bells" were early favorites, but it was the R E Winsett song, "Jesus Is Coming Soon", that became their signature song. Written during World War II, Winsett died before ever realizing the song’s enormous success. The Inspirations took the song to No. 1 on the Singing News Radio Chart. Groups such as the Florida Boys, Oak Ridge Boys, Thrasher Brothers, and Eleventh Hour Singers soon followed suit, and a southern gospel mega-hit was born. (NOTE: The song has been honored by the SGM Industry as the SGM Song of the Century). The quartet soon signed a contract with Canaan Records, where they remained for the next two decades.

    Another groundbreaking achievement of the Inspirations occurred in 1967 when they hosted their first annual Singing In the Smokies. What began as a small local concert that brought more prominent gospel groups to the western Carolina area blossomed into one of the largest concert series in gospel music, and became an event that brings millions of dollars to the Inspirations’ hometown of Bryson City and surrounding areas. Bryson City, a town once under a depressed economy, became a center for tourism, and continues to benefit from the Inspirations’ foresight. After 48 years, Singing In the Smokies is still going strong.

    The Inspirations also set a standard in gospel music that wasn’t limited to simply singing. Prior to forming the group, many of the group’s members, excluding Martin, had never even attended a gospel quartet concert. Witnessing what went on at many concerts at nearby Asheville City Auditorium, the group began taking notes on not only the positives, but also the negatives of the gospel music industry. This resulted in the establishment of bylaws that set the quartet apart from many of the other gospel music groups. The quartet strictly lived what they sang, and conducted business in an untraditional, ethical manner.

    Early personnel changes for the group occurred in 1969, when Ronnie Hutchins left the quartet and moved to California. Troy Burns left the quartet the following year. Eddie Dietz was hired as lead singer, and Marlin Shubert was hired to replace Troy Burns. Neither Hutchins or Burns stayed gone from the quartet long, and by 1971, the quartet consisted of Martin Cook at the piano, Archie Watkins, Tenor; Ronnie Hutchins, Lead; Eddie Dietz, Baritone; Marlin Shubert, Bass; Troy Burns, Bass Guitar; and Jack Laws, Guitar and vocalist.

    In 1972, Marlin Shubert left the quartet and was replaced by 18-year-old bass singer Mike Holcomb. With his youth, energy, and ultra-low vocals, Holcomb immediately became a crowd favorite, soon adopting the moniker, "Ol’ 6’4, 94". He has since become a mainstay of the quartet, with the third longest tenure of any member in the quartet’s history.

    Ronnie Hutchins left again a year later, and Troy Burns moved to the lead spot. Hutchins has most likely had the most varied career among Inspirations members, as he traveled with the LeFevres & Willie Wynn and the Tennesseans. He then created a group, The Southern Knights which served for almost 10 years as featured and backup vocalists to country & rockabilly star, Billy "Crash" Craddock.

    Television exposure and constant hits kept the Inspirations on top of the gospel music world during the 1970s. The Inspirations have placed more songs on the Singing News Radio Top 40 Airplay Charts than any other gospel group. Hits like "Touring the City", "When I Wake Up to Sleep No More", "A Rose Among the Thorns", "Swing Wide the Gates", "More to Go to Heaven For" and "Jesus Is Mine" all climbed to the top rungs of the Singing News charts. The Inspirations took home 23 Singing News Fan Awards during the 1970s - six for Favorite Group, twelve representing each member’s vocal position, and two for song of the year. Archie Watkins was awarded Singing News’ Favorite Male Vocalist three times.

    The group’s sound and consistency was not only established by their distinctive vocal capabilities during this period, but by the unique background accompaniment given by their musicians as well. Joining Martin Cook during the 1970s were musicians Jack Laws, Roger Fortner, and Dale Jones. With Laws on upright bass, Fortner on guitar, and Jones on steel guitar, the Inspirations created a sound on stage and in studio that has remained consistent for over 40 years. The gospel music listener knows exactly what to expect when purchasing an Inspirations recording.

    The Inspirations vocal lineup of Holcomb, Dietz, Burns, and Watkins remained unchanged for six years, until 1979 when Eddie Dietz resigned from the quartet to pursue evangelism. Jack Laws resumed the baritone position, and Roger Fortner moved to upright bass. Fortner left the quartet in 1981, and was replaced by Martin’s oldest son, Myron Cook. Fortner’s career has been varied as well, having since spent his career playing for The Hoppers, The Talleys, The Greenes, and most notably The McKameys…also continuing to play guitar on all of the Inspirations studio recordings.

    While most of the Inspirations’ personnel remained consistent for several years, the baritone parts switched frequently through the early 1990s. Jack Laws stepped down from the baritone position in 1986, and Ronnie Hutchins returned to the group once again. In 1988, the quartet hired young baritone singer Chris Smith. Smith left the quartet due to health reasons in 1991, and Eddie Dietz returned to the quartet.

    The Inspirations continued to place more hits on the Singing News Charts during the 1980s and early 1990s, with songs such as "The Wonder of Wonders", "Is That Footsteps That I Hear?", "They’re Holding Up the Ladder", "One Day", and "It’s Still the Blood". The group released one of their more unusual albums in 1987, entitled Going Home for Christmas. The album was a departure for the Inspirations, featuring full orchestrations and original Christmas songs, yet the classic "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" remained the album’s most popular song…perhaps a testament to the style and consistency that the Inspirations have provided for their fans.

    In 1992, Ronnie Hutchins returned to the quartet for a fourth time, serving once again as the group’s lead vocalist until 1997, when he left the road after an extended hospital stay. Replacing Hutchins was Matt Dibler, who would remain with the group for the next 11 years. Thankfully, Hutchins soon made a miraculous recovery, and today works as the quartet’s office manager.

   The following year, Eddie Dietz left the quartet to join his family in forming Eddie Dietz and Mountain Gospel. For the next year, Jack Laws and Ronnie Hutchins rotated between the baritone parts until the quartet hired Melton Campbell in the fall of 1999. Both Dibler and Campbell injected youth into the quartet, as once had been done by the group’s original members some three decades earlier. Laws continued with the group for a few more years as guitarist and featured vocalist.

    As the group entered into the 21st century, they continued to be rewarded by their loyal fans. They were awarded Song of the Year honors in 2002, 2003, and 2007 for their hits, "I’ll Not Turn My Back On Him Now", "We Need to Thank God", and "I Have Not Forgotten" at the Singing News Fan Awards. They were voted Favorite Traditional Male Quartet in 2005 and 2006, and Mike Holcomb once again received Favorite Bass awards in 2002, 2005, and 2008. Martin Cook and Archie Watkins both were recipients of the Marvin Norcross Award, and each was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2003 and 2007 respectively. Cook was also inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Piano Roll of Honor at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 2005.

    Today’s lineup of the Inspirations holds firm to their roots, while setting the stage for another generation. The group as of January, 2014 consists of Martin Cook – Piano, Jon Epley – Bass, Melton Campbell – Baritone, Matt Dibler – Lead, Dallas Rogers – Tenor, Myron Cook – Upright Bass, along with Luke Vaught who can play almost any instrument put in his hands.

    The Inspirations have continued to remain a top-selling recording artist, now recording for Horizon Records. They still pack churches and concert halls to capacity. Their presence still commands respect and admiration. The boys from Bryson City have proven consistency and integrity are still important, in times where neither have seemed to be viewed as relevant.

Singing News Feature Story: The Inspirations: An American Treasure

* Special thanks to the Singing News © July, 2004 for permission to include this story.
~ Photography courtesy of Horizon Music Group

     Once again, it's that time of the year when we pause and reflect on this great country in which we live and all things great about America. As our nation celebrates its birthday this month, it only seems fitting to pay tribute to a group that is considered by many to be a national institution in Southern Gospel Music, and that group is none other than the Inspirations.

    This group is all about tradition. From the songs they sing to the way they live, the Inspirations have carried on a grand tradition of hard work, high personal standards of living, and taking a stand for the Christian values and principles about which they sing and live. And here at Singing News, we think that's something to be celebrated.

So, what you are reading is actually a surprise story. The Inspirations knew nothing about this cover feature. It was pieced together by another great American tradition ~ being nosy! You'd be surprised at all the interesting facts you can find by snooping around, talking to folks who love this group, researching old Singing News magazines, and surfing the Internet.

    In all honesty, though, their record speaks for itself. Forty-two years (in 2005) on the road, numerous awards and accolades, more than 70 recordings with more than 700 songs, millions of recordings sold, millions of road miles, the successful Singing In The Smokies annual concerts, television appearances, consistently packed concert halls, and a reputation without blemish... there's no other like them. The Inspirations truly are an American treasure.

    Trying to come up with one sentence to describe the Inspirations can be a daunting task. How can you sum up their career in one phrase? Borrowing from their web site, the following is about as close as one will get: "The Inspirations are an enthusiastic, sincere, clean-cut group of fundamental conservative Christian gentlemen with a desire and an objective to witness to a needful and sinful world through the medium of Gospel Music." That pretty much sums it up. That sentence describes the Inspirations today as well as when they began 40 years ago.

    This quartet began in quite an unassuming way. Martin Cook, group pianist and founder, was teaching chemistry at Swain County High School. He had been the Kingsmen's first pianist, and had also played for a local group as well. He decided to gather together with four of his students and do some singing, The singing sessions became a nightly event in the basement of Martin's home, but it wasn't long until the group hit the road, and the Inspirations Quartet was born. The original members included Martin on piano, tenor Archie Watkins, lead Ronnie Hutchins, baritone Jack Laws, and bass Troy Bums. Troy eventually became the group's lead vocalist in later years.

    In 45+ years of traveling, there have only been fifteen full-time members of this group. That is a rather remarkable statistic in this age of constant change. The Inspirations just seem to, well for lack of a better term, recycle. Martin and Archie, of course, traveled with the group for all of those first 45 years, with Archie resigning on February 28, 2009, to pursue a solo ministry. Jack Laws is back on the road with the group, and he always was considered one of the group even during the years he wasn't traveling with them. Mike Holcomb is the group's seasoned veteran bass singer with over 36 years tenure with the group. Martin's son, Myron, has played the upright bass guitar for the group for over 25 years. Melton Campbell has ably filled the baritone spot for a decade+. The Inspirations newest members; lead singer, David Ragan; and tenor, Dallas Rogers; will now become a part of the rich history of the Inspirations.

    Ron Hutchins, the original lead singer left the road in 1998, but he now takes care of the day to day business for the group, and he also created and maintains the group's comprehensive website, www.theinspirations.com. That kind of longevity is hard to find in today's world of constant change. However, it goes to show that the staying power of this group can be traced to the personal dedication, commitment, and work ethic of each individual member.

    Along with Ron, former members, Marlin Shubert and Chris Smith join the current group for Reunion Concerts several times each year, especially during the Singing In The Smokies promotions. When the Inspirations take to the stage, they are a cohesive unit working together to achieve that traditional Gospel quartet sound for their many fans and friends who come out in droves to hear this popular group.

    Individual successes can also be found within this organization. There are two Marvin Norcross Award winners in the ranks of the Inspirations. This award is the highest honor given at the Singing News Fan Awards each year, and Archie took home the award in 1999. Three years later, the award was bestowed upon Martin in 2002; and the following year he became an inductee to the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, with Archie following in 2005.

    Martin, Ron and Myron are college and/or University graduates, Martin and Ron's alma mater being Western Carolina University and Myron's being Southwest Community College. Mike is also an ordained preacher of the Gospel. Mike pastored for several years, and he currently has his own program on television called My Heart's Desire. Since retiring from the Inspirations, Mike is a full time evangelist.

    The Inspirations are living out a career for which many Gospel artists' only hope and dream. The group has sold well over a million records, been awarded numerous Singing News Fan Awards, honored by many different cities and states, had many special days set aside in their honor, have charted more than 60 hit songs, and have a book written by Bob Terrell in their honor, called What A Wonderful Time, which was titled as such in honor of the group's first hit song. They were regular members on the popular TV program, Gospel Jubilee, and have a video of these most memorable television performances that was released on the Gaither Homecoming series. Their songs have been played around the world in areas such as Kenya, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, The Philippines, Romania, Australia, and Africa. They were once even the subject of a CBS documentary hosted by Roger Mudd.

   A listing of this group's accomplishments would not be complete without mention of the Singing In The Smokies, which will celebrate its 40th year in 2006. Not only is this concert an annual favorite of the thousands of fans who come to enjoy the great Gospel Music on the mountain, but the event itself has been credited as a great economic factor for this region of western North Carolina. There are three singing sessions each year held at Inspiration Park on a beautiful mountaintop in Bryson City, NC.

    While the group invites many of their singing peers to join them on these concerts, there are plenty of others who would jump at the chance to perform on the mountain with the "boys from Bryson City". It's one of those signs that you have arrived in Southern Gospel Music when you get the prestigious invitation to sing at the Singing In The Smokies.

    Behind these successful men, there are successful women. The Inspirations have the full support of their wives and families. They couldn't have lasted this long without it. Ora Blanche Cook, Cindy Watkins, Brenda Laws, and Bavaria Holcomb are behind their husbands all the way. Myron married his sweetheart right on the mountain on July 3, during the singing weekend, and so his new bride, Jennifer, can be added to this list of supportive wives. They are always on hand to help at all the singings in Bryson City, and many fans will recall that the Inspirations' concession stand at the park was dubbed "Bavaria's Kitchen."

    In a Singing News Valentine story from February 2003, Cindy Watkins said she loved Gospel Music and treasured the fact that so many people enjoyed Archie's music. She said it was an honor to be able to share Archie's talent with so many great Gospel Music fans and she was so blessed that he was so loved by many folks across the country. Her feeling was that all of the fans were more like friends and family to them. This sums up the feeling of this group and their families toward the folks who love and appreciate the Inspirations and their music. That attitude of support and selflessness has been one that has only strengthened these men and what they are doing for the Lord.

    The Inspirations are truly in a class by themselves, one-of-a-kind. Their forty-two years in this industry represents lives and careers dedicated to the cause of Christ and Gospel Music. They stand for good moral character, strong work ethic, and Christian values and principles. They stand for God and His Word.

    They sing from their hearts, and they are true to their Southern Gospel Quartet roots. They have been and continue to be highly successful at their calling and career, and they remain unchanged by the ever changing currents and trends that so easily sway the less dedicated. They are the Inspirations . . . and yes, they are truly an American Treasure.

Click to see larger image of Cover from original Singing News Feature Story

U S Gospel News Stories
The Legendary Inspirations & Their Singing In The Smokies



The Inspirations -Legend One: The Quartet     Originally published in May, 2003

    The odds against a high school teacher and four of his students storming the heights of Gospel Music to its top position seemingly as fast as any such singing group ever, then remaining at its forefront for 39 years, and as a result, ranking among its all-time elite groups would be astronomical at best. 

    But it did happen in the form of the legendary Inspirations, whose march to success has been marked by astounding consistency, fueling their descent and ultimate standing as a household name in any musical genre. The Inspirations are famous for their tight harmony, song arrangements and unique sound.  In fact, anyone who follows gospel music can easily distinguish the Inspirations' sound from that of any other singing group. With the possible exception of the Chuck Wagon Gang, Blackwood Brothers Quartet, Stamps Quartet and Speer Family, the Inspirations have been the most consistently successful group in Southern Gospel Music history in terms of record sales, popularity, solvency and number of top hit songs produced.

    The Inspirations originated in 1964 in Bryson City, NC, a tiny town in the southern shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains and on the eastern shore of Fontana Lake,  where Martin Cook, a chemistry teacher at Swain County High School rounded up four of his students and held nightly singing sessions in the basement of his home, purely for fun.  Shortly after, Cook, a lifetime singer of Gospel songs and an accomplished pianist, and four high school kids, (Archie Watkins, Ron Hutchins, Jack Laws and Troy Burns) became the Inspirations Quartet. They soon went on the road to sing professionally.

    In the years since, the Inspirations have been awarded every honor and award Southern Gospel Music has to offer, and they have traveled over four million miles from the smallest hamlet in the middle of nowhere to major cities across America delivering their special brand of music. And along the way, they have sold millions of recordings of their songs.

    Instrumental in the Inspirations success has been a seemingly endless string of quality songs, including four Songs of The Year.  The Inspirations' song repertoire includes such hits as "What A Wonderful Time," "Jesus Is Coming Soon," "Touring That City," "When I Wake Up To Sleep No More,"  "Jesus Is Mine," "A Wedding Invitation," "Is That Footsteps That I Hear," "The Wonder Of Wonders,"  "Thank You Lord" and most recently, "I'll Not Turn My Back On Him Now."

    Through the first 39 years, Cook and Watkins have been constant members of the quartet.  Cook is the group's manager and pianist, and Watkins sings tenor. Currently, Cook's son, Myron, plays upright bass; Mike Holcomb sings bass; Matt Dibler lead; and Melton Campbell baritone. Laws also sings baritone on specialty songs and plays rhythm guitar.

    Martin Cook's skills as a visionary and businessman are unsurpassed, helping make him one of Southern Gospel's best quartet managers. His piano-playing style is so distinctive that few doubt who is playing when he tickles the ivories. Cook received the Marvin Norcross Award at the 2002 National Quartet Convention and will be inducted into the 2003 Class of the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame on May 13--the industry's two most prestigious honors.

    "The secret to being successful in Southern Gospel Music is to foremost stay close to the Lord and never forget the primary purpose you're in this field is to serve Him and fulfill His will," Martin Cook said.

    Perhaps Southern Gospel Music's most recognizable voice belongs to Watkins, who is the all-time dean of Southern Gospel tenors for tenure with one group.

    "I've come to love singing more than ever before," Watkins stated. "There are more groups on the road than ever, and there also are more people attending concerts than there's ever been. Therefore, there is more witnessing about the love of Jesus and what happiness He can bring to one's life."

    Mike Holcomb is next on the Inspirations' seniority ladder and is quite possibly the lowest bass singer in the world.   He has been a smash hit with Gospel Music fans ever since he joined the Inspirations in 1972, and is one of two preachers in the group (Dibler is the other).

    "A Bible verse reads, 'Many are called, but few are chosen,' and I know the Inspirations have been chosen to uplift and magnify God's name, and then to bless and help people realize the great need for God in their lives," Holcomb commented.

    One of Southern Gospel's finest singers is Laws, who is noted for his silky-smooth vocals. He is always in demand to sing such songs as "Thanks For Loving Me",  "Only One Door" and "Where We'll Never Grow Old."   Also an excellent musician, Laws has been a member of the Inspirations for 23 years and is in the fifth year of his second tenure with the group.

    "God has a reason for everything, and I'm very thankful He allowed me to be a part of Gospel Music through the Inspirations. My cup has truly overflowed through the Lord's glory," Laws remarked.  

    It may not seem possible to longtime Inspirations followers, but Myron Cook is in his 21st year playing upright bass for the group.  A favorite with people everywhere he goes, the younger Cook, as a classic Inspirations song reads, just wants to "Thank You, Lord."

    "One of the best things that's ever happened in my life is my association with Gospel Music, and the Lord richly blessed me by leading me into it," Myron Cook said.  "I've developed a lot of lasting friendships and I've become closer to God because of it. For these and many other great happenings in my life, I'm grateful to Him."

    "The spiritual experience I get from singing to people and praising God is a most exhilarating feeling," Dibler stated.  "Every time I sing, I get the same emotional high.  All Inspirations are continually looking for ways to serve Jesus in even greater capacities.  Praise His name!"

    Rounding out the group is Campbell, who joined the Inspirations as full-time baritone vocalist in 2000 following a stint with the Common Garments Quartet of Georgia. Campbell is a good fit for the Inspirations--both as a singer and as a Christian gentleman.  He is highly regarded by his peers for his crafted baritone voice.

     "I love singing songs about our great Savior," Campbell declared. "People from all walks of life can relate to Gospel Music because its songs contain a special encouragement that God will accept you just as you are. This is the greatest peace and hope anyone can have."

Legacy 2: Their Singing In The Smokies   Originally published in May, 2003

    The Inspirations continue to add chapters to their legacy and another legacy that originated through them is growing just as fast--their annual homecoming festival, the Singing In The Smokies.

Isaiah 55:12 reads:   The mountains and hills will burst into singing, and the trees will shout for joy.   No where is that verse more fulfilled than at Inspiration Park, located on a mountainside overlooking a majestic panorama of the Great Smoky Mountains on Hyatt Creek Road between Bryson City and Cherokee,  NC.  That's where the largest Gospel singing festival in the United States will be hosted by the Inspirations again this summer and fall.  There are few places on Earth that can compare to Inspiration Park for beautiful scenery and natural beauty.

    Before the 2003 Singing In The Smokies runs its course, upward of 25,000 people, perhaps more, will have occupied the hillside singing grounds, hearing more than twenty Gospel Music groups/artists make joyful noises unto the Lord, including the Inspirations, who will sing each day.

    The summer Singing In The Smokies session runs June 30 through July 5, starting at 7 p.m. each day, except for July 4 when a "All Day Singing" will get underway at 10 a.m. and last until ? A two-day Singing In The Smokies will be held on August 30 and 31, beginning at 7 p.m. each evening as a Labor Day Festival. Then, another two-day session will be held on October 17 and 18 as the Fall Color Festival. The first day of the last session will begin at 6 p.m. and the final day will be a repeat "All-Day Singing" beginning at 11 a.m. and lasting until 6 p.m. On July 4 and October 18, The Inspirations will hold reunion concerts featuring former Inspirations, Ron Hutchins,  Eddie Deitz, Marlin Shubert and Chris Smith .

    Two years after the Inspirations were formed, they started the Singing In The Smokies as a one-day concert on the Sylva-Webster High football field in nearby Sylva in an effort to bring more Gospel groups in for the public's enjoyment, and three years later they moved the event to downtown Bryson City.  That fourth year they finally broke even financially on the festival, and it has grown by leaps and bounds every year since. In 1974, the Singing In The Smokies relocated to its present location at the old Bryson City airport. The 1976 Fourth of July Singing In The Smokies was recorded in North Carolina history books as one of the state's great celebrations of our nation's bicentennial.

    "The Singing In The Smokies was started for two primary reasons," said Martin Cook.  "First, the Inspirations realized that since many of our friends and other supporters came to the Smoky Mountains to vacation each year, we needed to be there to sing to them, so we hatched up the idea of hosting a homecoming sing.

    He continued, "The other reason was this, while I was teaching at Sylva High School, there was a vote scheduled in its home county about legalizing liquor sales.  A county commissioner spoke to the school faculty telling us how much of the money the county would make from liquor sales would benefit the schools. However, that county commissioner failed to mention that when lives were lost and homes destroyed because of alcohol, it would be our fault for legalizing it.  The liquor was evil, and each member of the Inspirations knew that the Singing In The Smokies could be a strong force with which to fight it. It was and has been.  That's how to overcome evil--fight it with something good.   We can't fight it on its own terms because the same rules never apply."

    Martin Cook added that naming the Inspirations homecoming sing was easy. "Since we were a singing group based in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, the name 'Singing In The Smokies' was a given.  I doubt we could have found another name that would have fit more perfectly," he said.

    Nothing is more pleasing to the soul than hearing the tuneful sounds of Gospel Music echoing from mountaintop to mountaintop at Inspiration Park, making you wonder, "Do the mountains there really sing?"

    It surely seems they do.


Singing News Feature Story
A Brief History Of The Inspirations,
+ Info About The Inspirations' Singing In The Smokies
Click to read story
Current Group Pics plus Pics From Over The Inspirations' 45+ Years
Singing News Fan Awards, etc, covering many years
Mike Holcomb Named Favorite Bass Singer
News_SN_Favorite_Group_Award_2005_small.jpg (13941 bytes)
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