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McKameys and Inspirations ~
'Family and Friends' Tour making its way to you
"We're a family, and we're all friends, so why not call it the 'Family & Friends' Tour.

Copyright, Singing News, 2001 All rights reserved

    Promotions are the backbone of Southern Gospel Music; and as a result, many musical events have been created to provide enjoyment and wholesome Christian entertainment for listeners across the nation and around the world. But few, if any, have ever been more anticipated and more successful than the Family and Friends Tour. Now in its second year, this milestone event is a smash success wherever it is held. As two of the industry's most unique and most successful groups-the McKameys and Inspirations-unite for these concerts, excitement and energy follows them wherever they sing.

    The Goodlettsville, TN based booking agency, Harper & Associates coordinates approximately half of the tour dates, and two managers of the groups involved, Reuben Bean of the McKameys and Martin Cook of the Inspirations, book the remainder which number approximately 50 per year. Ed Harper, President of Harper & Associates, says the Family and Friends Tour is one of the industry's most well-received happenings.

    "The audiences of both groups are very compatible, and people absolutely love it when they are paired together for a concert. The response to this package has been phenomenal," Ed states.

    The joint venture has much to offer Southern Gospel concert promoters, but the big winners are the fans who can enjoy the best of both--one of Southern Gospel Music's favorite family groups, as well as one of Southern Gospel Music's most popular male quartets, together--simply enjoying an evening with family and friends.

    Musical variety is delivered by these gifted groups at each concert. It features both singing "How Beautiful Heaven Must Be" together to open the program and "I've Got My Foot On The Rock" and "If We Never Meet Again, We'll Meet Again In Heaven" to end the program and singing by each group in between. The artists in both groups brings to stage their own personality, yet each is committed to the same cause--uplifting the lovely name of Jesus through song.

    The McKameys and the Inspirations have both taken Gospel Music by storm and are two of the hottest groups traveling the circuit. And their countless fans, who are regarded among the most loyal and rabid in Gospel Music, love them. The attention and adoration they have received has never wavered. The more than three dozen Singing News Fan Awards they have won between them as a group, as a band, and as individual artists attests to this fact.

    In some ways, the McKameys and Inspirations are quite a contrast to each other. The McKameys' vocalists consist of three females and a male, while the Inspirations are a four-part harmony quartet. The McKameys have a down-home sound complimented by an Appalachia flavor, while the Inspirations strike the medium of the gospel and traditional mountain sound.

    On the other hand, they are both known for having several of the same attributes including: an unmistakable sound, great music, a distinctive stage presence and a special way of communicating with people.

    And they both have 'delivered the goods' to the people--mainly through an endless string of quality songs. Many of both group's songs have been automatic hit makers. It's no coincidence that the main contributing factor to the consistency of the McKameys and the Inspirations is their ability to produce one big song after another.

    They have combined to produce 12 Number One and six Songs of The Year on the Singing News charts--numbers of astounding proportions. The McKameys have had more number one songs -nine- than any other group, while the Inspirations lead the industry with the most charting songs - 80 (eighty). Their repertoires include such classics as "Who Put The Tears In The Eyes of The Lamb", "Tarry Here", "God On The Mountain" and "Under His Feet" (McKameys) and "Jesus Is Coming Soon", Touring That City", "When I Wake Up To Sleep No More", and "Thank You Lord" (Inspirations). And no doubt, Gospel Music enthusiasts can expect more great songs from both groups in the future.

    The Family and Friends Tour was a joint idea of Reuben and Martin, and it's parallel to the tour's success that both are regarded as two of the finest group managers in the industry.

    "Many lives have been touched because of the 'Family and Friends' tour and we receive very complimentary comments about it every place it is held," Reuben said. "It is one of the most special promotions either group has ever been involved with, and I'm extremely proud that we can combine our ministries in this way."

    Martin adds: "God has brought the McKameys and the Inspirations together for a special purpose. There are people everywhere who need to hear the Gospel through song. Regardless of who they are or what path they have chosen, God still loves them and wants to be a part of the lives. This is the foundation that the 'Family and Friends Tour' was founded upon, and it's the message that both groups will always deliver through it."

Read on to learn more about the wonderful groups that make up the tour.

The Inspirations

    In 1964, Martin Cook, a science teacher at Swain County, NC High School, rounded up several of his students and held nightly singing sessions in the basement of his home, purely for fun. Very soon, Martin 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 in the big leagues of professional Gospel Music.

    Throughout the Inspirations existence, Martin and Archie have been constant members of the quartet. Martin is still the group's manager and pianist, and Archie sings tenor. Today, Martin's son, Myron, plays the upright bass, Matt Dibler sings lead, Mike Holcomb bass, and Melton Campbell supplies the baritone. Jack Laws also sings baritone on specialty numbers and plays the rhythm guitar. Archie and Myron have never been members of any group but the Inspirations, and remarkably, none of the Inspirations' current musicians have ever played full-time with any other group.

    This Bryson City, NC based quartet has traveled nearly three million miles spreading the Gospel in song. The Inspirations were the subject of a documentary aired on the CBS Evening News in 1970 and were the first group to sell over a million records while on the Canaan record label. They were regulars on "The Gospel Singing Jubilee" television show for thirteen years, and were featured with the Happy Goodman Family in J. G.  Whitfield's "Battle of Songs" that packed arenas all across America every weekend in 1974--much like the Friends and Family Tour is doing today.

    Matt and Melton share near identical thoughts about the impact of the Family and Friends Tour.

    "People are seemingly needing encouragement and spiritual uplifting now more than at any time in history," Matt says. "And many of them are looking to Gospel Music for it. Some people will respond to Gospel Music when they won't anything else. I'm most appreciative to the Lord for the Family and Friends Tour, because it provides a way to double our efforts so-to-speak of helping them fulfill their needs."

    "We're very particular about realizing the desires of the people who hear us sing," Melton adds. "That's the whole concept of the tour. I believe the Inspirations and the McKameys are both going to see God using us in a far greater way than He ever has before and we're proud that we're doing our part together through this wonderful venture."

    Jack adds: "The Inspirations are always looking to reach people throughout the nation on a regular basis, as I'm sure the McKameys are. And through the Tour, we're making great strides in doing just that."

    Mike has one of the best definitions of the Family and Friends Tour.

    "It is a celebration of worship in an unusual concert setting," he says. "Those who attend it know they will hear some of the best Gospel songs ever written that are sung from the heart. It is not the average concert and the people who attend it don't expect it to be. That's why it is so successful."

    Archie's carries Mike comments a step further.

    "Most great songs," says Archie, "are often based on real life experiences. People often write songs from experiences they encounter--particularly things that help them turn their lives around for the better. And that along with the sincerity of both groups is the very heart of the this Tour."

    Myron interjects yet another perspective: "The Tour is one of the most solvent undertakings in the Southern Gospel Music annals. I truly believe that. It's all about giving the people what they want, and that's exactly what we're going to keep doing."

    Originating in the heart of God, developed in His word and will, the Inspirations continue to spread the Gospel in a steadfast and uncompromising manner through their music just like they've always done. And Just like He's always done, God is richly blessing them along the way.

    A family group and a traditional male quartet bonded together by God’s perfect love with a unyielding zest to minister and witness to people through song. That aptly describes the McKameys and the Inspirations. And their buses are rolling to a place near you to present the Family and Friends Tour--don't miss it!

The McKAMEYS

    This Clinton, TN based group originated when sisters Peg, Carol and Dora McKamey formed a gospel trio in 1954. Later Reuben Bean joined the group. He then joined the family by marrying Peg in 1959. In 1971, both Carol and Dora left the group to fulfill family obligations and they were replaced by Peg and Ruben's daughters, Connie and Sheryl. Carol returned to the group after Sheryl left the road.

    The McKameys entered the full-time Gospel Music circuit 21 years ago. The same vocal personnel that made up the group in 1980 is the same today. Peg sings the low alto, Reuben bass, Connie contralto and Carol the high alto. The McKameys also includes guitarist Roger Fortner (husband of Connie) and pianist Randall Hundley. In addition to live music, the group uses digital tracks.

    Ironically, it was the Inspirations who helped get the McKameys off and rolling. In 1980, The Inspirations invited the McKameys to sing at their homecoming sing, The Singing In The Smokies. Then in 1983, they sang for the first time at the National Quartet Convention. It was those two appearances that propelled the McKameys to a solidified place among Southern Gospel's all-time most popular groups.

    "It is our primary purpose as singers and musicians of the Gospel to witness to people about Jesus Christ," Peg said. "We try to live every song we sing and we want people to see God in us. This has always been the objective of the McKameys, and I know the Inspirations have always stressed the same in their ministry. The Family and Friends Tour just gives us a great opportunity to do this together."

    "Southern Gospel Music has a great opportunity now, perhaps better than ever before, to expand our ministries to the extent that they would a more powerful and lasting effect, and the Friends and Family Tour is a great tool for us to do that," adds Connie.

    Carol echoes Peg and Connie's sentiments: "I love to sing for the Lord and one of the greatest means He has given me to do it has been through the Family and Friends Tour. I know His hand will continue to be on the work of the McKameys and the Inspirations through this special happening."

    Like the Inspirations, the McKameys have musicians who compliment their singing style. Roger and Randall both possess impressive credentials.

    Roger began playing for The Inspirations in 1973 and remained with them until 1981. He also had tenures with the Hoppers, the Happy Goodmans, the Greenes and the Talleys before joining The McKameys in 1987.

    "I praise God for all he’s done for me," Roger said. "I hope I can bless people and give something back to the Lord every time I play a musical instrument. I feel one of the most meaningful ways I can accomplish these objectives is through the Family and Friends Tour."

    Hundley has been with the McKameys for five years. He got his start in the field by singing baritone and playing the piano for the Bearden Quartet of Knoxville, TN. He has also played the piano for the Kingdom Heirs, the Bishops and the Wilburns.

    "God is using the McKameys and the Inspirations in a mighty way through the Family and Friends Tour," Randall said. "Together, we have seen many souls saved and lives changed for the better as a result of it. And that's what the whole concept of the tour is all about. I’m just thankful it came to fruition."

    The McKameys do not boast of a formal education in music or entertainment but they have a rich family heritage that instilled in them the meaning of worship, and perhaps it is this realization that sets them apart. Wherever you see The McKameys you will be inspired by the pervasive spirit of worship that is evident every time they sing.

Story by Tim Gardner, Associate Feature Editor, Singing News Publishing

Original Tour Announcement, 1999


  The successful Goodlettsville, TN based booking agency, Harper & Associates will be coordinating the dates. Ed Harper, President of Harper & Associates, says that bringing the McKameys and The Inspirations together seemed to be a natural combination. "The audiences of both groups are very compatible. There have been a number of promoters who have used the two groups together and have enjoyed tremendous success. So about a year and a  half ago we decided to go with this."

    A concert date featuring The McKameys and The Inspirations is somewhat of a southern Gospel Music fan's ideal concert. The two have enjoyed a rich history throughout the past. In fact, together the two have produced more than 75 hit songs, Ironically, it was Martin Cook, manager of The Inspirations, who was instrumental in the early success The McKameys enjoyed nearly 20 years ago. "In 1980, we had just started singing full time," Peg Bean remembers, "Martin called us and invited us to come and sing at The Inspirations' Labor Day Sing in Bryson City. That night after we sang, Martin came to us and said, 'I'm gonna help you folks. I'm gonna put you on some of my dates.' So Martin and The Inspirations are special people to us. We're thrilled to be able to work with them."

    This long-time friendship and kindred spirit plays a major part in the success of the concerts both groups work together. "We just have a great time," Martin Cook shares. "we believe in being real, and so do The McKameys. They're just good folks and we love singing with them."

    Harper & Associates has created an attractive package to present promoters who are already currently using both groups. This package shows the benefits of bringing the two groups together for one very special evening. 'We can't really call what we're doing a tour specifically. Although there are some similarities, there are differences, as well. We simply want to increase the number of markets where both groups perform. So we're encouraging promoters who use both groups separately throughout the year to bring them together for one concert. There are certain markets and buildings where we can't do this because the buildings are just not large enough. But we're encouraging some promoters to take their concert to the next level and go into a larger venue. There are a number of promoters who are already taking advantage of this package and many of those are seeing sell-out crowds. The promoter is getting a great package all the way around."

    As Harper explains, both groups are certainly willing to join in on the promotional efforts. "The McKameys and The Inspirations both have great mailing lists, and the promoter can utilize this by making certain that McKamey fans and Inspiration fans in any given market are aware of the event."

    This new joint venture has much to offer Southern Gospel concert promoters, but the big winners are the fans who can enjoy the best of both - one of Southern Gospel Music's favorite male quartets, as well as one of Southern Gospel Music's favorite  family groups together - simply  enjoying an evening with family and friends.

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