J.D. Sumner Quartet Show announced

J.D. Sumner and James Blackwood launched the National Quartet Convention in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1957. The event, which would come to define Southern Gospel in many ways, was originally held in the Blackwood Brothers’ home base of Memphis. With two exceptions (Birmingham in 1959 and Atlanta in 1960), it remained in Memphis until a 1971 move to Nashville. (It moved to its current Louisville location in 1993.)

The old Ellis Auditorium, which housed the National Quartet Convention through its Memphis run, has been torn down. A new auditorium, the Memphis Cook Convention Center, has been built on its original site. 

A new major annual Southern Gospel event, the J.D. Sumner Quartet Show, will be launched at this location on June 19-22, 2013. This event is being assembled by several Southern Gospel group owners and concert promoters, including Jimmy Blackwood and Stewart Varnado. Blackwood is the son of NQC co-founder James Blackwood; Varnado is co-owner of the Dixie Echoes, and has promoted several Southern Gospel concert events in Florida and through the South.

Notably, the event will only include male quartets. Quartets already booked and announced include the Blackwood Brothers, Brian Free & Assurance, the Dixie Echoes, the Dixie Melody Boys, the Dove Brothers, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, the Florida Boys, Gold City, the Inspirations, the Kingsmen, the Mike LeFevre Quartet, the Mark Trammell Quartet, the Primitive Quartet, Archie Watkins and the Smoky Mountain Reunion, and the Triumphant Quartet. Other artists have made tentative agreements to appear, and will be announced once their bookings are official.

Unlike the brief sets at some major events, groups will have sets of a half-hour or longer. 

The event has a website, http://www.quartetshow.com/, and a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/quartetshow.

There has been some discussion over whether large concert events like NQC simply need to have trios, mixed groups, and soloists to fill the seats—or whether quartets alone could pack the house. We will find out in June 2013!


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44 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Stewart mentioned this idea to me several months back. I think it is very exciting and look forward to it. What a line-up!!

    • I’m looking forward to it, too! This is definitely classified in the “hoping to attend” category.

  2. I am looking forward to this.

  3. I am looking forward to this event!

  4. I think it’s cool and there are some I’d like to see and others not, then there are also ones that are missing right now. Besides those, I would look forward to it even more if the Cathedrals, Stamps (particularly of the early to mid Seventies), Oaks and Singing Americans of the early to mid eighties were there. 😀

  5. We are trying to include every full-time male quartet on the road. Other favorites will be added. We have some ideas up our sleeves that haven’t been done before, and we’re going to try to pull off. Any ideas are welcome.

    It’s our goal to make this a new event that is different from all others in Southern Gospel. Any week of the year, you can attend concerts featuring many of the top groups of Southern Gospel. But, this 4 day event will be the only one of its kind. All male quartets, every night, and all of your favorites!

    • Stewart, I was wondering who is putting this together. I’m glad you are a part of it. Can you tell us who the rest of your cohorts are? I LOVE this idea, and know it will be a huge success. George and I are planning on attending. Can’t wait for more details.

      • I had the initial idea, then went to Jimmy Blackwood. Several more are involved, but choose not to be publicly announced at this time, but are all young industry leaders.

        We are excited about the possibilities of this event. I’ve received lots of great email with suggestions. I’m making a list. We want to offer a concert experience that you can’t find elsewhere.

        I am open to hearing from groups that aren’t on the schedule. There’s a short list of groups who we will most likely add. Obviously finances prevent us from having everyone. Especially in this first year, when we don’t know if it will be a success. We are taking a huge risk by doing this. That’s why I’d appreciate everyone spreading the word and help us pull this off.

      • Here’s two ideas that immediately struck me. I’m sure I’ll have more later.

        1. Have an hour or two devoted to “mixed” quartets.

        No, I don’t mean groups like the Hoppers and the Perrys. I mean combinations of singers who don’t sing together on a regular basis. Conduct a “build your favorite quartet” poll leading up to the event, and feature the most requested combinations.

        2. No tracks. If a group doesn’t have a band, have them bring charts for a house band.

      • For the most part I like those ideas. I don’t dislike tracks on some songs (some I think are needed), but both ideas would be unique tings that would make special moments happen and the band thing would be more fitting for the historical feel.

      • Well, I’m not necessarily wanting a live band for “the historical feel.” I hope Brian Free & Assurance would still rock out on “Long As I Got King Jesus” and the Dove Brothers would do their Country sounding material.

        I hope no one is going into this expecting an updated version of the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion.

        I just think a live band should be a given at any multi-day, major concert event where the tickets are in the $25+ range. I realize most groups can no longer afford to pay live musicians, but with big production events, it’s more of a priority issue.

        I know I’d gladly give up a couple of the bars of stage lighting at NQC and take fixed video camera positions rather than booms and roaming cameras if that would free up enough money to hire a house band instead.

      • Oh, I understand and didn’t mean to imply that was the primary reason, I just thought it was another benefit.

  6. Personally, there’s something which excites me even more than the all-male-quartet focus and the historic NQC ties.

    From what I know of the team putting this together, both announced and unannounced, many of the team members putting this together are in their thirties and forties (or maybe even late twenties – not sure if Stewart has passed 3-0 yet.)

    This signifies two things to me:

    #1 For all the doom and gloom about Southern Gospel’s future, there are comparatively young people who are involved enough to see the big picture and who think it has enough of a future that they’ll invest the considerable resources necessary to launch something like this.

    #2 Yes, the promotion team has seasoned road veterans like Jimmy Blackwood to provide necessary experience, guidance, and wisdom. But probably over half of the promotion team is young enough that they could easily be running this event 30 or 40 years from now.

    In other words, decades from now, there is a decent chance we’ll look back at this announcement as a very significant moment in the future of Southern Gospel.

  7. Genius, pure genius!

  8. Woo hoo!!!!! Lucky me…only 80 miles away. I was just a kid (I promise!) when I attended the first National Quartet Convention on that very site in 1957. I was blessed to attend the first Old Time Gospel Reunion. I hope to be at this first event also, and go to quartet heaven. Is it time to pack yet??? 🙂

    • Memphis looks to be a 9 to 9 1/2 hour drive for me. I’ll have to leave a day early.

  9. Beyond the fact that I’m not bitter at all that this event, in my hometown, was a complete surprise to me… :-)…I’m very excited for this event! I sincerely hope this takes off, and I hope to attend at least a night or two!

  10. Great idea from many perspectives. Closer for us. We are excited about this!

  11. I am really excited about this event because I live 15 minutes from Memphis! While I was born after the NQC moved from Memphis, I grew up with Frank Arnold promoting several multi group events each year. However, this area is now a dead spot for Southern Gospel. I am lucky to attend 6 or 7 concerts each year and they are all one group concerts/church services not multi group events. I am hoping to attend every night of this event, and I am also hoping people will really support it so it can become an annual event.

    • We are excited about coming to Memphis! I think there’s still a local crowd, but I imagine we should be able to pull people from all across the country. It’s during summertime when families can get away since school is out. It will make a great vacation!

  12. Best idea in southern gospel in years…..

  13. Tremendous idea. I know that several folks in our business have been toying with this idea for years, but Stewart and Jimmy have the gumption to put in motion. I’m excited for them and for this event. I sure hope to be there!

  14. I think this is a great idea. I certainly hope some of the “to be named later” groups include Legacy Five, Tribute, Down East Boys, and Anchormen. In trying to figure out what groups had not yet been confirmed, these–along with Kingdom Heirs–were the full-time groups I came up with who appear to not be confirmed yet but definitely need to be there, especially if the promoters are trying to get every single full-time group out there to attend. I realize Kingdom Heirs’ Dollywood schedule may not allow them to attend, but I would think maybe if one of the days fell on a day off for them, an event of this magnitude would be worth the plane tickets to make it happen. I’ve not heard what the Anchormen are up to these days, but I know for sure that L-5, Tribute, and DEB should be at this event. Glad to see it’s in the summertime, too, so maybe we can get entire families out to the concerts. Will be waiting anxiously to see who is confirmed to be there in the future.

  15. Then far out in Boise-land is Liberty Quartet–another deserving full-time male quartet!

  16. Soul’d Out Qt would LOVE to be part of this GREAT EVENT.

  17. Awesome idea! Soul’d Out should be there among some of the others mentioned. I’ve not been to NQC but the time of the year plus the all quartet, quality line up will be enough to entice me to this event! I also like the “mixed quartet” idea too. I hope this is a huge success for years to come.

  18. I think this is a wonderful idea, and I am lookin forward to attending. With that said I just saw a quartet this past weekend who’s Bass singer was the best I’ve seen in many many years….and that was MARK209 and there bass, Joe Armstrong. I HOPE they will be a part of this event!!!

  19. The current lineup is excellent. I would agree that the additions of Legacy Five, Kingdom Heirs, Tribute, Anchormen, Down East Boys, and Soul’d Out would be fantastic. I would also love to see Old Paths, Liberty, and Southern Sound receive consideration.

  20. Tribute and the Old Paths should *definitely* be there!

  21. I guess it would be hard to make an exception but there is one mixed group I would like to see included and that is the Chuck Wagon Gang after the NQC could not find a time for them to appear last year. Maybe they could be grandfathered in as maybe the only mixed group at the first NQC still performing. Just a thought.

    • Were the Weatherfords at the first NQC?

      • And didn’t the Hopper Brothers and Connie win the talent contest at the first NQC? Did that win them a slot to sing a song on whatever the main stage was called then?

      • I don’t see the Hopper Brothers listed in the 1957 talent contest. Seems like the winning group that performed on the main program that year was the Sunshine Girls.

      • Ah! I just looked, and I think it was the ’64 talent contest which they won.

      • The Weatherfords were not at the first NQC. I believe their first NQC was in 1961.

      • Thanks!

  22. Daniel, I believe that you’re correct in saying that the Hopper Brothers and Connie won the talent contest in 1964.

  23. Just confirmed with Scott Fowler that Legacy Five will now be appearing at the JD Sumner Quartet Show.

  24. Daniel you just made my day!
    It’s about time Southern Gospel came back in a big way to Memphis!

    • Are you from the Memphis area? If I can pull off a trip out, perhaps we can shake hands and chat for a bit there!

  25. I am indeed a Memphian! And if you can get out here I look forward to meeting you!