Stewart Varnado leaves the Dixie Echoes

This is one headline I thought I would never write. But it’s true. Varnado just posted this on his Facebook page:

I’d like to thank the Dixie Echoes for allowing me the opportunity to live out my dream for the past 14 years. I joined the group when I was 17 years old. Randy and Scoot Shelnut have became like family to me, and it’s been a blast traveling with some great guys through the years. I realize that when people put out statements saying they want to spend more time at home, it seems to be a cover for unhappiness within the group. That is not the case here. I simply have the desire to come off the road for a while. I wish nothing but the best for the Dixie Echoes, and pray that one day, if it’s God’s will, I can return to Gospel music. I have no future plans at the moment and will be filling in for the group until a replacement has been found. Thanks also to the many friends that I have made while traveling! It has been an honor to get to meet so many fine people. I will still be active behind the scenes promoting the music that I love. Anyone interested in auditioning should contact Randy Jr. at

For once, I am practically speechless. This is the sort of thing I’d think of as an April Fool’s Day prank—much like Guy Penrod joining the Inspirations or, say, Scott Fowler leaving Legacy Five. But it’s not April 1—regrettably.

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22 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Least he is being honest, he wants to stay home for awhile. Good for him. Yes it is sad to see someone leave a group when that person has given so much for so long.

  2. Stewart,
    I wish you well. I know it must be difficult to make a decission like this. I will be praying for you.

  3. Funny you should mention that you’d think of this as an April Fool’s prank. Several years ago Stewart actually did pull this as just that. He called me and had me going… funny, right? Not so much at that time. I could have choked him.

    Since this time isn’t a joke, it’s almost one of those things that I didn’t believe until I saw it in print. Don’t really think anyone saw this one coming.

    “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…” Ecc 3:1


  4. I am sorry to hear this. I thought Stewart was part owner of the Quartet

  5. Wow…that’s a shocker. Praying for Stewart and the Echoes.

  6. According to this site: he is 50% owner of the Dixie Echoes. But he doesn’t say to contact himself (as part-owner) but Scoot (the other 50%). Interesting. But no announcement of a transfer of ownership.

    • I am merely speculating, but that might just be that Scoot will run the day to day stuff and make decisions like that which directly effect the group members. In other words, personnel issues might be a better decision to be made by those who have to be on the road with the person. 🙂

  7. Yes, I think speechless describes me as well. Total shocker.

    But as fans, we cannot be selfish and keep him forever. Like all artists, they have families that have to be unselfish when they say goodbye to them every weekend.

    Thanks Stewart for the 14 years of service you gave to the Dixie Echoes and to your fans. When the time is right, we’ll welcome you back with open arms.

  8. Wow.

    (What more can we say?)

  9. I did do a mental check in my mind if this wasn’t April Fool’s. Since it isn’t, I’ll say I have always had a lot of respect for Stewart and this certainly does nothing to decrease it. I hope to still see his name pop up here and there occasionally!

  10. I certainly have mixed emotions on this one; shock, concern and disappointment. I would have never believed this could happen. The Dixie Echoes, one of the oldest quartets still on the road, has suffered a major blow. Actually, all of Southern Gospel music has suffered a major blow.

    Seemingly, Stewart was in a unique position. Having the opportunity to own part of one of the top quartets is a huge accomplishment, especially for a pianist. The Dixie Echoes, in my opinion, are the finest quartet in Southern Gospel music today. They have been very consistant in their style, dress and classic sound. I looked forward to Stewant (and Scoot) helping to preserve an dying American art form through their ownership of the quartet.

    Rarely does a pianist have a real influence on the success of a quartet. Stewart is very much a key member of this quartet. Who can replace him?

    I last saw the Dixie Echoes earlier this year. My 15 year old son was with me. I have been around Southern Gospel music since I was a kid, going back to the late 1960’s. I have seen just about all the great quartets over the years, but that concert was among the best I have ever attended. Stewart did the funniest thing I have ever seen at a concert. I don’t recall the song, but Stewart grabbed a microphone and sang a little bass (twice). It was absolutely hilarious! I had no idea he could sing that low. It was huge surprise. I looked over at my son. He was beaming with delight. I will always remember the huge grin on his face. I realize that this little moment of my son’s life doesn’t sound like much to most people, but I am sure that he will remember it for many years to come. Maybe some day after I’m gone, my son will take his son to a Southern Gospel concert and remember Stewart. Maybe the Dixie Echoes, including Stwart, will still be around. I hope so.

    I will truly miss Stewart’s talent, humility and humor.

    • Well put. I agree that they are the best on the road right now and several of their concerts are cherished memories for my wife and me. I always thought that Stewart is among the best accompanists and could never understand some blogers beating up on him. Did anyone else ever see him do his “Blues Pianist” bit? It had the crowd screaming when I saw it. He’s been smart and has built a business outside of performing so can take time off the road and I wish him well even though I’ll miss him. This is one more break in the chain back to my favorite ‘Echoes lineup of Wesley, Randy, Scott, Pat Barker and Stewart, although I also loved the Bill Squires/Billy Todd incarnation too.

  11. My man, you’ll be hard to replace,Great job. Best of luck and blessings to you.

  12. Have to admit that I am sad to see him go. It won’t be the same without him. However, it is easy to see why he would want more time at home with his family.

    All the best, Stuart! Sure hope to see you again one day on stage. You will be missed.

  13. Don’t I remember Stewart as being one of the driving forces behind the upcoming all-quartets event in Memphis next year? If so, I expect that trying to coordinate a first-time event of that magnitude would be very difficult to accomplish within what little time remains from an active road-trip-and-recording calendar. Prayers that Stewart will be richly blessed in all his upcoming endeavors, whatever they might be!

  14. As everyone else has stated, I am totally shocked. We have done two cruise’s for Stewart, and I consider him a great friend. He will be missed. His humor, and his talent would be big shoes to fill.

  15. Stewart will be missed. I hope to see him back soon. I understand him wanting to get away for a while and reflect on the future. 14 years is a long time to devote to one group this day and time. Stewart will be greatly missed by the Echoes but they will continue on and everything will work out for the good.

  16. Surprised and shocked is an understatement.

  17. So, do you think the group will revert to using tracks? (That’s a joke if you don’t recognize it…) Stewart was a major facet of the group’s on-stage personality. Following him in the pianist position will be challenging for his successor.

    • It would be like following Kim Hopper with the Hoppers or Rodney Griffin with Greater Vision. No matter how talented a replacement for any of the three would have been, all three (though not emcees) provide a major part of the group’s on-stage persona.

  18. Really disappointed. How do the Echoes recover from this? I could say something like I wish him well, but really, I just wish he’d change his mind.

  19. We are praying for you, and look forward to the day when we can again enjoy your music ministry. Take each day at a time, and as senior citizens, my wife and I can assure you that the days go quickly. God loves you!