Dixie Melody Boys hire Josh Garner

Josh GarnerThe Dixie Melody Boys announced this morning that Josh Garner will be their new lead singer.

Garner is a veteran in the Southern Gospel industry. He spent eight years (1999-2007) with the Florida Boys; he sang until the group’s retirement in 2007. After spending several years (~2007-2010) with the Blackwood Gospel Quartet, Garner and John Rulapaugh launched their own trio, Freedom, in April of 2010.

Dixie Melody Boys owner/bass singer Ed O’Neal comments: “I have always loved Josh’s voice. I even tried to hire him a few times in the past, but the timing was never right. I am thrilled to have him join us.”

After Mike Rogers left the group in May to join Brian Free & Assurance, Dixie Melody Boys tenor and publicist Matt Felts recalls, “Josh called me and offered to help us by filling in until we could find someone. It made looking for someone easy knowing he was on stage with us until we did. His first night felt as if we had been singing together for years. Over the next few weeks, both he and the group knew it was the right fit.”

One of SouthernGospelBlog.com’s Facebook friends said it best: “Ed O’Neal University must have added a doctorate program.”

UPDATE: Josh Garner has issued an open letter shedding more light on the thought process that led him to this surprising move, and on the future of Freedom:

It is with mixed emotions that I announce my departure from Freedom and my new position as lead singer for the Dixie Melody Boys. Please know that much thought and prayer went into this decision, as I sought counsel and blessing from all parties involved. That includes first and foremost my wife, Alison, who has stood by me and supported me through every life change since the retirement of the Florida Boys Quartet. She is my rock and I can honestly say that I could not and would not have made it through the last eight years without her.

Secondly, I want to acknowledge and thank the man who, except for my wife, in the last five years has become my closest confidant and dearest friend, John Rulapaugh. I have said it from the stage and behind his back that John is the single greatest talent to come along in our field in a very long time. No disrespect to anyone else, but I can truthfully say that there is no one that I had rather sing with than John Rulapaugh. From the first time we sang together in a scrap-iron group at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion to the last concert we perform as Freedom, there has been a certain “magic” that I cannot describe in words. My time singing with John has been some of the most enjoyable and rewarding in my entire career and I am thankful for the opportunity to have shared the stage with him. For the first time ever, I want to publicly thank Bob Jones, Johnny Garner, Ron Halbert, Betty Walden, and Carolyn Cockrill for your belief and support in Freedom’s mission. The last four years would not have been possible without you folks, and we are eternally grateful. To the countless number of saints who have prayed for us over these last four years, thank you for your unwavering support. Also, I must acknowledge our dear friend, Jonathan Sawrie, who has been a tremendous joy to work with over the last several months.

As most of you know, John Rulapaugh is a consummate family man and has a very successful career in the cabin rental and real estate market in the Smoky Mountain region. Likewise, I have stayed busy working towards my Bachelor of Science Religion Degree through Liberty University. Thus, we have purposely worked a limited schedule as Freedom. For the last several years, I have struggled with the idea of seeking a career outside of Gospel music. However, I have come to realize that my love and passion for it is just as strong today as it was the first time I walked on stage, therefore, I am grateful for this return to a full-time singing position.

The Dixie Melody Boys’ place in Gospel music history is firmly established, and I am so thankful to finally be a part of their legacy. To explain, I must recall the first time I met their leader, Ed O’ Neal. I was 15 years old and my family group, the Garner Boys, opened a concert for the Dixie Melody Boys at the high school auditorium in Wayne City, IL. After the concert, Ed approached me in his unmistakeable way and said, “Hey buddy, can you play the bass guitar?” After I replied, “No, sir,” he said, “Well, how soon can you learn?” I’ll never forget that night, as I gained one of the biggest cheerleaders I’ll ever know in Mr. O’ Neal. To this day, he has encouraged me in my career as no other. He made the first official offer to me when I was 19 years old, but circumstances kept me from taking the job. After filling in with them for the last several weeks, I knew that the Lord was leading me to finally accept the offer. Not only did I want to sing with the Dixie Melody Boys, I felt that I needed to. Call me nostalgic, but just as I wanted to remind people of how great the Florida Boys were when I accepted that position, I want to remind Gospel music fans of the great heritage of the Dixie Melody Boys and their incomparable leader, Mr. Ed O’ Neal. He has championed me through my entire career and I want to honor him and the legacy of the group he has led for over 50 years. I want to thank Matt, Aaron, Steve, and Rayburn for their dedication to this group, as well. I pray that you will continue to support Freedom as they carry on the great tradition of Gospel music that we started out to preserve, and hope that you will join me now in honoring one of Gospel music’s treasures, the Dixie Melody Boys.

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35 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. Any news on what this means for ‘Freedom’?

    • I believe that more information on that is forthcoming soon.

    • Based on my reading of Josh’s letter posted on Facebook, I believe Freedom is dissolved.

      • That’s not how I interpreted this sentence: “I pray that you will continue to support Freedom as they carry on the great tradition of Gospel music that we started out to preserve, and hope that you will join me now in honoring one of Gospel music’s treasures, the Dixie Melody Boys.”

        (See above.)

      • Oops…I guess I missed that sentence somehow. You can delete my comment to avoid confusion.

      • No problem. Actually, I think a number of other people had the same misunderstanding, and if they see our conversation here, I think it would actually serve to clear up the misunderstanding.

  2. This is most interesting……….!! I had an email this past week advertising a new CD by Freedom Trio, with Kingdom Heirs lead singer providing the baritone part. Now, Josh has joined the Dixie Melody Boys!! Just proves that nothing stays the same in SG, and you never know who might be in the group when you go to
    hear them. Not thinking negatively, just thinking out loud, and can’t wait to hear DMB at NQC. Yay! for them
    and Yay! for Josh, too.
    God Bless all the singers, and transitions!!

    P. S. Seems like it pays to come to your website and find out the latest news rather than wait for my daily email.!!

    • The email only comes out once per day, so yes, if a breaking news story hits the site, you’ll see it on the site before you get the email.

  3. I’m only thinking out loud, but instead of waiting to NQC to buy a physical copy of Freedom’s new CD, I probably ought to go ahead and buy the digital download now.

    • That was my first thought as well, just downloaded it this morning.

  4. Ok, so I am PUMPED about Josh singing with a quartet again and with DMB?? WOW!!! Josh is one of the most amazing lead singers and talk about somebody who can deliver a song!!! This is exciting but then on the other hand, I am sad for Freedom because they had really taken off and I think Daniel, you would agree with me on this, John Rulapaugh is one of the most underrated tenors in Southern Gospel history!!! I hope that he continues to sing and who knows, he might even wind up in a quartet again which would be AWESOME!!!!

    • The only reason I don’t know if I would agree with “underrated” is because of how many people there are who recognize just how good he is. But if you’d change that to “best,” then I’d certainly agree. He’s one of the top three on the road right now and one of the top ten of all time.

      • Ok, I change my comment to “best!!” 😉

  5. This is obviously a great move for the DMB! I wonder if it might be part of the plan for the continuance of the DMB post-ED.

  6. Good for Ed and Josh !

  7. Oh my, that’s a good group now, plus some live music…Wow! Just Wow!

  8. Wait, correct me if I’m wrong, I thought they had just hired Austin Foster as lead singer.

    • It didn’t work out.

      • Okay, thanks, that’s too bad. I was hoping that it would work out for him. Even so, hopefully Josh is a great fit for them.

  9. Here is a link when Josh filled in for them at the Memphis Quartet festival


    BTW, I saw on Facebook a comment that said that they didn’t know that Ed O’Neill University had a doctorate program and I couldn’t help but get tickled!! Love it!

    • That was in the comments section to the SouthernGospelBlog.com post, and I liked it so much that I quoted it in an update above. 🙂

  10. Wow! Great news. Josh is an amazing singer. Big move for DMB.

    I’m hoping John keeps singing. He is one of the finest we have.


  11. So glad this is happening! Josh is one of the best, and the DMBs have been one of my favorite groups for a long time. I can’t think of a better fit.


  13. Wow, just…WOW! I’m happy for Josh, but I didn’t see that coming at all! I had the privilege to see Freedom at the Brumley Sing last Friday & they were amazing! This leads me to wonder if Jonathan Sawrie will move to lead and they will hire a new baritone?

  14. Wow… I didn’t see that one coming either.

    • It would have been one of the most shocking moves of the year to me if it had come out of the blue. But since it came after he had been filling in for a month or two, I had already been preparing myself for the news.

  15. Just heard Freedom at the Brumley sing. They were very good and I’d never heard of them before. Yes, Josh is very good, but Jonathan Sawrie could go solo with no problem in my estimation. And, in fact, I asked him after the set if he had done any solo work with the piano. Would love to hear his mellow voice and piano talents on a CD.

  16. This is an excellent move for DMB. Lot of exciting things happening in the DMB camp these days.

  17. Great move for DMB. Josh is one of the finest, both as a vocalist and an individual. Prayers for John as he decides where to go from here.

  18. Loved the letter. It seemed so kind and professional and I like it when people leave groups, but leave the ‘right ‘ way. I’m wishing great things for DMB, Josh and Freedom! (After all, they’re all in the same business…..spreading the Good News!)

  19. We’ve known Josh since he joined the Florida Boys and have always enjoyed his music.
    God’s blessings to he and Alison and the DMBs!

  20. John Rulapaugh posted his comments on Facebook:

    “I’m sad to lose a great singing partner but happy to see Josh continuing to fulfill his hearts desire and calling to full-time ‘quartet’n’ I’ve always been a fan of the Great Ed O’Neal and all of ‘The Boys’ and I know this has the potential to be the best version of the group in recent memory. Congrats to all involved!”

  21. This is really great! I think this is a good fit for Ed. Maybe even a long-term fit. Hopefully, Josh will resurrect Stand By Me that the he did with the Florida Boys. You have to have a good bass for that arrangement and Ed is the one who could cut it.

  22. I wonder if he’s going to take over singing Antioch Church Choir because I’m pretty sure Aaron Dishman sang it at MQS. It makes sense either way since that song is done with tracks it doesn’t require Aaron to be at the piano.