In the mid-1950s, Duane Nicholson (tenor), Neil Enloe (lead), Don Baldwin (baritone), Dave Kyllonen (bass), and Eddie Reece (piano) started performing together as The Couriers. Within about a decade, Baldwin and Reece had left, but Nicholson, Enloe, and Kyllonen carried the group forward as a trio, with Kyllonen moving up to baritone. They retired the group twice (1980 and 2000), but eventually came back both times. There were periods where others sang in the group, including a particularly extensive stretch where Kyllonen toured with his family and Neil Enloe’s brother Phil sang baritone instead. But throughout their lives, Nicholson, Enloe, and Kyllonen kept reuniting. Earlier this year, they decided that 2013 would be their final year on the road.
Last Sunday night, they performed their final retirement concert. I had the privilege of watching most of it, and it was a special and unforgettable experience. It got me to thinking about the peaks and valleys they had throughout their career.
When they started as a Bible College quartet, a student ministry outreach team based out of Central Bible Institute in Springfield, Missouri, they undoubtedly spent a lot of their time on small and medium-sized church stages. But they did so well that there was enough demand for them to go full-time in 1958.
In their early years as a professional group, there were definitely lean years. They shared a story Sunday evening about how, between two concerts, they only had the money to buy two hotdogs and split them three ways. But they kept going.
By the mid-1960s, doors started opening for a place on the national Southern Gospel circuit. They signed with Canaan in 1965 and did a couple of records with them. But they found their greatest success while recording with Tempo Records in the 1970s. They toured the nation, won a Dove Award, and introduced a signature song—”Statue of Liberty”—that is still a classic standard today.
But then, a voice surgery gone bad for tenor Duane Nicholson forced a premature retirement in 1980. Within just a couple of years, Nicholson’s voice had recovered enough that Nicholson and Enloe returned to the road and brought the name back. God opened doors for them to sing again, but it wasn’t necessarily the same doors opened in the 1970s. By and large, they didn’t have the radio hits, Dove Awards, and other trappings of a national Southern Gospel career that they had in the 1970s.
I believe that it’s in the final decades of their career that they built their greatest legacy. They didn’t spend these decades chasing the spotlight and pining after their glory days. Instead, they walked through the doors that did open and sung at churches large and small—blossoming and bearing fruit where God planted them.
Over the course of a long lifetime, the spotlight comes and the spotlight goes. God places singers in different places at different times for different reasons. There’s nothing wrong with touring regionally. There’s nothing wrong with being invited to the national stage. But wherever God has placed you, do your best to be faithful.
Look at what the Couriers did. Do that.