Burman Porter leaves the Dove Brothers

Burman PorterLast night, bass singer Burman Porter announced his departure from the Dove Brothers. His Facebook status update indicated that this departure was due to health reasons. He said:

Today, with mixed emotions, I tendered my resignation to The Dove Brothers Band.

Many of you know that this past weekend during the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion I suffered chest pains that lead me to make a trip to the local emergency room on the night that I was to perform with the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion Quartet. After several rounds of blood tests, x-rays, and an EKG I was released with instructions to not be far from home and to see my family physician as quickly as possible.

I cannot thank my friends at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion enough for their kindness and understanding as I missed the evening performance that I had been looking forward to for a year. During my visit to the hospital I received numerous calls, text messages, and Facebook messages offering prayers and encouragement. I am very thankful that I have true friends who think enough of me to reach out like that.
Following the evening performances The Dove Brothers left Greenville, SC for an extended tour that I did not feel comfortable taking considering the warning from the ER doctors, so I remained in Greenville, 3 blocks from the hospital for the remainder of the weekend. We returned home Sunday morning and Robin went with me to see my doctor today. We were told that the source of my chest pain is stress…and that I should do anything within my ability to reduce my stress level in order to stop the pains and avoid future complications.

Following my doctor visit, and after talking with Robin, we informed McCray that we feel it best that I not return to the road with the group. McCray says he has found my replacement, so I’m sure you can look for his announcement sometime soon…but I wanted you to hear it from me first.

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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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Dixie Echoes hire Alex Utech

Alex And Andrew UtechThe Dixie Echoes announced in an email update today that they have hired Alex Utech to be their new bass singer. They have also hired his twin brother Andrew to be a musician and bus driver. The brothers hail from Scottsboro, Alabama, and are twenty years old.

Their email update included the picture seen at left; it did not identify which brother was which—not that it would necessarily have helped!

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The Perrys hire David Ragan

David RaganLast night, the Perrys announced that David Ragan will be their new lead singer. He had been filling in for the last several weeks and has now been offered and accepted the permanent position.

David commented:

Whenever the Inspirations would sing with the Perrys, I always enjoyed it. I’ve been a fan of theirs for along time. With the lead singers they’ve had through the years, I know I have big shoes to fill, and I’m thankful for that opportunity. I thought the biggest change for me would be going from a male group to one that’s co-ed, but Bryan, Leah and I gelled almost immediately. They’re both laid back and very easy to travel with. Bryan is such a great singer with one of the best hearts. And Libbi is incredible. I’m not sure I could put into words the grace and determination she has. I admire her and Tracy both very much, and respect this ministry they’ve built. I’m very happy to be a part of this fine team.

Libbi Perry Stuffle added:

On behalf of the Perrys, Tracy and I are thrilled to welcome David, his wife Michelle, and son Bradley to our FAMILY! We have known David for several years and have always admired his love for God, the music and the fans. We are excited to start a new chapter with David.

There are enough stylistic difference between The Inspirations (David’s previous group) and The Perrys that some observers questioned whether he would be able to make the stylistic transition. Within weeks, though, he was erasing all doubt with performances like this one:

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Dixie Melody Boys hire Austin Foster

AUSTINThis afternoon, the Dixie Melody Boys announced that their new lead singer is Austin Foster. He is an eighteen-year-old from Birmingham, Alabama, son of Southern Gospel DJ and promoter Ron Foster.

Group manager Ed O’Neal said: “I met a young man at NQC last year and he stuck in my mind. We invited him in last week to audition. His voice was powerful and anointed but his personality instantly fit right in. After the last man left, we talked and decided to offer him the job. … We are excited to have Austin with us. I know the fans will love him. He is true Southern Gospel and a great young man. His ability to sing the great songs of the past as well as the newer songs we do makes him a unique talent.”

Tenor and publicist Matt Felts added that there were over 300 applicants. “We listened to each demo and prayed that God would send us the right fit for where the group is headed. There were so many great singers, many already established names in Gospel music so it was hard to narrow them down. Each one brought something completely different and special to the table. We took a different approach than usual and had the men spend the day with us and all go to lunch together. It was a great way to get to know them more.”

Foster said, “I am super excited to sing with the Dixie Melody Boys. I have been listening to these guys all my life. It is an honor to share the stage with them.”

The Dixie Melody Boys will head into the studio this month to add the vocals of new members Foster and baritone Aaron Dishman to their upcoming release.

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Dixie Melody Boys hire Aaron Dishman

Aaron Dishman

Last month, the Dixie Melody Boys announced that baritone Steven Cooper’s would be transitioning to the bass guitar position, after his doctor prescribed several years of vocal rest. Yesterday evening, they sent out a press release announcing his replacement: They have hired Aaron Dishman as their new baritone/pianist.

Dishman had filled in several years ago at the pianist position. “We fell in love with his spirit,” bass singer and manager Ed O’Neal stated. “When this came open, we knew he would be a great fit.”

Tenor and publicist Matt Felts added, “We are excited to have Aaron join us. When he came to audition and sat down at the piano to sing us a song, you could feel God’s spirit. He will add so much to our concerts and I know the fans will love him.”

The Dixie Melody Boys are currently accepting applications for the lead singer position vacated yesterday by Mike Rogers, who moved to Brian Free & Assurance

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Joseph Habedank leaves The Perrys

Yesterday afternoon, The Perrys announced on their Facebook page that Joseph Habedank is leaving the group. Habedank offered this statement:

After 10 years of having the great privilege to serve with the Perrys, I have decided to step down as Lead Singer at this time. Libbi and I talked earlier this week, and while I would never want to abandon her in such a great time of need, sometimes The Lord has other plans. There aren’t enough words for me to express how truly grateful I am for both Tracy and Libbi giving me the opportunity that they have. They are like parents to me and I love them dearly. I will miss them. 

To the Gospel Music community, thank you all for loving and accepting me over the years. I never dreamed that The Lord would allow me to feel so loved by the fans of Gospel Music. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

As for my future, only The Lord knows what He has in store. I am confident of this one thing tho; I am absolutely nothing without Him and I only want His perfect will for my life. My wife, Lindsay, and I both covet your prayers in this time of transition. We love you all. 

With a grateful heart,
Joseph Habedank 

Libbi Perry Stuffle added her own thoughts:

While it saddens me that Joseph is leaving, we definitely respect his and Lindsay’s need to reevaluate their lives and future. He has been like a son to me and Tracy. Although he is leaving our group, we will always consider him part of our family. 

As for the Perry’s, we will continue on. It is my plan to be back on the road as soon and as much as possible. I don’t have all the answers right now, but God is in control. Thank you for your love and prayers for me, Tracy, Jared, Bryan, and Leah; and your continued support of the group.

In His Grip,

At the time of the stroke, Joseph Habedank was nearing ten years with the group. Besides the length of his tenure, his stature as a songwriter (multiple #1 hits and a Song of the Year) played a major role in audiences accepting the Stuffle-less Perrys. But at the time of the stroke, Bryan Walker was the rookie in the group; he’s now the senior member at the programs far enough from Nashville that Libbi can’t make it. So Bryan, Leah, and Habedank’s replacement face a steep road ahead and will need our prayers.

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Mark Trammell Quartet hires Dustin Black

The Mark Trammell Quartet just announced that Dustin Black has accepted the position of tenor. Black grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, and is the first Yankee the group has ever hired. When he started filling in, he was so new to the genre of music that he underwent a ninety-day trial period so that both Black and the group could be certain he was the right fit before the hire was finalized.

Mark Trammell comments: “We are SO excited about Dustin coming on board and we look forward to what is in store for both Dustin and MTQ. I am still convinced that God knows exactly what we need and when we need it. … He is a brand new face to gospel music and has already made many new friends across the country with his winning smile and warm personality. He has proven to be a true Christian Gentleman in every way. I was immediately impressed with this young man and his ability to just be one of the boys. Dustin had only been to one gospel concert prior to walking on our bus. It was a Gaither event in California a few years back while he was finishing his Masters degree in music at West Coast Baptist College.”

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Palmetto State Quartet to retire group name

Larry Strickland, Palmetto State Quartet bass singer/manager, has announced that the Palmetto State Quartet name will once again be retired. The group is running a contest and accepting replacement name suggestions at NameTheGroup@gmail.com. The winning entry will receive a $500 cash prize, the first copy of the group’s next CD, front row seats to any upcoming concert, and assorted other prizes. The group intends to announce the replacement name on June 3rd.

The quartet has been based out of Tennessee, not South Carolina (the Palmetto State), for a number of years, so the change only makes sense.

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Derrick Selph leaves Brian Free & Assurance

Derrick SelphBrian Free & Assurance has announced that, after nearly ten years with the group, baritone Derrick Selph is coming off the road. The group commented: “He has been such an amazing part of this ministry for almost 10 years, and he will be greatly missed. As many of you know, Derrick and his wife Jennifer are expecting their second child, and he feels that he needs to be at home more. He will be greatly missed because we truly are family but we all want him to do what he feels he needs to do in this situation.” Selph will remain with the group for several more weeks, during the transition.

The group is accepting applications (audio clip, bio, picture) at P.O. Box 1909, Douglasville, GA 30133, or brianfreemusic@comcast.net

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