This week’s article takes a somewhat different direction that most weeks. My wife, Charlene, and I had the honor of attending a birthday party for Kenny Gates on Saturday of last week. Kenny turned 80 on November 3rd. Of course, if you have been reading my articles and know anything about Southern Gospel Music you have heard of Kenny. He was the piano player for the famed Blue Ridge Quartet for many years beginning in 1949. There were many stories told about Kenny and his experiences on the road. I certainly do not have space to begin to recount these stories but there is a part of his birthday party that I think bears telling, so here goes.
As one might imagine there were a number of legends at this gathering. Including Eddie Wallace who for many years sang and played piano for the Sunshine Boys, Jack Pittman owner of the Palmetto State Quartet, Melvin Klaudt from the Klaudt Indian family, Willie Wynn a longtime member of the Oak Ridge Quartet and Willie Wynn and the Tennesseans, Bob Shaw also a member of the Sunshine Boys, Wayne Shuford and Joel Duncan both with the Trav’lers, Miles Cooper who was with the Pine Ridge Boys and has appeared on WGGS-TV many times, Bill Crowe and Donnie Seablot both were with the Blue Ridge Quartet and Art Bain who has a recording studio in Williamston as well is a former member of the Trav’lers. I mention all these names as a way of showing what a talent Kenny is and how well-respected he is among his peers.
Eddie Wallace, Bill Crowe and Willie Wynn shared some of their times on the road together.
There were two things shared that give some indication of the talent and the unrecognized status of this great Southern Gospel Music Legend. Bill Crowe talked about how Kenny would teach him his part when he began with the Blue Ridge Quartet and how Kenny always played the piano flawlessly. Willie Wynn talked about how much Kenny was underrated in the industry, and I certainly agree. He also talked about how Kenny and others like him paved the way for much of what is taken for granted today. Eddie Wallace talked about how Kenny deserves to be in the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and if you agree be sure to vote for him when the ballots are sent out in a few months.
Now for my comments about Kenny Gates. When I think of Southern Gospel Pianists two folks come to mind as the best of the best and they are Kenny Gates and Hovie Lister. These two were quartet pianists who knew that their job was to accompany the quartet. When Kenny plays you can recognize the song while so many of today’s pianists play for 5 or 10 minutes and if they do not tell you the name of the song in more cases than not you will never know what they played. Of course, Kenny took that a step farther, he not only played but also sang the baritone part for many years.
Kenny began his musical training at an early age, in fact, around 6. His mother began the process of musical training and from there Kenny went on to the Vaughn Music School to continue his training. He sang with a local group in Lincolnton, North Carolina, his home town, and then as earlier stated he came with the Blue Ridge in 1949 and has remained in Spartanburg since that time.
To conclude this article on somewhat of a personal note, all the folks mentioned above along with yours truly gathered around the piano and sang several of Kenny’s favorite songs. What a thrill for me to sing with many of my heroes and especially my good friend Kenny Gates. Thanks so much to Kenny and his wife Cindy for allowing me to be a part of this special celebration.
I can be contacted at 864-979-9626 or 864-895-1287. Also I would like to invite you to Heritage Chapel Baptist Church this Sunday at 10:30 for our homecoming. The group “New River” will provide the special music and lunch will follow the worship service. Everyone is invited to attend. Hope to see you there.