Young quartets carry on Southern gospel tradition

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Legendary Southern gospel music groups such as the Statesmen and the Cathedrals may no longer be around, but their legacy is. Young quartets such as CrossWay and N'Harmony are gaining in popularity -- with both the traditional gospel music crowd and new fans.

"This is one of the fastest-growing genres of music," said Casey Cappleman, CrossWay Quartet's tenor. "There's so many young groups coming into gospel music recently, and that's great because it shows we are keeping gospel music going."

CrossWay, a quartet of men in their 20s from Mississippi, saw their first radio single land on the Singing News Top 80 chart of gospel songs this year. "I Won't Look at the Lions" rose to No. 42 on the magazine's chart this fall, and their latest release, "Live Right, Die Right," already is getting airplay across the nation.

With their first CD on the Spring Hill label, "No Distractions," this quartet is well on its way to establishing itself in the industry. CrossWay was nominated for Horizon Group of the Year at the 2001 Singing News Fan Awards in September during the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, Ky. The Horizon award is given each year to the fans' favorite new gospel group.

Cappleman, 24, said the quartet was excited to have been nominated and to be at the quartet convention with such established groups as Gold City. "Gold City influenced me to want to sing Southern gospel music," he said. "We try to pattern ourselves after groups like Gold City and the Cathedrals, who were classy gentlemen on stage and off. Now we sing with Gold City on stage sometimes, and it's awesome to become friends with people I have looked up to.

"The groups who have been around longer have been nothing but encouraging to us," he added.

Cappleman, a member of Springdale Baptist Church in Ripley, Miss., noted that even in the three years since CrossWay's founding, more and more young people are attending gospel concerts. "At a recent concert, I saw four young guys in their early teens sitting on the front row and watching the whole concert without moving. It's awesome to see a younger generation getting involved with Southern gospel music."

Bass singer Chris Weaver, 23, a member of County Line Baptist Church in Walnut, Miss., said the key word for CrossWay's style is variety. "Our ages give us an open door for reaching youth, and we have plenty of songs for the older crowd who remember the Statesmen and Cathedrals. Anybody from 6 to 60 can enjoy our songs."

But Cappelman admits there was a time when both he and baritone Paul Smith, a member of Walnut (Miss.) Baptist Church, thought Southern gospel was "old people" music. "After our salvation experiences, the messages in the songs began to mean more to us," Cappleman said. "That's the strongest point of Southern gospel music -- it's clear-cut. Now, I don't think any of us would disagree that it's the greatest music in the world."

CrossWay's lead singer and only married member is Marty Hurt, 26, a member of Mountain View Baptist Church in Ripley, Miss. All the men have moved to Nashville, where they now attend a Wednesday men's Bible study at Judson Baptist Church because they usually are on the road on weekends.

"We hope we can sing together forever," Cappleman said. "We're just a bunch of common guys who made a commitment to God and to each other. We'd like to stay out on the road all the time, but we've got to get Marty back home because he misses his wife," Cappleman teased.

Another quartet of men in their 20s also is gaining popularity with Southern gospel music fans. Just since becoming a fulltime quartet in 1996, N'Harmony has sung at the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, Ky., and toured in Ireland. They also have had two Top 10 songs in the past year from their most recent CD, "Out of the Blue" (Homeland) and another release, "The Devil Tried His Best" currently stands at No. 26 on the Singing News Top 80 chart.

Lead singer Shane Dunlap and his father, Steve Dunlap, founded the group in 1992. But by 1999, the father-son-anchored quartet was left with only the son at the helm after Steve died of cancer.

"It was very hard when Dad passed away," Shane said. "I thought about closing down the ministry and doing something else. But God let me persevere, and we have become who we are today."

In addition to Shane, N'Harmony includes Kevin Waters, bass, of Rogersville, Mo.; Craig O'Dell, baritone, of Corpus Christi, Texas; and Chris Cooper, tenor, of Tuscaloosa, Ala. They all now live in the Nashville area where they are working on a new a cappella recording.

"Our goal is to touch older and younger people alike with our music," Shane said. "We're Southern gospel, be we feel like if we can reach a young person with a particular song and an older one with a different song -- mix them together and give one good concert and one good CD -- then we have done what we need to do. That's the same if we're in our 20s or in our 40s; that's still what we want to do."

Music from both CrossWay and N'Harmony is available in Christian bookstores nationwide. For bookings, call the Harper Agency at (615) 851-4500 or email bookings@theharperagency.com.


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CROSSWAY and N'HARMONY.

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