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GOGR Music History -
The Dixie Echoes
By Alan Kendall

Our wonderful historian John Crenshaw is spending this month on "special assignment", so therefore I count it an honor and privilege to be able to fill in with an article for him this month.  This month's articles center around one of my favorite quartets and some great friends of mine, The Dixie Echoes.

For over 40 years, the Dixie Echoes have been leaving their audiences wanting more with each performance. While various changes have occurred in this legendary quartet through the years, one constant has remained the foundation of the group for a majority of its career, and that constant is the name "Shelnut".

The Dixie Echoes were formed as a matter of necessity. JG Whitfield, who had retired from the Florida Boys just months earlier, was suffering from pure restlessness! Recruiting musicians Sue Whitfield, Doyle Wiggins, Jerry Brazwell, and Earl Thomas, Whitfield formed The Messengers Quartet, based out of Pensacola, Florida, in 1960. The group was soon in demand and after a brief period, Whitfield renamed the group "The Dixie Echoes". By 1963, the group consisted of JG Whitfield singing bass, Joe Whitfield (brother of JG and husband of Sue) singing baritone, Doyle Wiggins singing lead, George Forbis singing tenor, Sue Whitfield at the piano, and Hal Kennedy playing guitar and singing selected solos. This lineup was one of several groups selected to perform at Carnegie Hall in 1963, along with the Florida Boys, Chuck Wagon Gang, Harvesters, and The Couriers.

Messengers Quartet - 1960
L-R: Doyle Wiggins, Jerry Brazwell, Sue Whitfield, JG Whitfield, Earl Thomas

Later in 1963, Jack Toney joined the group as lead singer. Jackís stint was short-lived, as he eventually resigned his position to join Hovie Lister and the Statesmen. Although the Dixie Echoes had lost one of gospel musicís finest lead voices, this change set the stage for even greater things. Dale Shelnut had just come off the road, following the disbanding of The Tennesseans Quartet,and now, he brought his exciting and commanding stage presence to the Dixie Echoes. Shelnut literally became the groupís star, and the Dixie Echoes began to flourish.

Dixie Echoes - 1963
Top: Hal Kennedy, JG Whitfield, Jack Toney, George Forbis, Bottom: Joe Whitfield, Sue Whitfield

Around this time, the Gospel Singing Jubilee was on the airwaves, and the Dixie Echoes captured a national following through the Jubilee. As the quartet reached greater demand, more changes were at hand. Forbis was the next to leave, and he was replaced by former Florida Boys tenor Coy Cook. Ralph Jarman stepped in as the groupís pianist for a couple years. JG Whitfield soon grew tired of the demands of the road and retired once again from the full-time quartet scene. Following a very brief stint by Paul Downing, after which he left to form the Downings, Calvin Runion became the groupís bass singer. Hal Kennedy also retired from the road as well. The Dixie Echoes in 1970 featured some of its best and most popular performers. This lineup consisted of bass singer Ken Turner, Joe Whitfield, Dale Shelnut, tenor singer Larry Ford, and pianist Sue Whitfield. Also at this time, Daleís 15-year-old son, Randy Shelnut, joined the group as bass player.

Dixie Echoes - 1964
Clockwise from Top: JG Whitfield, Joe Whitfield, Dale Shelnut, Sue Whitfield, George Forbis, Hal Kennedy

During the early years, the group released several popular songs and arrangements, such as "Give Up", "Welcome Home My Child", and Hal Kennedyís arrangement of "Until Then". One of the groupís finest albums during these early years was Exciting and Inspiring, featuring the lineup of Runion, Whitfield, Shelnut, Cook, and Jarman. This album introduced what was perhaps to be Dale Shelnutís signature song, "Trouble In My Way", as well as his very popular rendition of "How Great Thou Art". Another great album was the 1970 recording Shades of Thought, the lone album featuring the lineup of Turner, Whitfield, Shelnut, Ford, Whitfield, and Shelnut. Not only did this album feature Shelnutís other popular spiritual, "In the Prayer Room", but also Larry Fordís beautiful rendition of "Ship Ahoy".

Joe and Sue Whitfield had been the patrons of the Dixie Echoes for nearly 10 years, and by this time, had grown tired of the road as well. Sue left the group for the final time in 1971, and the following year Joe followed. Larry Ford left the group to pursue a successful solo career, and Ken Turner departed for the Blackwood Brothers. Replacing Larry at the tenor position was Bobby Clark, soon after replaced by Billy Dale Sexton. Tim Riley stepped into the bass slot, and Jim Garstang became the groupís pianist. Upon The Whitfieldsí departure, Randy Shelnut became the groupís baritone. Randy once stated that Dale must have figured that since he had Randy in the group, he might as well get two for the price of one!

Finally in 1972, Dale Shelnut purchased the Dixie Echoes from Joe and Sue Whitfield, and was now the groupís manager and emcee.  Despite the changes which all groups face, the years were rich in music and blessings . . . and they would only continue.



The Dixie Echoes - 1967
Dale Shelnut, Calvin Runion,
Sue Whitfield, Joe Whitfield,
Coy Cook, Ralph Jarman

 

Cover of Exciting and Inspiring - 1968


The Dixie Echoes - 1969
L-R: Dale Shelnut, Joe Whitfield, Sue Whitfield, Coy Cook, Ken Turner

 


The Dixie Echoes - 1970
Randy Shelnut, Joe Whitfield, Dale Shelnut, Larry Ford, Sue Whitfield, Ken Turner

 


Cover of Shades of Thought - 1970

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