February 28, 2023
"Awesome show!" I heard one of my 11-year-old sons tell the bass singer.
"Thank you!" he replied enthusiastically, giving him a fist bump.
I grinned and wondered if my son even realized how awesome it was that he was getting to meet and talk with a member of an award-winning gospel quartet.
Hands down, Dollywood has some of the most incredible entertainment available to guests at any park. Were it not for my family's many trips to Dollywood, I may have never heard of a musical group that I have come to love, the Kingdom Heirs. These guys are an incredible musical group, having won numerous national awards and are as personable as they are talented. My family loves to attend their shows, so I was intrigued to learn more about what exciting things have been happening for the group lately.
You see, even before Dollywood was Dollywood, the Kingdom Heirs were performing there; they took the stage even when the park was Silver Dollar City. The group performs nine months out of the year at Dollywood (usually in the Showstreet Palace Theater). It's not surprising that this group headlines the theater that is the first place you see when you enter the park. The Kingdom Heirs are important to Dollywood - and to Dolly herself! She asked them to be the park's Southern Gospel group many years ago.
"The Kingdom Heirs are our connection to the past," Dollywood Entertainment Manager Roger White told me. "Gospel music has been a part of Dollywood since it started, and they continue that tradition."
The Southern Gospel quartet that has become synonymous with Dollywood experienced a major transition last season as long-time lead singer Arthur Rice left the group for another ministry opportunity. From where I sit, the Kingdom Heirs have shown strength and endurance through the changes, have stuck together, adjusted seamlessly and continue to wow Dollywood audiences. The transition hasn't slowed these guys down at all!
I had a chance to chat with the group backstage before one of their recent shows: "You don't replace a guy like Arthur," they told me. "We decided to make the transition within the group [for the rest of the season] because that is what we thought would be best--for us and for our fans." As they finished 2022, musician Andy Stringfield contributed in two ways: his piano talents as well as singing baritone for the group. Loren Harris shifted from baritone to primarily sing lead. Jeff Chapman continued to anchor the group as the bass singer, and Jacob Ellison topped the singing line-up as the tenor for the group. Their live band remained rock-solid with Kreis French on bass and Dennis Murphy on drums.
Even while performing four shows a day several days a week at Dollywood during most of the calendar year, the group continues to work on exciting projects. They released a new album in January, and another one is in the works for the springtime. During Dollywood's off-season, the group has been touring, including performing on a cruise ship at the end of January. Right now, they're holding auditions for the seventh member of their band. In another week, they plan to be back for their 38th season at Dollywood when they hope to introduce the newest member.
The Kingdom Heirs definitely don't take for granted their special connection with Dollywood and its guests.
"We have all been performers who had to tour most of the year," they told me. "Having a home at Dollywood is so special for us. There are many guests who buy Season Passes just so they can come see us more often. Some come to multiple shows a day when they are here. It is a blessing to be able to do what we love in a great place!" "The Kingdom Heirs realize they are a part of something bigger here at the park. They welcome guests into the theater, perform different shows throughout the day and take time to speak to the guests who want to talk to them after every show," said Roger White.
For our family, we love getting to hear their mix of classic Southern Gospel music, some more contemporary songs and even Christmas music at the holidays, all with the positive message of God's love. "People know they are all welcome and accepted here with us," Jacob said to me. "There is no judgement here."
Their care for each other and the group and sharing their music is so evident. This next year promises to be full of inspiring moments for the Kingdom Heirs.
"I'm just excited for the future," Dennis told me with a huge grin. "I've been doing this for 30 years, and I am just as excited as I have ever been for what we are doing. It's awesome!"
All Insiders Entertainment
All Insiders Entertainment