June 01, 2023
“Kingdom Heirs?” That’s what my two-and-a-half year old asked me as we parked his stroller in the theater lobby.
“You said “Kingdom Heirs!” I exclaimed, quite surprised, as this was the first time he had said those words to me. “Yes, sweetie! We are going to see the Kingdom Heirs!”. He looked up at me with a huge grin and started clapping his hands. At that moment, with my youngest son so excited for what we were going to see, I realized just how special this group has become to my family.
Attending a Kingdom Heirs show has become a must-do for us on our trips to Dollywood. Even though we frequently hear them on the radio or on the CDs we play in the car, there is nothing that compares to getting to hear them sing live. My family and I love having the opportunity to see them perform and often get to talk with them after a performance as they welcome fans to come down and say hello.
In just the first few months of 2023, the Kingdom Heirs, Dollywood’s gospel group, have seen a number of changes. In March, the group announced that tenor Jacob Ellison was moving to Florida to be part of a church ministry, and longtime bass singer Jeff Chapman would be joining the gospel quartet, Gold City. Since that time, they have added three new members in just a few months: tenor Joshua Horrell, bass Brad Smith and guitarist/vocalist John Young.
I was eager to hear how these new members would sound when joining the current group members: lead vocalist Loren Harris, baritone and keyboard player Andy Stringfield, bass player Kreis French and drummer Dennis Murphy. I was thrilled to see that once again, the Kingdom Heirs haven’t missed a beat. The group sounds outstanding, and their energy continues to grows with each performance.
Last year, I talked to the Kingdom Heirs about the changes they had experienced and was intrigued to talk with them again after the addition of these talented individuals. In talking to the newest group members, they are still a little bit in awe of the opportunity. “I grew up listening to the Kingdom Heirs,” Josh said. “I knew if there was ever a chance to join them, I would want to do it!” Andy Stringfield told the audience that day, “When the tenor position came open, the first call I made was to Josh. It was the only call I made.”
Brad said, “I grew up in East Tennessee, so I definitely knew of the Kingdom Heirs. I knew what an incredible opportunity this would be for me.”
Joining a new group is not without its challenges. Horrell, Smith and Young have had a steep learning curve, and all three have worked diligently to learn as much of the Kingdom Heirs’ music as possible in a very short amount of time. “This group has been putting out amazing music for over 40 years. That’s a lot of songs to learn!” John said. The group also stays quite busy - performing four shows a day, five days a week for Dollywood audiences. The new Kingdom Heirs still are getting used to the schedule and finding ways to handle their new job.
“The support from Dollywood as we have gone through these changes has just been unbelievable,” said Kreis French, one of the original members of Dollywood’s Kingdom Heirs. “It took the pressure off to rush and gave us the time and space to be sure we were making the right decisions. We are so grateful for their support.”
For me, it is always such a special experience to attend a Kingdom Heirs show while our family visits the park. In watching their shows, it is clear from their presence and energy that this group loves what they do. “We are so fortunate to have this as our job,” they told me. “We get to do what we love and share not only our music, but we share Jesus with people here. Most people don’t expect to hear gospel music at a theme park, but we get to bring that to this park.”
Thinking about the future makes all of them smile. Dennis and Andy shared: “We have been so busy dealing with the here and now of the changes that we have not been able to focus on the future yet. We are excited for it; you are always going to have changes. That just happens when you are part of a group for a long time. This group of guys is really special, and we are firing on all cylinders now.” Their plans include working on a new album and continuing to create shows that will engage and energize their audiences. “There’s a lot that goes into thinking about a new album,” they told me. “We want it to have music that people will love, that they will listen to at home, that we can perform here and that every song is special”.
“We have regrouped and revamped, and we are revived!” Dennis exclaimed to the audience before a recent show. As I clapped my hands and watched them sing and play songs that spoke of their solid faith, I knew his words were right on point. In fact, those words so clearly summarize one of the many reasons I love attending their shows: I leave feeling regrouped, revamped,and revived. Their performance that day did the same for the audience there to see them. By the end of the show, everyone was on their feet singing and clapping with joy. Clearly, change has not slowed them down at all, and it is indeed a special time for one of Dollywood’s most well-known entertainment groups.
All Insiders Entertainment
All Insiders Entertainment