Beginning A New Chapter
Singing News Cover Story
It may have surprised
his fans when Hall of fame tenor Archie Watkins resigned from the
Inspirations Quartet of Bryson City. N.C., but it delighted his family. I'll
have more about that in a moment.
Archie was one of the
founders and original singing members of the Inspirations - four Swain
County High School boys from Bryson City: Archie, Ronnie Hutchins. Jack
Laws, and Troy Burns; and a Swain High teacher, pianist Martin Cook. They
hit the road singing in 1964 and immediately became successful great and
different addition to a business populated by grown men and women.
Four teenage boys
singing harmony may have seemed strange to those who loved the gospel
quartets of adults, but the novelty of the Inspirations' youth, mixed with
the fact that they could sing with a unique blend of great harmony carried
them quickly to national prominence.
The first time I
saw them was in the Asheville City Auditorium not long after they had
organized, and they were so young and vibrant that a woman seated behind me
said they looked as if they should still be wearing short pants.
After 45 years on
the road with the Inspirations, Archie starts a new chapter of his life.
they sang like they were fully grown, always smiling and enjoying what they
were doing without a modicum of stage fright before a filled auditorium.
They looked, sang, and presented themselves as if they were professionals,
which indeed they were. Archie's high tenor voice has always been unique
among gospel singers, and blending both gospel and country tones into an
appealing high harmony became the trademark of the Inspirations.
That was in the
heyday of great male quartets like the Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers,
Homeland Harmony, and Kingsmen quartets; and the appearance of a quartet of
high school boys of professional quality carried them solidly into the
hearts of Gospel music fans across the nation, But now, at the age of 60,
Archie has stepped down from the Inspirations after traveling with them for
a full three-fourths of his life. It's quite a change from when quartet
singing took up his weekends to the extent that he and his wife, the former
Cindy Bumgarner, had to marry on a Monday because Archie was away singing on
Friday. Saturday, and Sunday.
“Time away from
home was the major factor," Archie says, ''that caused me to resign my
position with the quartet. There was no pressure from home, but in my mind
was an ever-growing knowledge that I should be spending more time with the
family. This has occupied my thoughts for years."
succumbed to his own awareness of this situation and turned in his
resignation. "After 45 years of singing:' Archie says. "I've spent enough
time away from home, and now I want to make up some of that lost time."
includes Cindy, their two daughters. Melissa and Amy, and granddaughter
Reagan -and they all are delighted about his decision, 'there is only one
thing I want people to know about my dad," says Amy, "and that is that he is
who he claims to be. He is without a doubt, the most honorable person I have
"I love and
respect my dad for many reasons:' Melissa says. "He has always been a
wonderful father, a supportive friend, and he is very generous of heart and
spirit. His dedication to God and his ministry has been an amazing example
Even at the
tender age of nine years, granddaughter Reagan is also happy about Archie's
change of pace. She has always been the pride and joy of both Grandmama and
Granddaddy Watkins, and she is especially excited about traveling with them.
She loves camping, bike riding, playing ball, and going on adventures with
her granddaddy -but don't think for a minute that Archie isn't excited about
that, too! I just hope I can keep up with her," he laughs.
Now, make no
mistake: Archie did not retire from singing. He didn't miss a beat starting
a new career of solo ministry. His date book is filling fast because of his
popularity among people who love his different sound and style of singing.
literally millions of miles, Archie is eagerly anticipating his singing days
as he goes about this new direction. While he thinks he is slowing down: In
some respects, he's realizing that he's also busy with new recordings, video
tapings, and singing at revivals, church services, and concerts. In the
basement of his western North Carolina mountains home, Archie has a small
studio in which he has improved his solo presentations, cut background
vocals, and made preparation for the singing appearances ahead.
"I am thrilled
with my chapter in life: he says. "I have always loved good singing and good
preaching, and now I will get to hear even more great preachers. I look
forward to being a part of revivals and regular preaching services."
however, is that his family will be at his side more than ever before.
During his career with the Inspirations, Archie has had the feature vocal on
more radio chart-topping songs than any singer ever, including three No. 1
(and Songs of the Year): "Touring That City," "Jesus Is Mine," and "I’ll Not
Turn My Back On Him Now." Along the way he has accumulated practically every
honor there is in Gospel music -too many to list or even count,
but here's a short list: He has been chosen Favorite Male Singer three
times and Favorite Tenor four times by subscribers of Singing News In the
annual fan Awards balloting. He also has the Norcross-Templeton Award -the
highest honor a person can earn in Southern Gospel music-to his credit. And,
oh, did I mention that he is also a 2007 inductee of the Southern Gospel
Music Hall of Fame?
One might be tempted to think that stepping down from a four decades plus
career with one of gospel music's genuine legacies might make for a few
restless moments, and it has. But not in the way you might think.
Cindy says Archie has had trouble sleeping at night from the excitement of
his new venture. "It is because of the peace of God in his heart, and the
fact that now he is truly following the will of the Lord in his life. This
was not a spur of the moment decision. He has been much in prayer the last
four years, seeking the direction of God."
Archie says that a great part of his excitement is because he will never
again have to travel to singing dates without his wife -“his best friend,"
he calls her- going with him, Both are looking forward with great
anticipation to her sharing the ministry, and traveling together wherever
and whenever the opportunity arises.
Within a month of his decision to take the solo road, Archie was in the
recording studio, and he has recently released a collection of four
previously unrecorded songs and six others that featured him over the years.
And, of course, he's worked on filling the date book. Cindy says Archie has
received requests to appear from Nova Scotia to the Holy Land. "His e-mail
is filled each day with messages from all corners of the world -including
some places we've never even heard of."
Already, Archie faces the best problem a singer could face: Trying to
fulfill all the requests that come in and not having enough days in the
calendar. So, look for Archie and Cindy to travel beyond the traditional
Southern Gospel region of the Southeast. Before long you'll see them in
places like Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. They also intend to visit
Colorado and Montana on a camping-hunting singing expedition in the fall.
"Of course, winter in Florida would be nice,” Archie says with a huge grin.
'We're even discussing possible tours of Alaska and Hawaii in the near
future. With all the places we've already scheduled, I'm starting to feel
like a man who's taking his family on a grand vacation.
"And, you know, I like sound of that: 'Archie Watkins, Family Man . . .’”
Special thanks to Singing
News for permission to reprint this story from the June, 2009 issue.
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