From Southern Gospel Music to Opera

After a year and a half with the New Stamps, I tired of the road so I left the group and returned home to Memphis for my sophomore year to continue my education. I decided to major in Business Administration and minor in Music. That turned out to be a good decision, even though my grades in business were only average. I made up for that with As in music. We had classes in music theory, ear training, music history, and applied music, where I participated in a class called Opera Workshop.  I remember being cast in a role for the opera Benjamin Britten. That was a noteworthy endeavor!  From southern gospel music to opera; quite a stretch.

I had to pay for my education, so I joined my father’s group, the Memphians – from Memphis (where else?), and we made two very successful LPs. We had one of the finest basses I’ve ever sung with, Mr. Chalmers Walker, my father, Doyle on lead, Verle Pilant on tenor, me on baritone, and on piano, we were fortunate to secure the talents of Mr. Jack Marshall, one of the finest pianists ever.  He had been with the Blackwood Brothers for several years, including the year of the tragic plane crash in 1954, and had started a music store in Memphis. We were able to get a local TV station, WHBQ, to give us 30 minutes on Sunday morning for a show. Most weekends we were traveling in a 200-mile radius of Memphis, so we could get home in time for Monday morning jobs and school for me. This group had a great sound as well. We won a national award from the NEFF (National Evangelical Film Foundation) for our first record in 1965. Some of my fondest memories were singing baritone with my daddy on lead in the Memphians. Not many boys get that opportunity. I was so blessed by that experience.