(Includes Carolina Boys Quartet 2001-2004)
The Kingsmen Four sang in 1945 and 1946. There was no direct connection between them and the modern Kingsmen Quartet aside from the similar name.
Kingsmen Quartet (1956-present)
The history of the Kingsmen Quartet begins several years before the Kingsmen name was officially adopted in Asheville, North Carolina with a group of sibling brothers named McKinney. According to 1940 US Census data, Hicks and Joann McKinney lived in the Lower Hominy Township of Buncombe County, North Carolina where at the time they had seven sons ranging in age from 3 to 14 years old.
Around 1949, their eldest son, Edwin, now in his early 20s, taught four of his younger brothers to sing harmony parts. They soon began performing as The McKinney Brothers with members including older teen Louis singing tenor and playing piano, youngest brother Everett singing lead, and middle-teenaged twins Raymond and Reece McKinney singing baritone and bass respectively. They ranged in age from approximately 12 to 19.
After Louis moved away to Florida in 1955, they continued with Jack Henderson singing tenor. The following year, Henderson was drafted into military service, and Charles Collier took his place. Pianist Charles Matthews joined the McKinney Brothers around the same time as Collier. Upon the recommendation of Matthews, the group was rebranded as the Kingsmen Quartet in February of 1956. Members of that first group to use the Kingsmen Quartet name were Charles Collier (tenor), Everett McKinney (lead), Raymond McKinney (baritone), Reece McKinney (bass), and Charles Matthews (pianist/emcee).
Shortly after the group name changed, Everett, the youngest of the McKinney Brothers, left the group. Raymond promptly traveled to Florida to help his brother Louis move back home where he became the Kingsmen's lead singer. Later in July of 1956, they recorded two songs written by Charles Matthews for Stars Records in Atlanta, Georgia.
In January 1957, Raymond McKinney was drafted, so Harold Bailey joined the Kingsmen Quartet to sing baritone. A few weeks later, Charles Matthews returned home to Atlanta, Georgia. Matthews was replaced by "Little" David Young who was a student at Mars Hill College at the time. This lineup was short-lived, because Young left the group after he graduated from Mars Hill. The group took a few weeks off, then reorganized in July 1957 when Raymond returned home from his military service. Reece remained at bass, Raymond resumed the baritone position, Frank Cutshall was added to sing lead, Louis moved back to the tenor spot he had held with the McKinney Brothers, and Martin Cook joined to play piano. Cook's tenure with the Kingsmen was brief as Uncle Sam again demanded his presence elsewhere before the end of 1957.
Cook was replaced as pianist by Eldridge Fox. Fox had previously been a member of a group with Frank Cutshall called the Silvertones. By early 1958, Louis McKinney left the group again. Just as in 1955 when he first left The McKinney Brothers, Louis was replaced at the tenor position by Jack Henderson.
During 1959, Fox left the Kingsmen to sing baritone in the Sheriff's Quartet where the pianist was Ray Talley. He returned to the Kingsmen around the end of 1959 but left again in 1960 to work for Statesmen Quartet and Faith Music Company in Atlanta. Ray Talley, who was performing with the Ambassadors at the time, replaced Fox as pianist and emcee for the Kingsmen. The popularity of the Kingsmen Quartet grew as the lineup consisting of Henderson (tenor), Cutshall (lead), Raymond (baritone), Reece (bass), and Talley (pianist/emcee) was unchanged for the next four years. They recorded four LPs and began appearing on television on Bob Poole's Gospel Favorites.
In 1964, after singing with The McKinney Brothers and then the Kingsmen continuously for about 25 years, original bass singer Reece McKinney left the group. He was replaced by Calvin Runion. This lineup recorded one LP titled From The Land Of The Sky which is a common expression used to describe the mountainous Asheville, North Carolina area.
In 1965, Ray Talley left the Kingsmen for a short period of time. Eldridge Fox returned to play piano. The following year, the last remaining McKinney brother, Raymond, left the Kingsmen. Fox began singing baritone while continuing to play piano. Later in 1966, Kermit Jamerson replaced Jack Henderson. Jamerson left briefly in 1967 and was replaced by Jerry Redd. The line-up with Redd recorded one album (self-titled) before Jamerson returned a few weeks later.
In 1967, Ray Dean Reese began his first stint with the Kingsmen after the departure of Calvin Runion who had joined the Dixie Echoes. Reese had served two stints in the US Army before joining the Silvertones when one of the McKinney Brothers reformed the group in 1963-64. In 1966 he had brief tenures with the Pine Ridge Boys and The Inspirations. The Kingsmen recorded one album with Reese titled Kingsmen Kountry in 1967.
In 1968, Calvin Runion expressed a desire to return to the Kingsmen and Reese found himself voted out. Reese joined the Journeymen and Kathleen and also took a job driving a JFG coffee delivery truck. The group recorded two albums with Runion in 1968. After adding a bass guitar player, Tommy Hensley, in 1969, two more albums were recorded with Runion singing bass. After tenor singer Kermit Jamerson and Hensley both left the group in 1970, Jerry Redd returned to sing tenor. Later in 1970, bass singer Calvin Runion left the group again. This time he was replaced by Jim McCallister. The lineup with McCallister recorded one album.
Pianist Ray Talley stopped traveling with the group in December 1970 to accept a Music Minister position. After a brief absence, he returned in 1971, but only to perform with the group playing piano and singing baritone on WLOS-TV in Asheville, North Carolina. Eldridge Fox continued to fill the same role when the group appeared at other venues, but Fox was restricted from appearing on television due to the fact that he was a candidate for a spot on the Asheville City Council.
By this point, Fox was also managing the Kingsmen. In early 1971, he decided to re-hire Ray Dean Reese to sing bass and he let Jim McCallister go. They could not know it at the time, but the names Fox and Reese would become synonymous with the Kingsmen over the decades that followed along with one more individual who would soon join just a few weeks later.
Jim Hamill joined the Kingsmen Quartet for the first time in the Spring of 1971. Hamill was formerly a member of the Blue Ridge Quartet, Weatherfords, Watchmen and Oak Ridge Quartet. He had also pulled two stints with the Rebels prior to joining the Kingsmen. Like Eldridge Fox and Ray Dean Reese, Hamill also left the Kingsmen for a short time only to return. Aside from the months of May to December in 1976 when he sang with the Senators, Hamill was the group's lead singer/emcee for the twenty-five years spanning 1971 to 1996. In his later years with the group, Hamill would often sing a few songs and then step aside to allow one of the musicians to sing in the lead spot while he otherwise ran the show. Hamill officially retired in September 1996 at the National Quartet Convention.
In 1973, the Kingsmen released what would become for them a trend setting recording titled Big And Live. On this project, they introduced fans to their exciting brand of singing. Unlike the more polished and choreographed Statesmen and Blackwood Brothers of the previous two decades, the Kingsmen emphasized an exuberant energy. Big And Live also showcased a number of songs that would go on to become classics. Their first version of “The Glory Road” is on the recording. The project also included their own arrangements of “Love Lifted Me” and “Love Will Roll The Clouds Away.” With the success of Big And Live (which won a Dove Award in 1974), and never missing an opportunity for creative marketing, the group soon began to bill themselves as the “Ton Of Fun.” Indeed, when the entire group of eight individuals (including band members) stood on a set of vehicle scales, they did surpass 2000 pounds. The success of "Big and Live led to many more live projects, including "Chattanooga Live" and "Live...Naturally".
The Kingsmen of the 1980s continued to combine high energy, up-tempo music with an exciting brand of showmanship. They recorded more live projects than the average Southern Gospel group, because a concert setting was where they excelled. Popular songs for the group during this time included “Saints Will Rise,” “Child, Child,” and the novelty song “Excuses.” Johnny Parrack, Ernie Phillips, Ed Crawford, Wayne Maynard, Squire Parsons (who went on to form a highly successful solo career), Anthony Burger, Garry Sheppard, Arthur Rice and other individuals passed through the group over the next few years. Burger was so popular during his extended stint with the group, he won the Singing News Fan Award in the Favorite Musician category ten years in a row. For several years after that, the award was named after him.
In the 1990s, the Kingsmen joined forces with Gold City to record a series of live recordings titled KingsGold. Parker Jonathan was singing baritone for the group by this time. Tim Surrett took on a dual role singing lead at times in Hamill’s place and playing with the band. Andrew Ishee became the group’s piano player in the late 1990s. The multi-talented Randy Miller played guitar, harmonica, and was featured on selected songs as a vocalist. A hit with the sentimental song “Wish You Were Here” featuring Surrett’s bluegrass-tinged vocals marked a turning point for the group. The song proved the group could have success with a polished studio ballad in addition to their success in emotion driven concert settings.
In time, Fox and Hamill withdrew from traveling, though they did continue to appear at selected events. Greg Fox, son of Eldridge and longtime drummer for the group, assumed road manager duties for a few years. In 2001, the Kingsmen Quartet name was retired. The legal ownership of the name was turned over to Charles Burke, a businessman from Maiden, NC and owner of the Singing Americans. Pianist Andrew Ishee left the group to join the Palmetto State Quartet at the same time.
The remaining Kingsmen members toured for three years billed as the Carolina Boys Quartet. During this time, they had a hit song "God Sits On High," featuring tenor singer Jerry Martin. Nick Succi had replaced the departing Andrew Ishee at piano when the name change occurred, and Tim Surrett returned the following year.
In 2004, the Kingsmen Quartet name was transferred from Charles Burke back to the group, now managed by bass singing veteran Ray Reese. The group subsequently released a project titled Born Again that included several previous Kingsmen hits like “Excuses,” “Love Will Roll The Clouds Away” and “When I Wake Up To Sleep No More.” Vocal problems plagued Tim Surrett over the next year, and he ultimately left the group. Surrett was replaced by former Wilburns and Palmetto State Quartet baritone Tony Peace in 2005. Other members at that time included Jeremy Peace at tenor, Phillip Hughes at lead, bass player and featured/fill-in vocalist Jason Selph, pianist Nick Succi, and drummer Brandon Reese (son of Ray Reese). Jason Selph left in early 2007 and was replaced by Grant Barker on bass guitar. Barker's tenure proved to be short-lived. By the end of 2008, both he and Succi moved on to other things. At this point, Brandon Reese switched from playing drums to running sound. For the first time in many years, the Kingsmen began to take the stage without a three-piece band of live musicians.
Harold Reed replaced Jeremy Peace at the tenor position in 2007. Former lead singer Bryan Hutson returned to sing baritone that same year. After two years without a musician, Cody McVey joined the group to play piano in 2009, but McVey left in 2011. Hutson stepped back into the lead singer role after the departure of Phillip Hughes in 2010. Following a similar pattern, former lead singer Randy Crawford returned to the group to sing baritone when Hutson made the move from baritone to lead. Hutson left to join Soul'd Out Quartet at the end of 2011 and was replaced by Bob Sellers. Harold Reed left around the same time to join the LeFevre Quartet. Former tenor Ernie Phillips filled in for several weeks until Chris Jenkins was hired as the next Kingsmen tenor in 2012. The line-up of Jenkins, Sellers, Crawford and Reese released a CD in 2014 titled Battle Cry that produced the number one on the Singing News airplay chart for the month of February 2015 ("Oh, Yes I Am") and another number one for the month of August 2015 ("Battle Cry").
Chris Jenkins left to join the Anchormen in late 2015 but returned in late 2017. In 2017, Justin Nehrkorn became the first piano player to travel on a permanent basis with the Kingsmen since the departure of Cody McVey in 2011, but he was only with the group for a few months. In 2018, the departure of seven-year lead singer Bob Sellers was followed by the unexpected departure of baritone singer Randy Crawford who had to retire due to some health issues. Ray Dean Reese brought in former Bibletones lead singer Chris Bryant and former Melody Boys/Jordan's Bridge lead singer Alan Kendall to fill the baritone spot.
2022 brought a big shakeup to the group with the departure of lead Chris Bryant in July and tenor Chris Jenkins' move to Gold City in October. A string of fill-ins, some of which included former members Philip Hughes and Jeremy Peace and Hoppers/Squire Parsons Trio alum Greg Bentley, stood in for the group while they searched for new vocalists.
On November 5, 2022, the group announced the beginning of a new era with three new hires. Thomas Nalley and Cole Watson (both formerly of Gold City) filled the open tenor and lead positions, respectively, and Drew Laney was announced as "utility bass singer," singing a few songs a night and learning under the direct mentorship of Ray Dean Reese.
GMA Hall Of Fame (2000)
Singing News Fan Awards:
Favorite Group (1980, 1985)
Favorite Traditional Male Quartet (1981)
Album of the Year (1992 - Wish You Were Here)
Song of the Year (1981 - Sweet Beulah Land; 1992 - Wish You Were Here)
Favorite Video (1987 - Stand Up; 1992 KingsGold with Gold City)
Favorite Band (1978, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997)
Horizon Group (2002 - as the Carolina Boys)
Due to the large number of projects in the Kingsmen Discography, this section has been divided into separate pages by decade for easier loading. Please click on the link below for the decade you wish to view.
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 2020s
Other Kingsmen Groups
Several groups have used the name "Kingsmen" or a variation like "King's Men" over the years, both in sacred and secular music.
The Kingsmen based in Oregon are best known for their 1963 popular hit single “Louie, Louie.” The song was No. 2 on the Billboard chart for a period of six weeks.
Harold Reid, Phil Balsley, Joe McDorman, and Lew DeWitt initially sang together as teenagers in a group billed as the Four Star Quartet. The group reformed in 1961 billed as The Kingsmen with Harold's brother Don replacing McDorman. Once “Louie, Louie” became a hit in 1963, they felt they needed a new identity to set themselves apart. That is when they famously chose the name "Statler Brothers" after seeing a box of facial tissues manufactured by Statler Industries.
In 1945 and 1946, Wally Varner played piano for a group of teenagers that called themselves the Kingsmen Four. Other members of that group were Calvin Newton, Jimi Hall, Harvey Hudson and Vernon Klaudt.
Prior to joining the Asheville, North Carolina Kingsmen described in the main article above, "Little" David Young had played piano for a Kingsmen Quartet based in Lenior, TN from 1953 to 1956.
In 1958 at the National Quartet Convention, a part-time Missouri-based group billed as the "Kings Men" performed. After seeing the positive reception, two members of that group, Ed Hill and Jay Berry, relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1959 and formed the Prophets.
Another Kingsmen Quartet was based in Georgia in the early 1950s. Members of this group included pianist Bob McCollum who later played for the Prophets and the Anita Kerr Singers, James Hopkins who along with Glen Payne later sang and recorded with the Weatherfords, and Tony Hunt who later sang with the John Daniel Quartet.
During the 1970s, a group billed as The King's Men Quartet was based in Auburn Heights, Michigan. They were managed by tenor singer Larry Farnahm.
In the late 1950s, a Kingsmen Quartet was based in Huntington, West Virginia that included Asa LeGrand, Bill R Nelson, J B Short, and Ransom Fry accompanied by Frances Powell West.