By Michele Stevens Bernard, TSB Lifestyle Editor
According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, to be in harmony means to go well together. Such is the case for McKinney’s newest southern gospel quartet, Servants Sound. With their contemporary twist on a deeply rooted singing tradition, these five men are uniting generations throughout north Texas with their seamless blend of voices.
“We are four soloists who have come together to make one sound,” says second tenor Bronson Marshall. Marshall, joins his voice with first tenor Darren Roberts, baritone Chris Blair, and bass Michael Patterson to make the up and coming quartet. Kenneth Ussery serves as accompanist, as well as tenor to the group when needed.
Friends for years, and members of the same church family and music ministries at First Baptist Church McKinney, these men did not come together in this particular way until this past spring.
“My desire to start this group has a lot to do with the history of McKinney and Collin County,” says Ussery, a lifetime member and long-time staffer at FBC. “Southern gospel was very popular in the early days of our community.”
According to Ussery, during the early part of the last century McKinney had a radio station that almost exclusively featured southern gospel music. Additionally, McKinney boasted a number of quartets who sang on this station and in venues throughout the community.
“Traveling quartets like [McKinney’s] Stanley quartet and the Terry Family would travel around and sing in different churches and at ‘Fifth Sunday Singings’ which were big in this area,” says Ussery, “It was really a great little light in our community before video games and such, when music was a center point for families.”
Last spring, Ussery’s goal was realized when Marshall, Roberts, Blair and Patterson came together to perform for a church event. Shortly thereafter, more invitations to sing were received, and, with each invitation, came even more invitations. By August, with a host of opportunities at hand, the informal group of friends knew that it was time to move beyond the walls of their church, and share their gifts with the entire community.
“The group was born of and has its roots in our church,” says Roberts’ wife Tessa. “We have received a lot of support there. We are hoping more opportunities will present themselves where the men have a chance to perform for a broader audience and touch many.”
“This is a great group of very talented guys doing good things in and for the community,” says fellow congregate and finger-style guitar musician John Wynn of McKinney Guitar Studio.
Recently, the group had the opportunity to perform during a joint concert featuring the 450 male choir members from all of McKinney’s middle school and high school choirs.
“We were asked to sing five songs,” says Ussery, “The choir directors wanted a men’s group to perform as an example to the kids on how to continue using your talent into your adult years. When the guys opened up with the National Anthem, the boys went berserk! It was really cool.”
With the edition of the National Anthem into their repertoire, Servants Sound increasingly finds themselves doing the honors at sporting events throughout the community. Most recently, they sang before a packed house at Ron Poe Stadium during McKinney High School’s homecoming celebration and game.
“We do one of the toughest versions,” says Marshall.
“We even practiced in the backyard to make sure we got it right for outdoors,” says Blair with a grin.
With Christmas around the corner, and an ever growing concert calendar, the men have designated Monday nights to perfect their craft.
“Monday night is practice night,” says Ussery, who, in addition to accompanying the group on piano, also acts as host and head chef for the weekly rehearsals. He said they feel more like a happy family get-together than work.
“Wives and kids come as they can,” he said. “We all eat together, then, our families stick around to listen. They are our greatest fans. They give us good feedback. It’s honest and very constructive. They are 100 percent supportive.”
“The goal of Servants Sound and Southern style gospel is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” says Ussery, “That is what the music is centered on. Some of the songs we sing are similar to the style of decades gone by. Our accompaniment has a more modern sound and some of the vocal arrangements are more contemporary, but it is still true to grassroots.”
“We would love to see the Servants Sound [performance schedule] really ramp up,” says Ussery. “From a spiritual perspective, we are really trying to be available. We feel like we are servants, the arms, the legs, the hands and the feet here to serve on behalf of the Gospel.”
And the voices. Don’t forget the voices that blend and fit so well together.
Meet the members of Servants Sound, all of whom currently serve as active members of the praise and worship arts team at FBC McKinney
Darren Roberts – First tenor – Born and reared in Sherman, Roberts, is the product of a musically-inclined family says some of his first memories are of listening to his parents sing duets. He began singing with his church choir as a youth and continued singing, as well as performing with the band from middle school through high school. He competed at the state level vocally in high school. Roberts attended university on a music scholarship and is classically trained. He has performed in five languages.
Bronson Marshall – Second tenor – Marshall is an east Texas native who grew up in the Longview area. Both of his parents were masters level music educators who met while producing, directing and performing on Broadway. They continued to do so through Marshall’s early years. Marshall has performed operas, sings in Italian, and is currently a member of a contemporary chorale group which performs Broadway-style productions.
Chris Blair – Baritone – Born in Kingsport, Tenn., Blair was reared watching his father lead music at church, and would tag along with the Springdale Quartet every chance he could to watch his dad sing. It was early in Blair’s childhood that he discovered his love for all things southern gospel. Chris was always a member of the church choirs and groups throughout his childhood and participated in school music as well. He competed in barber shop type music competitions as a senior in high school and was hoping to pursue music in college. Instead of following his dream to pursue music, however, Blair enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at the ripe age of seventeen, along with his older brother Doug. One day in boot camp, Blair told his drill instructor that he and his brother enjoyed singing. From that day forth, the brothers wrote and performed songs for other platoon’s throughout Paris Island.
Mike Patterson – Bass – Patterson grew up in Houston and has participated in choir from elementary school through college. As a child, he sang as a member of the Houston Boys’ Choir, and has actively participated in church choir his entire adult life.
Kenneth Ussery – accompanist (and sometimes tenor) – Ussery hails from a long-time McKinney family. At age six, he began asking his parents to take piano lessons and at age seven, they finally relented (and we are so glad they did – wow, that boy can play!). Ussery has played piano for school choirs since middle school and throughout high school. He became a church organist when we was only in the ninth grade. Ussery is the accompanist for school choirs, band, and orchestras throughout McKinney ISD and surrounding school districts. He is on staff at FBC McKinney and serves as the classic worship leader.
Upcoming Performance Dates
11/01/12 6pm-7:30pm FBC McKinney Seniors Chili Cook-Off at FBC McKinney
11/13/12 6pm-7:30pm Volleyball Team Fundraiser at Crosspoints Church McKinney
11/23/12 Time TBD Dickens of a Christmas in downtown McKinney
12/02/12 9am Classic Service at FBC McKinney
12/04/12 5:30 pm and 7pm – McKinney High School basketball – performing National Anthem at MHS
12/09/12 Private performance at Charles Smith & Sons – holiday remembrance service
12/09/12 4pm Prosper Christmas Festival
12/11/12 5:30pm-8:30pm Agape Christmas party at FBC McKinney chapel
12/14/12 5:30pm-8:30pm Solid Rock Christmas party at FBC McKinney chapel
12/16/12 6pm Christmas program at Dunn Memorial Church McKinney
12/23/12 9am Classic Service at FBC McKinney
Photos, bios and concert schedule courtesy of Servants Sound.