By Chris Edwards
One of the most heralded groups in gospel music history is performing in Groveton next month and for one of its members the concert will be for a hometown crowd.
Melissa Kemper (formerly Mericle), a native of Groveton, recently rejoined the group as its soprano singer. Kemper performed with the Chuck Wagon Gang from 2001 until 2006, when she left to be with her children during their formative years.
Last year she began singing with the group again and is now on the road with them full-time. A graduate of Groveton High School (class of ‘94) she still calls Groveton home. When not on the road with the legendary group, she and her husband Jamie reside in town.
“I am very happy that God has brought me back into the group after all these years,” Kemper wrote on the official Chuck Wagon Gang website. “I am truly blessed.”
Kemper is part of a legacy that goes back 80 years when the group was formed by D.P. (Dad) Carter, his son Jim (Ernest) and daughters Rose (Lola) and Anna (Effie) in Lubbock. The group performed its country gospel standards on radio shows and soon acquired a sponsorship with also Bewley Flour. The Gang soon signed with Columbia Records and stayed with the international label for 39 years.
At one point the group was Columbia’s biggest selling act and sold over 39 million records. Over the years of record making and tours, the group has performed at many esteemed venues including Carnegie Hall, the Grand Ole Opry and the Hollywood Bowl. The Chuck Wagon Gang has been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and its recordings catalogued in the Smithsonian Institution’s library of classic American recordings.
Currently the Chuck Wagon Gang is led by Shaye Smith, who is the granddaughter of Anna (Effie) Carter of the original quartet and Howard Gordon, who served as the group’s guitarist for many years. Smith sings alto, while Stan Hill sings tenor; Jeremy Stephens provides bass vocals and plays guitar and Kemper’s beautiful soprano vocals round out the quartet. Before Kemper rejoined the group, they released a new album, Meeting in Heaven, a collection composed entirely of songs penned by legendary country singer/songwriter/guitarist Marty Stuart. The group was also the subject of a recent PBS documentary that chronicled its long and storied history.
The concert will begin at 7 p.m. on Monday, February 15 at First Baptist Church in Groveton. The group will have merchandise available and will be on hand afterward for autographs.