Did you know Dollywood is home to a multi-award winning gospel group?
I had the great privilege of sitting down and chatting with Dollywood’s own Kingdom Heirs. They started in the Silver Dollar City days when the group performed mainly on weekends. Then, according to founding member, Kreis, when Dolly Parton opened Dollywood in 1986, she requested the Kingdom Heirs be the resident gospel group and perform throughout the week. Can you imagine being asked by Dolly herself to be a part of her park?!
For years following that decision, the Kingdom Heirs have been nominated and have won dozens of awards—both individually and as a group. Just this September at the 2019 National Quartet Convention, the Kingdom Heirs were nominated for multiple awards, one being Artist of the Year and WON Band of the Year for the 11th time!
Remember, this is a resident gospel group for a theme park that is winning these awards. Dollywood has a lot to be proud of!
Over the years they’ve recorded dozens of songs and just recently released a new album, “Everything In Between.” It’s the second one this year alone! You can purchase their albums in the theater lobby after each performance.
As I sat down with the incredibly-friendly group, I felt right at home—in true Dollywood fashion.
Visiting Dollywood and working at Dollywood are two different things. So, I asked the group: What does it mean to be a part of Dollywood?
- Dennis (drummer) summed it up by saying, “Being able to present the gospel to people from all over the world; it’s a very unique situation.”
- Kreis (bass guitar) said, “What we can cover in one day or one week here would take us weeks to cover on the road.”
They all agreed that it is very humbling to be such a noticed group that is not part of the mainstream gospel circuit.
I asked each of them to tell me how they came to be a part of The Kingdom Heirs. You might notice a pattern!
- Dennis Murphy (Drummer): Member for 29 years
“I knew about The Kingdom Heirs being at Dollywood. I was on the road with another group, met my now-wife and knew I didn’t want to be on the road; I knew this situation was awesome. It was better than 12 months on the road. I met up with them and sat in with the Kingdom Heirs at a concert one night and played with them. Their drummer was leaving and I came down and auditioned and went to work that very weekend.”
- Andy Stringfield (Baritone/Piano): Member for 12 years
“Coming to Dollywood as a kid, I always knew The Kingdom Heirs and came to the shows. I wanted to play Southern Gospel music as a living and this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I’m glad I took it. Actually, the day I auditioned, I played a show with them that day!”
- Arthur Rice (Lead): Member for 24 years
“I knew of The Kingdom Heirs in my early days and would come to Dollywood and watch them. And thought of what a great opportunity they had by reaching so many people and not being out beating the road. I told them I was interested if they needed someone and one day I got the call. The rest is history.”
- Jeff Chapman (Bass): Member for 18 years
“I met the Kingdom Heirs back in 1988 and stayed in touch over the years. In 2002, I heard they needed a bass singer and I had already moved to Pigeon Forge and was singing with a local theater just to get off the road because I traveled so long. I had an opportunity to try out and that very day we cut up with each other like I’d been here for five years and got the job offer that evening. Been here ever since. Loving it.”
- Kreis French (Bass guitar): Founding Member
“I started here when it was Silver Dollar City, just on weekends. Some of the Dollywood entertainment team came and heard us one night and we’ve been here ever since. I’ve been in every theater in the park. We used to perform in the outdoor theaters. They moved us inside to Showstreet and we’ve been inside ever since.”
- Loren Harris (Baritone): Member for 3 years
“I knew the Kingdom Heirs while I was on the road. This was always the gig I wanted. You get to be home all the time. Road life is tough; I have a wife and two kids. I came off the road when my kids were young and I had Season Passes and I would come down and see the group and say, ‘I’d love to have that job.’ Someone asked me what would get me back into singing and my answer was, ‘The Kingdom Heirs.’ Any quartet wants this gig. This is America’s group.
- Jerry Martin (Tenor): Member for 9 years
“In the early 1990s I had just joined my first quartet and we came and performed for two weeks doing nighttime shows. I loved the Kingdom Heirs’ sound; I loved what they did. For me, I had always wanted to be here. I traveled 17 years before joining the group. We sing more than a traveling group does, but the trade out is being with your family. I remember auditioning; I was in a show at the Celebrity Theater and would run between sessions and sing. Then they called me up and asked if I would be interested. It was a dream come true for me to be able to do this.”
Dollywood’s mission is “Creating Memories Worth Repeating” and the Kingdom Heirs fit perfectly. Not only does the group get to spend quality time with their own families, they get to be part of thousands of families like yours each week.
If you’re worried about “repeating” visits to the Kingdom Heirs, don’t be. Arthur said, “What we do, every time is different. It’s fresh every program.”
Having seen them multiple times, I know this to be true. They’re genuine and one of my favorite to-dos during my Dollywood day.
The next time you’re at Dollywood, take a listen to The Kingdom Heirs. Don’t be surprised if you leave feeling a little more jubilant after one of their shows. I know I sure do.