This week’s feature group is like last week’s group from Florida, Pensacola to be exact, and no it is not the Florida Boys who are also from Pensacola. The group is the Dixie Echoes and they have been singing for over forty years. The group got their start in 1960 when the “Ole Gospel Man,” J.G. Whitfield, was stricken with wanting to be on the road again. JG had started and owned The Florida Boys but decided to retire from the road.
As with so many singers his retirement did not last long and by 1963 he had the Dixie Echoes on a journey down a path which would carve their place in Southern Gospel history. The lead singer position was filled by an exciting young lead singer who over the years would become synonymous with the Dixie Echoes – his name was Dale Shelnut. He always provided excitement on stage with his antics. Dale was certainly one of the best lead singers in the business and, as his son states, he could sing the high tenor notes as well as drop to the other end of the scale and sing bass. He had the ability to take a song and move the audience sometimes to tears with a ballad like “My Real Home Is Up There On High” or tear the place apart with a spiritual like “Trouble In My Way.” In 1972 JG once again decided to retire from the road to concentrate on his concert promotes and his new venture the “Singing News.” JG gave Dale the opportunity to become the owner of the Dixie Echoes and the rest is history, as they say.
It was at this point that some of today’s group became a part of the Dixie Echoes – Dale’s oldest son Randy. Over the years a number of singers would come and go – among them some upstate folks like Ken Turner and Eddie Broome. Also, some other Shelnuts were involved over the years Randy’s younger brother Andrew and Glen Allred’s son Randy. On May 11, 1983 tragedy struck the group with the sudden death of Dale. Many folks thought this would be the end of the Dixie Echoes but Randy had other plans and for the next two years they worked as a trio before returning to their quartet tradition.
Today, with over forty years behind them, the Dixie Echoes are as good as ever with the current line-up of talent. The members of the group are Randy Shelnut and his son Randy Jr. (Scoot), Stewart Varnado and the newest member Mike Jennings singing bass. For the last few years Wesley Smith has been the tenor singer, but I understand he has left the group but do not know who his replacement will be. Today they have gone back to the style of singing with only two microphones and bring the house down everywhere they go.
Over the years the Dixie Echoes have won Singing News awards as a group as well as individual awards. They broke in to the Singing News Charts in 1975 with the number 8 song entitled “Salvation’s Plan” and have had many songs in the charts since. They have a new project, in fact two, “So Many Reasons” and “Pensacola Live.”
The Dixie Echoes are one of the many groups which will appear at this year’s Grand Ole Gospel Reunion as it returned to Greenville, August 11th through 13th, of course that is this week.
I can be contacted at (864) 979-9626 or (864) 895-1287. Hope to see you at the gathering of the legends since 1988.