The Florida Boys
The Florida Boys
One of the most enduring quartets in Southern gospel music, the Florida Boys have been a nationally recognized group for more than 50 years. The group is a solid mix of old and new members, whose combined ages add up to more than a century’s worth of musical experience. At Jubilee 2002, a benefit concert for the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the master of ceremonies highlighted the group’s staying power by introducing them as “the world’s second gospel quartet—after Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”
The Florida Boys have their roots in Southern gospel music, a style associated with four-part harmony with a country influence. The group was originally formed in 1947 by Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee J. G. Whitfield, who began the group as the Gospel Melody Quartet. In 1952, Glen Allred, a baritone and guitarist, became the first of the long-standing members to join. Just a teenager at the time, he had already performed at the Grand Ole Opry with Wally Fowler and the Oak Ridge Quartet. A year later, Les Beasley, just returned from a stint in Korea as a Marine tank platoon commander, became the lead singer. By 1955 Fowler, a well-known promoter, suggested a flashier name for the group, changing them to the Florida Boys. Another long-standing addition to the group came in 1956 when pianist Derrell Stewart came on board. His comic style and trademark red socks helped widen the group’s popular appeal.
In 1964 the group was the first act to sign with Canaan Records, a subsidiary of Word Records. Part of their momentum was built on their nationally syndicated television program The Gospel Singing Jubilee, which premiered in 1964 and was the first show to feature a gospel group. The show broadcast the group to a large audience and paved the way for other Christian programming. Produced by Beasley, The Gospel Singing Jubilee garnered seven Dove Awards for Best Gospel Singing Program.
As a group the Florida Boys have impressive credentials, but their individual talents and contributions are also remarkable. Allred was the first of the group’s older members to join. Born in 1934 in Monroe, Tennessee, he began singing at five years old and was playing guitar by eight. Honing his skills with his church group, he met Fowler when he was 15 and so impressed the gospel singer and promoter that he was asked to join the Oak Ridge Quartet and play the Grand Ole Opry. In 1952 Allred joined Whitfield’s gospel Melody Quartet in Pensacola, Florida. Aside from an 18-month stint in 1957 when he quit to build kitchen cabinets, Allred devoted his musical talents to the Florida Boys. His voice is noted for its smooth quality. “While many singers today add a lot of flare or vocal gymnastics to their singing,” remarked his biographer on the group’s official website, “Glen is proof that you can stand there flat-footed, with your hands on a guitar, sing from the heart, and still bring a tear to the eye of those needing encouragement.”
Perhaps the most recognized of the group’s members is Beasley, born in Crockett, Texas, in 1928. The son of a minister, he began singing at an early age in his father’s churches. His list of accomplishments is lengthy, and includes managing the group for more than 40 years; producing gospel television shows including The Gospel Singing Jubilee; serving as president and lifetime member of the Board of Directors of the Gospel Music Association (GMA), president of Southern Gospel Music Association (later the Southern Gospel Music Guild), and president of the National Quartet Convention. Beasley’s places a high priority on the group’s commitment to its calling, noting in the group’s website, “We sincerely believe we are doing what we were put on earth to do. We want our audiences to have a good time but it’s most important that they hear the message in each song.”
Stewart began studying piano as a youngster with his mother’s encouragement. While he received classical training, his passion for gospel music led him to the Dixie Rhythm Quartet when he was 18. When he joined the Florida Boys in 1956 Stewart brought with him his trademark red socks and comic flare that audiences have enjoyed for nearly a half century.
The group’s three younger members, all of whom joined in the late 1990s, continue the mission and popularity established by the older members. Allen Cox’s tenor voice helps propel their musical ministry and amplify their “big sound.” Gene McDonald, who
Members include Glen Allred (born in 1934 in Monroe, TN; joined group, 1952), baritone, guitar; Les Beasley (born in 1928 in Crockett, TX; joined group, 1953), lead vocals, manager; Allen Cox (joined group, 1997), tenor; Josh Garner (joined group, 1999), ten or; Josh Garner (joined group, 1998), bass; Derrell Stewart (born in 1934 in Brunswick, GA; joined group, 1956), piano.
Group originally formed by J. G. Whitfield as the Gospel Melody Quartet, 1947; group’s name changed to The Florida Boys, 1955; first gospel group to air a nationally syndicated television show, the Gospel Singing Jubliee, 1964; first Southern gospel group to sign with Canaan Records, 1964; released What a Difference Jesus Makes on that label, 1970; kicked off National Quartet Convention with appearance on the Today Show, 1996; performed at the fortieth anniversary of the National Quartet Convention, 1997; performed at Jubilee 2002, the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame benefit concert.
Awards: Dove Awards, Best Gospel Singing Program, 1969-70, 1972-75, 1977; induction, Gospel Music Hall of Fame, 1999; Southern Gospel Music Association, Album of the Year for Movin’ On, 2002.
Addresses: Home—910 E. Kingsfield Rd., Cantonment, FL 32533. Record company—Homeland Records, Homeland Entertainment, 274 Mallory Station Rd., Franklin, TN 37067. Management—Harper Agency, P.O. Box 144, Goodlettsville, TN 37070. Website—The Florida Boys Official Website: http://www.floridaboys.com.
began singing at three years old with his family, has been praised for his rich, bass voice. Renowned Christian songwriter Bill Gaither noted, “Gene McDonald is the most exciting young bass singer to come along in the last 20 years.” The newest member of the Florida Boys, Josh Garner, sings with a broad range, covering the upper parts and has begun to fill the role of lead singer.
The Florida Boys are known for their extensive travel engagements throughout the United States and abroad, singing at more than 250 concerts a year. They maintain their prominence among Southern gospel fans by cohosting the annual Suwannee River Jubilee in Live Oak, Florida, and also participate in “Singing at Sea,” an annual Bahaman cruise. Recent reviewers of the group emphasize the group’s signature uptempo style and rich harmonies.
In its 50-year span the group has produced more than 100 albums with a long list of hits. Such tunes as “Standing on the Solid Rock,” “When He Was on the Cross, I Was on His Mind,” “Lead Me to the Altar,” and “I Lean on You Lord” have earned the Florida Boys a solid reputation and an induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999. Reflecting on the group’s longevity, Beasley noted in a 1998 Billboard article, “Singers may come and go, but God never changes. His voice is as clear today as it was 50 years ago when the Florida Boys began.”
What a Difference Jesus Makes, Canaan, 1970.
True Gospel, Canaan, 1971.
First Class Gospel, Canaan, 1972.
Here They Come, Canaan, 1973.
He Loves You, Canaan, 1974.
In Concert… Live, Canaan, 1974.
Sing about a New Day, Canaan, 1977.
Vintage Gospel, Canaan, 1977.
Together, Canaan, 1986.
Home Once Again, Canaan, 1988.
I’ve Got a Feeling, New Haven, 1994.
A Taste of Heaven, Word/Epic, 1994.
I’m Forgiven, Homeland, 2000.
Southern Gospel Treasury Series, Epic, 2001.
He Shall Return, Homeland, 2002.
I’m Gonna Rise, Homeland, 2002.
Movin’ On, Homeland, 2002.
Saved by Grace, Homeland, 2002.
Showers of Blessings, Homeland, 2002.
Welcome Home, Homeland, 2002.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Macmillan, 1998.
Billboard, August 30, 1997, p. 36; September 26, 1998, p. 38; June 1, 2002, p. 23.
Daytona Beach News Journal, January 10, 2003.
Grammy Magazine, October 16, 2002.
“Florida Boys,” Gospel Music Hall of Fame, http://www.gospelmusic.org (January 15, 2003).
Florida Boys Official Website, http://www.floridaboys.com (January 9, 2003).
“The Florida Boys: ‘I’m Gonna Rise,’” JT’s Southern Gospel Review, http://www.southerngospelreview.com (January 21, 2003).
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