Any time that there is a lull in the stream of news in Southern Gospel music, you can be sure that it is the calm before the storm. We’re already waiting on the announcement of a new Kingsmen tenor (more on that later, but it’s gonna be good!), but another lineup change has hit and is making shockwaves. In a Facebook post yesterday, Dixie Echoes pianist Stewart Varnado made this announcement:
I’d like to thank the Dixie Echoes for allowing me the opportunity to live out my dream for the past 14 years. I joined the group when I was 17 years old. Randy and Scoot Shelnut have became like family to me, and it’s been a blast traveling with some great guys through the years. I realize that when people put out statements saying they want to spend more time at home, it seems to be a cover for unhappiness within the group. That is not the case here. I simply have the desire to come off the road for a while. I wish nothing but the best for the Dixie Echoes, and pray that one day, if it’s God’s will, I can return to Gospel music.
I have no future plans at the moment and will be filling in for the group until a replacement has been found. Thanks also to the many friends that I have made while traveling! It has been an honor to get to meet so many fine people. I will still be active behind the scenes promoting the music that I love. Anyone interested in auditioning should contact Randy Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org
In a later update, Stewart also confirmed that he will still be involved with promoting events like the Memphis Quartet Show and the Gospel Jubilee Cruise.
Remaining for fourteen years with one group is no small feat, and I appreciate Varnado’s longevity and commitment, qualities that are arguably a rare find in the revolving door of SG group changes. While I’m certainly shocked by this announcement and am sad to see him go, I’m sure that he’s probably ready to rest after being on the road for so long! Perhaps we’ll see him back playing again in a few years.
As far as a replacement… the return of Andrew Ishee, anyone?