Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.
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Dixie Echoes Group Shakeup

June 05, 2012 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

The Dixie Echoes announced a while ago that longtime pianist Stewart Varnado is leaving the group. Two separate announcements made on Facebook today bring further change to the lineup of the quartet. Tenor Michael Helwig posted this status this morning (Facebook login required):

I would like to announce that my tenure with the dixie echoes has come to an end. I would like to thank Stewart Varnado for the leadership he showed in the group and the element of professionalism he brought to the stage and to the business end of things.

A short while later, bass singer Mike Jennings posted this status (Facebook login required):

I would like to let everyone know that my time with the Dixie Echoes has come to an end. The Lord is blessing our family with another little one and I’ll be heading home to take care of them. I have met many wonderful people across the country this year, fans and fellow singers alike. I hope to see many of you again. I would like to thank my family for their love, support and selflessness this past year. Please keep our family in your prayers as we make this transition. God Bless.

To refresh our collective memories, it was roughly a year ago that the Dixie Echoes were looking for a bass singer and tenor at the same time, and that’s when Jennings and Helwig were hired. Now, both have departed, on top of the group still looking to fill the piano position. You hate to see such a shakeup all happen at once, at it often leads to a lot of extra speculation by fans of the group. Added to that is the fact that the age of social media often finds news being told before a press release is given by the group itself. It will be interesting to watch what may end up being the biggest “reconstruction” of the Dixie Echoes to come along in years.

Michael Helwig’s future plans will be announced shortly, and congratulations to Mike Jennings and his wife on their expected baby!

Update: For what it’s worth, Stewart Varnado left this comment at SouthernGospelBlog.com:

I’m not starting a group with anyone. I am simply coming off the road. Been very busy this week selling tickets for the Memphis Quartet Show. I look forward to time at home. I do wish Randy & Scoot the best. I had no idea when I turned in my notice that they would be losing more members. However, I will still be with the group thru June 16, at the Suwannee River Jubilee.

I am still in business with Scoot on the Gospel Jubilee Cruise. All is well between me and the Shelnut’s. I don’t want any speculation there. I’ve grew up with them and they are like family to me. They know that if they ever need a fill-in in a pinch, I’ll hop on the bus anytime.

Further update: There has been speculation around the various SG sites as to whether the Dixie Echoes will continue since they are tasked with filling so many vacant positions, and even if they will remain a male quartet. Their Facebook status clears up those questions:

The Dixie Echoes are now accepting auditions for the bass and tenor positions with the group. If you would like to try out, please send a demo and short resume to scoot@dixieechoes.com.

Please pray for the group during this time of transition. Dad and I will continue to give our fans the great quality quartet music they’re used to. In 52 years of ministry, God has never failed us, and I KNOW He never will!

First Look: Dixie Echoes 2011

August 14, 2011 By: Aaron Category: First Look, SG Artists, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes, Youtube

Stewart Varnado just posted this clip of the new lineup of the Dixie Echoes, featuring new additions Michael Helwig on tenor and Mike Jennings singing bass. This standard for tenor singers features Helwig, although Jennings can be heard on the chorus. This clip is a great show of the potential that this new combination of singers has. It is worth noting that this is their first full concert together, and the first time that they have sung this song.

Update: Another video has just been posted from the same concert, this one featuring Mike Jennings. He is singing a song I don’t believe the group has staged since Pat Barker’s time with them: “How Big Is God.” This both gives a better insight to Jennings’ voice, and gives Helwig some of Wesley Smith’s higher notes to hit. Check it out:

Dixie Echoes Hire New Vocalists

August 10, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Quartet, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

Last week, the news broke that the Dixie Echoes had filled the vacancy left by departing bass singer Trent Adams with a relative newcomer: Mike Jennings. See Daniel Mount’s post about the hire, which includes videos highlighting his sound, here.

Today, the announcement was made about a new tenor for the group following Wesley Smith’s move to the Palmetto State Quartet. In a surprising move, the group has hired a lead/baritone singer: Michael Helwig. You may remember him from groups such as The Wilburns, The Stamps, and The Williamsons (formerly The Homesteaders.) In all of those groups, he sang lead or baritone. Most recently, Helwig was the lead singer for the Blackwood Quartet. I was at the concert where he debuted with the group, though interestingly enough, he was the quartet’s new tenor, coming in after Dale Evans left. He did a fantastic job, but moved down to lead when David Mann went to Statement of Faith. Here are some videos of Helwig with the Blackwood Quartet:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dxvh_qp_ODQ

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8IIdJ71rbk

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIzftV1awLU

Daniel Mount has linked to another video in his post about the move which highlights Michael’s tenor singing. Needless to say, Helwig has quite a range. I have been impressed with his vocal ability for quite a while and will be looking forward to hearing him as a Dixie Echo. I agree with Daniel: look for this lineup of the Dixie Echoes to generate buzz soon.