The Inspirations will be appearing at the First Assembly of God in Searcy on Friday, Aug. 24. The Hannahs will open the concert at 7 p.m.
"We’ve been coming to Searcy every year for some time now. I really like that part of the country. Arkansas is a beautiful state. We’re looking forward to being there again and singing for all of the fine folks in that area," group founder and pianist Martin Cook said in a recent phone interview.
How the well-traveled group began is an interesting story. Cook was a physics and chemistry teacher. In the afternoons and evenings after school, he would welcome whoever wanted to come to his house to sing gospel music. As time passed, these fun sessions turned into a career in Southern gospel music.
"We started getting together in the evenings and singing because we loved the music," Cook recalled. "Different people would come, but it was the students that came the most often and stayed the longest. Boy, we really had a time. We might work an entire evening on perfecting one verse of a song. Every night, we would be singing somewhere near us or at the house practicing. We just stuck with it and kept working."
That hard work definitely paid off as the evening hobby developed into a full-time ministry of song. The Inspirations played various venues and churches, showcasing their talents. A huge shot in the arm came when they garnered a lot of exposure on the popular television program, "Gospel Singing Jubilee."
"We were on the ‘Gospel Singing Jubilee’ for 12 years," Cook said. "It was a big boost for our career. That show was watched by four million people every Sunday morning. It was shown from Philadelphia to Seattle. Our exposure on there got us out of the mountains and on the road!"
For any group or artist, there is always a groundbreaking song that serves as a stamp of their sound, leading to national recognition. For the Inspirations, that came in 1968 with "Jesus Is Coming Soon."
"We were fortunate to have the first big hit on ‘Jesus Is Coming Soon,’" Cook said. "It is a great song that had been around for a long time. That song put us on the map."
In 1976, the Inspirations recorded "A Night of Inspiration," a live album from Warner Robbins, Ga. The album featured such classics as "Touring That City" and "When I Wake Up (To Sleep No More)."
"That album is still a gospel classic," Cook said. "I remember the people at Canaan Records telling me before we went on stage that we had 27 minutes. Back then, everything was recorded one time through. There was no going back and doing something over. That recording is just how it went on that evening in Warner Robbins."
Since their beginning in 1964, some of the names and faces have changed, but Cook remains, guiding the ship of this fine group. From humble beginnings in Bryson City, N.C., to being one of the top Southern gospel groups, the Inspirations remain in demand. Their latest album, "It’s in the Savior’s Hands" was released earlier this year.
"We still see more and more people coming to our concerts, especially more and more younger ones," Cook concluded. "Gospel music can appeal to anyone. All you have to do is start listening to it, and I guarantee you will get something out of it. A person who listens to gospel music might just pat their foot or it may touch them in some way. Gospel music offers hope and cheer."
For the past 48 years, the Inspirations have been offering a lot hope and cheer to countless gospel music lovers.
Beebe writer Charles Haymes is a member of the Country Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.