Since it’s inception in 1957, very few Southern Gospel groups or artists can claim they were part of the very first National Quartet Convention. While several individuals may have seen Conventions since the 1950s, only a select number of groups still bare the name that appeared in the original NQC program.
Coming from the heart of Texas in the 1930s, the Carter Quartet made the move east to Fort Worth from their home in Lubbock. Once in Fort Worth, the quartet who had made a living singing for a local radio station, found a sponsorship with Bewley Mills Flour Company singing on WBAP radio.
A name change soon followed and The Bewley Mills Chuck Wagon Gang was born. The Chuck Wagon Gang finally began recording songs in 1936 while they continued to sing locally and for the radio. In 1951, with their popularity growing, the Gang hit the road to start touring. What seemed like a small decision at the time, would eventually lead to large venues including: New York City’s Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl, and Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium.
75 years after their first recorded album, the Gang is still touring, producing great records (their latest, The Best Is Yet To Be was released in late 2011), and living up to their reputation established in the 1930s. While the original members have long left the group for various reasons, the family tradition lives on through Shaye Smith. Shaye, the granddaughter of founding member Anna, now manages and sings alto for the group – the same as her grandmother.
While Shaye was not exposed to Southern Gospel music and sounds of The Chuck Wagon Gang at a young age, she soon embraced the heritage. “I just didn’t know a whole lot about it growing up,” she said, “I went to [college] and got a vocal scholarship and actually ended up studying voice and got more into the classical aspect of music. So, Chuck Wagon Gang was about as far from my thought process as it could be.”
All that changed in 1993, when Shaye was invited by her uncle to sing following college graduation. When met with the offer, her response was positive, but one clearly unaware of the tradition she was about to join, “I just thought, sure, why not?” Shaye continued, “I got my first real exposure to Chuck Wagon Gang in 1993 … I just never really understood [the history] until I became part of it.”
As The Chuck Wagon Gang continues to travel, Shaye is joined by Julie Hudson singing soprano, Stan Hill at tenor, and Jeremy Stephens on guitar and singing bass. With Jeremy being the newest member of the group, the Gang has now seen 49 different members in its 75-year existence. Despite the change of members, the group continues with the same purpose: travelling and spreading the message of Christ through song.
Hear Shaye discuss CWG Alumni
As they tour, many places leave lasting impressions. Such places as the Children’s Lighthouse in Tallahassee, FL, Bryson City, NC, Renfro Valley, KY, and the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville have become trips all the Gang looks forward to. Another great stop each year happens at National Quartet Convention in Louisville, KY.
“There’s a lot of memories there,” added Shaye when asked about her time at NQC, “the Gang was part of the first one … and we’re still happy to be part of it.” A 12-year veteran of NQC, she knows that one week in September can be a special time for groups and fans alike, “National Quartet Convention was created so that all these great groups could be together in one place for the fans … So now, it’s really a worldwide thing and it’s up to [the artists] to come together and create the best possible situation for the fans.”
What’s NQC all about for Shaye? Take a listen
The Chuck Wagon Gang definitely knows how to keep Southern Gospel fans coming back. After all, that’s a secret that has been passed down for 75 years now.
National Quartet Convention is proud to welcome back one of its original performers, The Chuck Wagon Gang. You can see them on the Main Stage this year at Freedom Hall in Louisville, KY. To see when they are performing and to get your seats for the 55th Annual event, check out the Schedule & Seating section on natqc.com.