Freedom quartet was founded by John Rulapaugh in 2013 and has quickly carved its niche in the southern gospel industry and has become a fan favorite quartet.
SGM- You have had a nice career already with many more years to go. From the Dove Brothers to Palmetto State to now your own group in Freedom quartet where you guys were recently named Singing News fan awards Favorite Horizon group and favorite male quartet. Did you foresee having such success so quickly with Freedom?
JR- You may, or may not, remember that Freedom was started as a trio with my good friend Josh Garner (Formerly of The Florida Boys/now singing with The Dixie Melody Boys). We had a dream that, for reasons neither of us can explain, just never really got off the ground. After Josh left in pursuit of more frequent singing opportunities I really had no idea what to do…whether to pursue a new set of singers to join me or just fold it up and pursue other interests. I’d all but given up hope as everyone I had interest in working with were either already committed to another group or had made the decision to retire from this crazy life. So, I began to pray about the course of action to pursue. I heard from folks I never expected to be interested. Honestly, people I didn’t dare dream of trying to reach out to. The first was my old buddy Burman with whom I’d worked the road during the Dove Brothers and Palmetto State days. We actually met up at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion. He was having some health issues that needed to be resolved and the group he was with at the time were not really amenable to his being off the road for any extended period, so the timing was right for him to make a change and I’d just started trying to figure out where we’d go from there. Burman came on to help us in our cabin rental business and sing if the opportunity presented itself. Then came Dale telling me he’d be willing to fill in for Josh’s absence from the group. My first question was “would you be interested in doing more than a filling in?!” He was interested, if the opportunity was right.
During our days as a trio Josh and I had reached out to Preston about singing baritone for the group. The timing was not right then and he had to pass…so when he called I was quite surprised and pleased. He was the last link in the chain. I say all of that to say that once the group came together and we had the opportunity to sing together a bit I knew that there was a chance that we had something special here. Everyone’s intentions are the same – to see others drawn closer in their relationship with Christ – everything else is secondary. Of course we want to entertain and have a good time, but that’s not our main focus. So, to answer you question directly, no, I didn’t expect that we’d have the success in the fan awards that we have seen – especially this soon. We haven’t really campaigned for nominations and votes beyond just making folks aware that we would be eligible etc.
Awards are nice and we appreciate the thought that goes behind folks voting for us. I don’t see them as a goal to achieve, but rather a recognition of the effort we put into our life’s work…so to be recognized in that was is certainly rewarding brings a certain sense of confirmation that we’re on the right track to reach more and more folks with the Gospel.
SGM- When speaking to your peers in the industry you are often mentioned when discussions of best industry tenor comes up. When you review your career thus far, who have you been impressed with as far as artists you sang with?
JR- It’s kind of you to say that. Of course I’d like to think that what you’ve said is true but I’ve had the privilege of sharing the stage with far too many incredibly talented singers to believe it. It’s hard to make a short list – in this field talent really presents itself on many different planes – Of our current group I have to say Burman really has such a smooth bass voice and friendly demeanor. He is loved by audiences everywhere because of his candor. Preston has a keen sense and ability to follow the leading of The Holy Spirit, aside from being a great singer he really has the knack for changing a concert into a worship service. Dale’s commanding lead voice is the “magic” that every quartet really needs in order to stand out. This group of men represent the best top to bottom lineup that I believe I’ve had the opportunity to travel and sing with on a consistent basis.
Of course, who can compare to the great Hovie Lister, Jack Toney, and Buddy Burton with whom I was privileged to sing in the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion Quartet…and Roy Pauley came as close to duplicating The Big Chief Jim Weatherington as anyone has ever done. Aaron McCune was the bass singer for the better part of my tenure with Palmetto State Quartet. He’s such a talented singer and all around great guy. Never fussy about sound reinforcement or microphones like most bass singers are…but always gave his all even when things were not optimal. He is still a great friend and one of the guys I miss most out of the groups I’ve traveled with in the past. Jonathan Sawrie of The Melody Boys is not only a great singer but also the type of pianist I dream of having along with Freedom Quartet. He has a feel for the rhythm and style of Hovie Lister like no one else I know and that is tops in my book.
During my shirt stint with The Blackwoods I had the privilege of sharing the stage with Harold Gilley who could command the attention of the audience like no one else and Steve Warren who is undoubtedly among the most talented musicians and singers ever in Gospel Music. Thanks for reminding me! I don’t think of all this very often as my mind is consumed with other things. Upon looking back, to say that I’ve been blessed would be a gross understatement.
SGM- Was singing gospel music something you aspired to do as a child?
JR- I don’t recall ever feeling as though I’d made a decision to pursue this as a career…its just always been what I was GOING to do…and then it was what I WAS doing… Never even really thought of doing anything else permanently or as a career vocation.
SGM- Most artists have that group or individual who really inspired them to want to sing. Who was that person for you?
JR- when I was a kid living in Maryland we didn’t get much southern gospel of any kind…but my family visited Gatlinburg, TN while on vacation and as we walked into “A Little Bit of Heaven” Christian Bookstore I heard something I’d never heard before…gospel quartet music. And my life was profoundly changed forever. Turns out it was the Gold City Quartet. My parents bought the cassette they were playing in the store and within a few days I’d learned every song. Before we left from our vacation we went back and purchased every title they had available! Soon after those days I started attending an annual Jubilee in Hillsville, VA that was hosted by the Mullins Family. At the time Paul Lancaster was singing tenor for them. He was kind to me as young kid (he would have barely been out of school himself) and encouraged me to pursue my passions. For both his singing abilities and his genuine love for people he became a great influence for me. Ben Speer may have had the biggest impact on me through his Stamps Baxter School of Music. My first two week session there was amazing. Bruce Northam was my voice teacher there and he most definitely had an impact on my vocal abilities. There are many people who are far more responsible than I am!
SGM- What are some of the upcoming events for Freedom quartet that you guys are excited about and want fans to know about?
JR- As I type this Freedom Quartet is aboard United Flight 22 from Dublin, Ireland to Newark, NJ…returning from our latest trip “across the pond” where we’ve really established some great friendships. The next time we visit Northern Ireland we expect to take a tour group with us to experience some of what we’ve enjoyed there. We’re looking at a year or maybe two from now. The last weekend in May we are hosting our first two day homecoming event in Seymour, TN in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. We’ll have evening concerts at Grace Baptist Church on Friday and Saturday nights…but there will be events occurring all day Saturday. We start the day with a veterans appreciation breakfast. FREE TO VETS and their spouses, a small fee for everyone else and ALL are encouraged to attend and pay tribute to our heroes! Then we have a talent contest for groups and soloists with the opportunity to win some nice prizes. In the late morning/early afternoon we have carnival style games and bounce houses for the kids. It’s going to be a great time of Family, Fun, and Freedom! Details are posted on our website at: Freedom Quartet Website