Twenty years ago, the “Ton of Fun” Kingsmen Quartet hired new members Parker Jonathan, Tim Surrett and Randy Miller. New power ballads and deeper lyrics brought the group into a different phase of ministry. Throughout the 1990’s, the Kingsmen Quartet had an unmistakeable sound that included the vocals and MC work of baritone Parker Jonathan. The Kingsmen went through various changes in the early part of the next decade, resulting in the departure of Jonathan in 2002. Since that time, his name has been mentioned in various circles, with much speculation regarding the popular singer. With the advent of The Jonathan Trio from Bremen Georgia, the Southern Gospel world welcomes the return of Parker Jonathan.
Jonathan has had an interesting hiaitus from the Southern Gospel world. From work in a television production studio, to driving tour buses for various artists, this gentleman has learned much and become acquainted with entertainers and musicians from all genres of the music world. He has driven for artists such as Carrie Underwood, Wayne Newton and Judas Priest. Experts tell us that most people will have at least 10 different careers in their lifetime. Jonathan realized it was time to move on to another stage in his life.
“First of all, let me clearly state that I’m not back on the road”, says Parker Jonathan. “My trio venture is strictly a part-time, weekend thing, which somewhat limits our travel opportunities. We’re all employed elsewhere and trying to coordinate singing and working during the week can be difficult. Our weekends are open for ministry opportunities and right now that’s where we feel God wants us.”
Jonathan continues, “As for the decision to return to singing, it came after the encouragement of a few different people. I wasn’t actively pursuing a return to gospel music but the Lord kept allowing me to cross paths with people who would encourage me to get involved once again. My time off has also allowed me to be more active in our local church, Northpoint Baptist in Carrollton, Georgia. Both Paula and I are involved in the music program at church and under the preaching and leadership of our pastor, Dr. Rodney Agan, God began dealing with me about using my talents for Him on a broader scale. The doors began to open and we’ve both followed the leadership of the Holy Spirit, which brings us to where we are today.”
The Jonathan Trio consists of Parker; his wife, Paula; lead/tenor singer Eric Dunson and keyboardist Jacob Pitts. Eric’s brother Chris Dunson is sound engineer for the group. Eric and Jacob both attend the same church as the Jonathans and are married with families. Parker says Paula sang with her twin sister during the early ‘90’s, but it was a total surprise to him to learn of her vocal talent.
“When we were dating I didn’t even know she could sing until I saw her on television one day,” laughs Jonathan. “The Kingsmen were singing in Kempton, Pennsylvania and we were having dinner at the only restaurant in that little town. Because the restaurant was so small and it seemed everyone from the singing was in there, all the guys were split up between different tables. Greg Fox was in another room of the restaurant when he came to my table and asked me to come see the television near his table.”
Jonathan continues, “I thought he was trying to pull something over on me so I was reluctant to go, but when I did I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Paula and her sister were competing on a talent show on CMT hosted by Charlie Daniels. They were finishing their song when I caught the show, and then were interviewed briefly by Charlie Daniels. I was so totally surprised. I had no idea she sang! After we married we only sang together a couple of times, but one of those times was during a reunion concert of my family’s gospel group up in New York. When my father heard us sing together he really pushed us to start doing more singing, which is really how this whole thing began.”
Paula Jonathan is employed with an attorney in midtown Atlanta and as Parker still works with the tour bus agency, it was a challenge to begin this new venture. Parker wasn’t too sure about getting back into the business of Southern Gospel.
“When I left the Kingsmen, which was actually Carolina Boys at that time, I was so burned out,” Jonathan shares. “I spent the first five years not listening to any southern gospel and reflecting on the pros and cons of the industry. When Paula and I first began talking about putting something together, I told her I didn’t like the competition of it all. I probably placed that feeling upon myself and it was probably ingrained in me from my association with Jim Hamill. I disliked always having to feel like we had to be better than the group that just came off stage. That got tough when we had to follow groups like the McKamey’s, or the Dove Brothers, or the Kingdom Heirs, or the McGruders in their heyday. When those groups did a spot-on performance and left people standing up begging for more, it was a daunting task to try to follow that!”
“Ten or fifteen years ago that would’ve been important to me, but not anymore,” Jonathan continues. “We will go on and sing during our appointed time, do what we do, and let the Lord use it as He will. I’m not concerned with getting people on their feet, or with making sure our performance results in better sales. My only concern is pleasing the Father and making sure He is uplifted. That’s my only concern. Everything else will take care of itself if He is glorified.”
A typical Jonathans concert is different from any Kingsmen performance that included Parker Jonathan. “We are definitely a southern gospel group,” says Jonathan. “No disrespect is meant for anyone who leans left or right in their musical stylings, but I prefer the straight-down-the-middle harmony singing and stylings of pure southern gospel music. Our concerts are a mixture of older, popular gospel songs as well as what I would term meatier gospel songs. We try to incorporate something for everyone without straying too far from southern gospel.”
“What we’re doing now isn’t like the old Kingsmen concerts. We’re a mixed group with no bass singer, which definitely makes things different. My time with the Kingsmen was educational, and Jim Hamill and Eldridge Fox were both wonderful teachers. A Jonathans concert will be entertaining, but the focus of every concert will be on who Jesus is, rather than who we are. When I was with the Kingsmen I could push any number of guys to the front and feature them. Randy Miller was a fantastic musician and always a crowd pleaser. Andrew Ishee was entertaining and his playing was superb. Ray Reese was always a crowd favorite. I could go on and on, but the fact is, this group doesn’t showcase individual, dynamic, entertaining personalities. I try to stress to our group that we’re a team and we try to approach each service or concert from that perspective. We do a lot of singing and when it comes time for ministry, we do it together, with one heart and one purpose.”
Parker has a few goals for The Jonathans. “Corporately, I want us to be tuned in to what the Lord wants for each concert. If I’ve learned anything from my past experiences it’s that each concert is different and you need to be sensitive to what your audience needs. If you’re singing the same program night after night, not only is your audience missing out because of your repetitive performance, but you’re also preventing the Holy Spirit from moving on you and ultimately missing a blessing yourself. We will try to be tuned in to what the audience needs at each particular venue and plan accordingly.”
Jonathan continues, “I also want us to be as polished and professional as possible. That means lots of rehearsals. Many don’t know the sacrifice of time it takes to refine the art of singing. Group singing is harder because you must learn to blend with the other group members, annunciate your words together, and work as a team. Not only are rehearsals involved, but you’ve also got performances, time spent recording, travel, and a host of other time-consuming details. Try squeezing that into a week already consumed by 40-hours on the job and you’ve made quite a commitment.”
“I’m thankful that our entire team is committed to making this ministry as professional as it can be,” says Jonathan. “We each make our own contribution to making the ministry function as a whole. I also want a professional approach from how we dress, to our performance, to our interaction with the audience as a whole and individually. I want us to be professional in our business dealings with churches, promoters, agents and other businesses we may be associated with. I don’t ever want to leave a bad impression of what a Christian should be with anyone I’m dealing with. I believe when we honor our commitments and those around us, God is honored.”
The Jonathans tailor their message to the souls attending any particular concert. “Each audience is different and we need to be aware of their needs,” shares Parker. “Also, as we grow in Christ what we share with an audience will change. I’m continually growing in the Lord so I expect what we’re sharing with our audiences today will be different than what we will share with them in six months or a year.”
So what is ahead for this trio? “At this time we have no intentions of becoming a full-time group, however, that’s just our idea,” says Jonathan. “The Lord’s ideas may be completely different, and if we’re faced with the decision to go full-time, we’ll deal with it at that time. For now, we don’t feel God leading us in that direction and we’re very happy with that. Currently, we’re building our schedule of churches and maintaining them, and trying to make new contacts. We’re also in the process of building a website which will further introduce everyone to our ministry and make us accessible to those who are interested in what we do.”
The Jonathans have just released a CD entitled Chapter One, which contains Southern Gospel favorites. They have plans to record another project of new music with some songs being shipped to radio. Parker Jonathan has gained a lot of experience over the years and offers some advice to groups regarding their ministry, especially in this time of economic instability.
“I believe one thing should remain the same whether we’re in a recession or not, and that’s our commitment to glorifying the Lord through what we do. If that ever changes or our focus shifts, we’ve lost our purpose and what was once a tool to uplift Jesus Christ has just become a job or another form of entertainment. I believe God can be glorified thru Christian entertainment but there must be a balance, and those scales shouldn’t tip in favor of entertainment. When that happens it’s at the expense of His glorification.”
Jonathan continues, “I think audiences are looking for the same things they were looking for 10 or 15 years ago. To a degree they’re looking to forget their problems for a little while. From the standpoint of the gospel singer, if we simply offer them a good time for an hour or two, we’ve missed out on so much. We need to get past that mentality and take our audiences to a deeper place; a place where they can experience the grace and mercy of a loving Heavenly Father, and know that the God who created this entire universe cares so much about our everyday problems and issues.”
Through everything that Parker Jonathan has seen and experienced, he is still relying on the Lord to lead his steps. This journey with his wife into a new ministry has taught them both many things regarding faith and trust. “When we started laying the groundwork for this group both Paula and I were overwhelmed by the costs involved. We watched our funds decrease as we invested in sound equipment, stage clothing, soundtracks, recording, and a host of other expenses we weren’t anticipating. We had to rely solely on the Lord Jesus Christ to meet the need, and He has. While all this was going on, our church entered into a campaign drive to erase the debt on our buildings. Paula and I prayed and agreed to increase our giving, trusting the Lord to continue meeting our needs. He has!”
Parker Jonathan continues, “All my life I’d heard: “You can’t out give God”, and I’m finding out the reality of that statement. All He asks us to do is trust Him, and when that happens we find He is true to His word: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”
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First Published February 2010 on www.sgmradio.com