Heat Doesn’t Stop 97th State Annual Singing Convention

Not even the heat of summer could stop the 97th State Annual Singing Convention in Benson’s Singing Grove this weekend.

Acts from North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina and Florida made their way to Johnston County for three days of Southern gospel music, fellowship and fun.

“Hearing people use their talents and expressing their faith, it’s just very powerful,” Benson Mayor William Massengill said. “To watch that and be able to experience it, then to be out on a beautiful day, under the trees in such an open air environment, I think it’s just a great place.”

The mayor also reflected on the legacy the event has left — and continues to promise — as the years have passed.

“To think that people have been here doing this for 97 years, that’s pretty powerful,” he said. “There’s a lot of people with the Singing Convention and the board who work really hard to continue this tradition.”

There were 27 acts taking to the stage on Saturday with 22 of them returning on Sunday and all gave what could only be considered as stirring performances.

Singers were awarded for their talents in 10 categories including Choir, Junior, Duet, Trio, Mixed Trio, Quartet, Mixed Quartet, Family, Bluegrass and Live Accompaniment.

For the Singing Convention Board, the weekend was another culmination of work that extends back to last year’s event.

Event Manager Rayvon Best said this year’s extremely warm weatheron Saturday may have played a part in the lower number of participants than in past years.

“Due to the weather I think that total is probably a little low,” he said. “But we appreciate the ones who came and took part.”

Among the musicians who braved the heat to take their place on-stage was McGee’s Crossroads resident Keith Rivenbark. He along with his daughter, Kayla Rivenbark-Dowdy, Jeffrey Moore and Rowland Carroll make up the Rivenbarks.

The quartet, who also had some help from Kayla’s 5-year-old daughter, Layla, were making their first appearance in the Mixed Quartet competition.

“I’ve been coming here probably 20 years or better,” Mr. Rivenbark said. “I’ve seen a lot of new faces and I’ve seen a lot of groups that are here as second and third generations.”

He says the event is not only great for the community and participants, it also is a great representation of grassroots America.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s a great thing. It’s great for the community. I’m glad that we live in a country where we can come and sing gospel music in a public place.”

Mr. Rivenbark and Ms. Rivenbark-Dowdy had previously won the Duet competition.

“My daughter and I have been coming here and singing for 19 years and we love it here,” he said. “It is hard to put into words what it means to come here. It’s almost like a family reunion of folks that we’re not related to, the other groups and the folks that come to hear the singing.”

He says the event is more about those elements than actually competing for trophies.

“You come to sing and have a good time,” he said. “But you come to fellowship and be with the other folks you’ve met over the years.”

Mr. Rivenbark believes the competition aspects affords him and his group another opportunity.

“We’re singing in the competition, not necessarily for the competition, we just look at it as another opportunity to sing,” he said. “We just want to have a good time.”

Mayor Massengill says perhaps the history is the most significant part of the event when it comes Benson’s role.

“It’s part of our history, back in 1921 when those original founders got together,” he said. “They wanted to bring something together for the community and to bring the community together. I think that’s what it signifies, that way of bringing people together for a common cause.”  Story courtesy The Daily Record. Photos by John Payne

Saturday’s Winners:
Choir:                          Hood’s Grove Church
Junior:                         The Walter Girls
Duet:                           The Nortons
Mixed Trio:                   The Dunns
Quartet:                       Sheltered Quartet
Family:                        The Walters Family
Bluegrass:                    The McLamb-Denny Band
Live Accompaniment:    The Walters Family

Sunday Winners:
Choir:                           Hood’s Grove Church
Junior:                          The Walters Girls
Duet:                            Greg and Brent
Mixed Trio:                    The Horrell Family
Quartet:                        Called Out
Mixed Quartet:              The Shockey Family Quartet
Family:                         The Walters Family
Bluegrass:                     The Johnson Bentley Band
Live Accompaniment:     The Walters Girls
Consolation Trophy:        The Josh Harris Family

Grand Champion:        Great Day