Our Exclusive Chat with the Childress Family: Making Music for the Soul

childress family

Nearly forty-five years ago, the Childress Family began singing throughout the region of Western Kentucky near their home in Madisonville.  This ministry, which is now spanning into its fourth decade and third generation, has been proven to be tried and true and is now more than ever focused on The Family, The Church and America.       

Hallels: Just for the sake of some of our readers, can you tell us a little of who the Childress Family is.

Our family began singing almost forty-five years ago. The group consisted then of Mom, Marlene; Dad, Ken; and three children, Teresa, Carla and Shannon, who were about ages 10, 7 and 4 at that time. Teresa had learned to play the piano and sang alto harmony. Carla was a sweet soprano. She later learned to play bass guitar and is also a smooth bass guitarist. Shannon was quite the little tenor singer and could sing harmony at a very young age. So, Mom and Dad formed a family group and started traveling through the regions of Western Kentucky and beyond.

Since that time, there have been changes in the family group, but it is still "family." Teresa and Shannon continued to develop in their piano musicianship, arranging and songwriting. Marlene began to write lyrics and they have since written quite a few songs that have been recorded by many groups, one of which has been nominated as a top ten song in the past. Carla continued to develop her bass guitar skills and has one of the most moving soprano voices to this day.

Shannon decided in 1985 that he would like to try for an opportunity to travel and sing on a more full-time basis, so he auditioned with one of the most well-known groups in gospel music, The Hoppers, and secured that opportunity. He traveled with them for about twelve years. While he was them, he wrote and arranged many of their chart-topping songs during that period and helped them rise to new heights in the gospel music industry, yet he was still an active part of our own family ministry in recording, producing, arranging and writing. Teresa had also married in 1985 and her husband, Jamey, joined the group on a more permanent basis. He voice just fit right in with the family blend. In 1990, Jamey and Teresa had a daughter, Courtney, who at the age of three sang on the concert stage.

A few years later, Courtney became a permanent fixture on the stage with the family. She brings a youthful energy and commanding vocals that is surpassed by no one. She has a powerful and passionate delivery on all of her songs and is an audience favorite of both young and old. Courtney has been attending Belmont University for the past several years, but has been able to maintain her part of the group, for the most part, over those years. She has only missed a very few dates due to school commitments. She will graduate with honors in May, 2015, from Belmont University College of Law for which her family is so proud. Ken no longer sings full time with the family, but still travels and chimes in a song once in a while. Mom, Marlene, is still very much a part of each concert and handles a lot of the dialogues. She has such a genuine spirit and is sensitive to audiences and their needs, while she can still come out with some very comedic sayings to also keep a group in stitches when she shares how she learned to sing by sitting on the barnyard gate in a small community in Kentucky.

It was very devastating to the family when Shannon learned that he had terminal cancer in 2009 and passed away in 2011. It was a tough blow and he is sadly missed to this day by his family and friends. Even though he had been away from the family group for several years, his impact on the family ministry was still very prominent.

Hallels: Congratulations on the release of your new album "Music for the Soul." Why did you name the album "Music for the Soul"?

We pretty much summed it up on the liner of our CD when we said that music has a way of moving the soul, oftentimes when nothing else can. It has the power to reach deep within and stir our emotions, feelings and memories. However, music is more than just an expression of our emotions, thoughts and beliefs but also an avenue through which we can travel in order to send up our love, adoration and praise to our Savior. Paul encouraged us to "be filled with the spirit, addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart."

We have carefully chosen songs that have blessed us and ministered to our soul. Some of them have caused our soul to rejoice in the gift of our salvation. Others have brought expectancy to our hearts as we anticipate the return of Christ and of living a life forever with Him in Heaven while also enjoying a reunion with our friends and loved ones who are already there. Some of these songs are heartfelt praise to our Lord. There are also those that may bring a tear, while another may bring a laugh. We hope you will be blessed as you listen to these songs and that they may also offer music for your soul.

Hallels: I love your choice of songs, some of them are old hymns to old Southern Gospel songs to newer material. But you do make them your own. What normally do you look out for in a song before you choose to record it?

We are pretty diverse in our style and selections of songs on our projects. With three generations and an appeal to multi-generational audiences, we almost have to be that way. We enjoy the challenge of finding songs that are diverse and arranging them with something special thrown into that arrangement which may include a modulation, a change in vocal part, a vocal or band "lick" or just anything to make it a little unique from what someone might expect. We also may sing a song as a female trio and then arrange another one with all five vocals at once.

We have always enjoyed some of the old hymns. It seems that their lyrics have so much more depth to them than some of the newer songs. We always try to incorporate an old hymn or a classic gospel song on our project, but we do try to bring the arrangement into a newer, more listenable style. We have some audience members who like a more southern gospel style, so we try to incorporate that with our own take on a southern gospel song. Of course, we always look to have a good mixture of faster, slower and medium tempo songs. We try to select songs that have some "meat" to them. We try to find songs that "say" something, that minister to and bless us. We feel that if they speak to us, then they may also speak to those that hear them.

Of course, we try to select a song for each member of the group that suits their voice range and style. Mom and Courtney, the oldest and youngest, are sometimes the most difficult members to accommodate in that respect. Mom's song on the new project absolutely fits her to a tee. It is more of a novelty song, but if you knew Mom, you would know that she is a "talker" and her song is titled "Sit Down." The main lyric is "I just got to Heaven and I can't sit down." I am sure that is what it will be like for Mom. She will be running here, there and yonder when she gets to Heaven, catching up with loved ones and friends and taking it all in. Now, Courtney is on the other end of the spectrum. She likes things with a little more up to date, progressive sound and she can really sing a song with "soul." We try to select something that will suit her in that respect. We have also written many songs and have included some of those on previous recordings.

Hallels: I believe you have also produced the record yourselves. Is producing something you enjoy?

Producing can be quite challenging. Shannon always helped us in that respect and was very good at it. We learned quite a lot from him and still have a lot to learn, but we are always ready and willing to accept comments and advice from others in our circle of recording engineers and musicians for ideas and suggestions. We have developed some great friendships with some of the musicians that we use on a regular basis when recording and they worked with us when Shannon was producing our projects. They knew him well and have come to know our "sound" and what direction we might want a song to go. We also have a dear friend in our recording engineer, Ben Harris, who has known us since our early years and is quite helpful in all areas of our recording. There is wisdom in a multitude of counsel, and while the call is ultimately ours, we do glean a lot from others' wisdom in the music industry.

Hallels: I love your single "I Won't Have to Cross Jordan Alone," which I believe is an old hymn. What's the story behind choosing this song?

Thank you so much! It is an older classic and we partner it on the bridge with another old classic titled "He'll Hold to My Hand," both of which have been favorites of ours for many years. Since our project was titled Music for the Soul, the song "I Won't Have to Cross Jordan Alone" has ministered to the soul of our own family and encouraged us. Of course, as our dear Shannon passed, we were singing and playing songs as he crossed Jordan and that was one of the songs that comforted us during that time. We found comfort that he didn't make the journey alone. We just felt that someone else may find that same comfort in the combination of those two songs.

Hallels: Let's talk about your cover of the Happy Goodman Family's "Poor, Rich Man," what's the story behind choosing this song?

Our hometown is Madisonville, Kentucky, which has been the home area of many other family groups that gospel music followers may remember-The Hinsons, The Rambos, and the Happy Goodman Family. During our early years when the Goodmans were based out of Madisonville, we performed with them many times and they were dear friends to us. Rusty often was amazed at the harmony and blend of us during our younger years and Vestal was so sweet to Courtney when we renewed acquaintance with them following their appearances on the Homecoming videos. When we were searching for songs, we felt like we wanted to include a song that had a special connection to our relationship with the Goodmans and our acquaintance with them. Jamey had always sung a slower ballad on previous recordings, and we felt a fast song would be a nice change, so we went with "Poor, Rich Man." We took it and updated the arrangement a little. It has become a crowd favorite at our concerts.

Hallels: Are you already planning your next album? Is there anyone you would like to work or sing with?

We are ALWAYS thinking about the next project. Most artists will tell you that they listen to many, many songs before making their selections for an album. Even after you make a selection and work on the arrangement, it oftentimes does not work out to be a good choice, after all. We would also like to write some new material, which is also easier said than done. We have a fabulous pastor and we are always gleaning good thoughts and ideas from his sermons, so who knows, we may just come up with something yet. Of course, we love the old hymns and try to think in that respect too. We try to record every couple of years, but sometimes time and finances can change that goal. We are a bi-vocational group in that we don't travel full-time as some artists do, but we are fully committed to our ministry as our longevity and dedication for forty-five years speaks to.

We have worked with many artists over the years and have enjoyed all of them. Of course, The Hoppers are near and dear to us, because Shannon worked for them for several years and they are like family to us. We host a big gospel music event in our hometown in September of each year, and we always have in some of our favorite artists. We especially enjoyed hearing the great gospel music gentleman last year, Squire Parsons, who has written so many wonderful songs. He just really ministered to us. For more information on that event, you can go to our website at and click on "Gospel Music Extravaganza." We have also appreciated the opportunity to sing at gospel music's most famed event, the National Quartet Convention, for the past few years. We will also be appearing there again this year on Friday evening of the convention in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

We don't think that it is so much who we would like to sing "with" as who we enjoy singing "for." God has certainly blessed this group over the past four decades, and we are truly grateful for that. We were just talking about some of the times when we know God was traveling with us in circumstances that could have developed into something tragic, but He saw us through and home safely. We have also come to meet some of the most wonderful friends over the years. They have been such a blessing and support to our ministry. It is just amazing! Something else we were speaking of just last night is the fact that it isn't about how many standing ovations we get while we are singing, but it is the applause of Heaven that really counts in the end and the fact that we are serving the Lord and in the center of His will. Our theme verse has always been Joshua 24:15 "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Hallels: For our readers who would like to purchase your music or/and find out more about you, where can they go?

We have certainly appreciated the opportunity to share this time about our ministry with your readers. If someone would like to learn more about our ministry, you can visit our website at You can also purchase our music from the website or contact us directly at The Childress Family, 1215 Tucker Schoolhouse Road, Madisonville, KY 42431 or by phone at 270-836-



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