Willie Neal "The Country Boy" Johnson hails from and still resides in
Texas, Tyler and also from one big musical family. He is the eldest of six children (3 boys and 3 girls) and says that his
mother always had them singing in one church or another. Rev. C.W. Jackson recognized Willie's talent and extended the offer
for Willie to join his group, The Five Ways of Joy Gospel Singers. He accepted and thus the professional career of Willie
Neal Johnson began while he was yet in his teens.
After a few years, Willie approached some of his hometown pals and
convinced them to join him in forming a new group, Willie Neal Johnson and the Gospel Keynotes. The original members were:
Ralph McGee, Rev. J.D. Talley, Charles Bailey, John Jackson, Lonzo Jackson, and Archie B. McGee. The newly formed Gospel Keynotes
repidly became one of the standout gospel groups in their area and soon got their first big break - an introduction to Mr.
Ernie Young, President of Nashboro Records. This meeting resulted in the group being signed to the Nashville based gospel
record label and having their first taste of success with a national hit record, "Show Me The Way". During this association,
more than 20 albums and many gospel singers were recorded.
Over the years, personnel changes would occur and the following members
of the Gospel Keynotes at one time: Larry McGowan, Paul Beasley, and Donny Timmons.
After Nashboro Reocrds shut its doors and ceased to function, Willie
Neal Johnson and the Gospel Keynotes signed with Malaco Records in Jackson, Ms in 1985. With Malaco, the group has undergone
another personnel change as well as a name change. They are now known as Willie Neal Johnson and the New Keynotes. Members
are: Robert Williams (from the Gospel Keynotes), LaManuel Boykin, Maurice Morgan, David Talley, Sheldon Talley, Kenneth Talley
and Teddy Cross (also from the Gospel Keynotes).
Under the direction and leadership of Willie Neal Johnson, who's
commonly referred to as "the country boy", the New Keynotes are a combination of gospel talents and styles fused and blended
into an explosive high energy, electrifying performance group. They can stir up emotions the moment they step on stage to
Their selection of materials and the manner in which they present
their songs in a performance is like a good old fashoined, foot stompin', hand clapping, tear streaming revival, lead by a
soul stirring, aisle walking preacher, singing and shouting and dispensing the gospel in a soul saving manner.
Since signing with Malaco, Willie Neal and the Keynotes hace recorded
seven albums, each of which successively propelled the group to new heights. They are now one of gospel's premier traditional
quartets who have set new standards for the genre.
After having helped to introduce the "Choirtet" concept to the masses
with "I'm Yours, Lord" which features the Misissippi Mass Choir, Willie Neal and the New Keynotes have found a niche that
has not only increased their support in the quartet arena, but brought them new fans as well.
The current release, "Lord, Take Us Through", with special guest
Evangelist Dorothy Norwood, hit Billboard's Top 25 and is a testament to the "cross-over" appeal that the group has garnered
so much attention in the music industry.
The year was 1952. The city was Detroit, Michigan.
Isaiah “Lil Shoot” Jones, Wilson DeShields and Leo Coney decided to form a gospel quartet group. They would
come to be known as The Violinaires. From this humble beginning the world was introduced to the greatest gospel group
to sing God’s praises. Know for their high falsetto background and lead singers, the group would make an indubitable
mark on gospel music.
Shortly afterwards, they were bless with a great talent in the person
of Willie Banks. He would become their first lead singer. He remained with the group for a short time before he moved on to
form his own group. In the early sixties, they were blessed with another powerfully talented lead singer, Robert Blair. That
was over 30 years ago and the last time he sang he was still powerful. His unique style along with their high, sweet, falsetto
voices in the background has become the signature of the Violinaires.
In the early sixties, they were blessed with another powerfully talented
lead singer, Robert Blair. That was over 30 years ago and the last time he sang he was still powerful. His unique style along
with their high, sweet, falsetto voices in the background has become the signature of the Violinaires. In the latter part
of the sixties, another extraordinary talent was added to the group. Charles Brown's exceptional voice and style would enhance
an already super group. After a lengthy absence from the group, he has returned to them as a lead singer and he has also been
called to the ministry.
Some members early on were, Wilson Pickett (of secular fame) Rev. J.C.
Smith (Smitty), Cleophus Tilman, Jim Byers, Murray "Bud" Durhan, Rick Wilson, Elder James McCurdy, J. J. Hawkins, Frank Thompson,
David Battle and others played a tremendous part in establishing this group. Many have come and gone, but the Violinaires
are still together. In 1965, they recorded their first album, "Stand By Me," for Chess Records which propelled them to the
top of Gospel Music Charts all over the country. They recorded 12 albums during their affiliation with that label. The
group also recorded for Jewel Records, Atlanta International Records, Paula Records, Prominence Records, MALACO, and MELENDO
They remained on the gospel charts constantly until early 1970. Keith
Richards and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones also wrote for the group during that time. They have been very fortunate in
recording for some of the top labels in the industry. In 1972, they recorded for Jewel Records. In 1983, they recorded
for Malaco Records, under the leadership of (the late) Frank Williams. In 1988, they moved to Atlantic International
Records (AIR), where they recorded one of their biggest selling records, "The Pink Tornado", which again made the record charts
nationwide. In 1992, they recorded for Paula Records. There they showcased the spectacular talents of Danny Walker's Fantastics,
a solo album featuring the Violinaires. The Violinaires have showcased many talents and many groups have formed within the
Jessy McDaniel left to form his own group and The popular "Everreadys"
with Jerome and Freddy Williams all sang with the Violinaires. Down through the years the group have performed at all types
of musical gatherings. From Church Concerts to Jazz festivals throughout the United States. They have also performed at major
concert halls and civic centers with such gospel greats as Shirley Caesar, Rev. James Cleveland and The Mighty Clouds of Joy,
to name a few. They have also performed with Sam and Dave, The Manhattans and other popular music artists. In 1997, the Violinaires
signed with Prominence Records, and have recently released their latest CD, "Live In Atlanta".
The group has gone through several name changes, from The Violinaires,
The Fantastic Violinaires, The Violinaires featuring Robert Blair, Robert Blair and The Violinaires, to Robert Blair and The
Fantastic Violinaires. No matter what name was used by the group, there was one constant – the incomparable falsetto
background and lead singers. The group never lost their ability to take harmonizing to a level that would rarely, if ever,
be matched by any other group.
Some of the group’s most noted recordings were Doctor Jesus, I
Got So Much To Shout About, Three Pictures on The Wall, A Simple Prayer, I Don’t Know What This World Is Coming To,
Coming Up Through The Years, The Lord’s Prayer, and Children Are You Ready. Many of the group’s early recordings
are still being played on the airways today.