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Kingdom Heirs (1981-Present)
The Kingdom Heirs formed in 1981 and began singing at the Silver Dollar City theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee later that same year. 1986 is the year that Silver Dollar City's name was changed to Dollywood, and this is also the year the Kingdom Heirs became a full-time resident group at the park. 1986 is also the year the Kingdom Heirs began recording for the Sonlite Records label, a partnership that has continued to the present day.
Brothers Steve and Kreis French have been with the Kingdom Heirs since the group's formation. Steve sings baritone and does the emcee work, while Kreis plays bass guitar and provides some of the comedy on stage. Some familiar names who were part of the Kingdom Heirs during their first decade include Jody Medford, Randall Hunley, Bob Caldwell, Rick Strickland and Clayton Inman.
In 1989, the readers of Singing News magazine took notice of the Caldwell/Strickland/Inman/French line-up and recognized the Kingdom Heirs as their favorite Horizon Group of the year. Drummer Dennis Murphy joined this version of the group in 1991. This line-up stayed together only briefly. Caldwell joined Hovie Lister & The Statesmen in 1991 and Strickland left to join JD Sumner And The Stamps Quartet in 1992. Clayton Inman would leave for Won By One in 1994. The next couple of years were a rebuilding stage for the Kingdom Heirs with Eric Bennett first replacing Bob Caldwell and David Sutton joining later to sing tenor.
In 1995, the group's sound gelled when a key ingredient was added to the mix. That component was lead singer Arthur Rice. The Sutton/Rice/French/Bennett line-up took the Kingdom Heirs to the number one spot on the Singing News monthly airplay charts in September 2001 with a remake of Rex Nelon's "That's Why I Love To Call His Name." Between 1995 and 2002, the only significant change for the Kingdom Heirs was the departure of pianist/comedian Jamie Graves and the addition of pianist Jeff Stice. The group only toured for a few weeks each winter, so they typically saw great turnouts when they were on the road. Meanwhile at Dollywood, they were one of the main attractions.
Near the end of 2002, David Sutton, Eric Bennett and Jeff Stice announced they would be leaving the Kingdom Heirs to form their own quartet. They would ultimately join forces with another former Kingdom Heirs member, Clayton Inman, and his son Scotty to form Integrity (now Triumphant Quartet). The Kingdom Heirs hired Jodi Hosterman to sing tenor, bass singer Jeff Chapman, and Adam Harman to play the keyboard. The new line-up quickly found their footing. They celebrated two more number one songs in 2005 ("I Know I'm Going There" in February and "Forever Changed" in August).
Since the line-up changes in 2002, lead singer Arthur Rice, drummer Dennis Murphy, bass singer Jeff Chapman and the French brothers have been the consistent faces on stage. Jodi Hosterman left in 2005 citing vocal difficulties. He was replaced at the tenor position by Billy Hodges. Hodges resigned in 2011, also attributing his departure to vocal strain issues. Jerry Martin took over the tenor role in early 2011. Adam Harman played piano for the Kingdom Heirs five years. He was replaced in January 2007 by Joseph Cox who only remain with the group for a few weeks. Andy Stringfield joined the group in March of 2007. In addition to playing keyboard, Stringfield is sometimes featured singing baritone.
The Kingdom Heirs have had two number one songs on the Singing News charts since 2005. In July 2008, "What We Needed" was the number one song, and in February 2010, they hit the top spot again with "He Locked The Gates." Other crowd-pleasing songs for the Kingdom Heirs from recent years include "Good News From The Graveyard," "Pray For Me," and "Jesus Showed Up."
Singing News Fan Awards: