Some of you might remember when a trio named Freedom got started, with tenor John Rulapaugh at the helm. I remember being very, very impressed with their sound even though I don’t think I listened to an album of theirs straight through. I don’t remember which NQC it was, but their showcase appearance was a bright spot in what was, as I recall, a middling to mediocre night of music otherwise.
So it’s a bit sad to see that their lineup is going through a change with the departure of lead singer Josh Garner for an open position with the Dixie Melody Boys. However, I was impressed with the classiness of this particular group change. Below is an open letter from Josh that very candidly lays out the thought process that went into this shift. There’s a lot of mutual respect that comes through in this letter. Thanks to everyone involved for leaving no room for spiteful rumors with this one.
It is with mixed emotions that I announce my departure from Freedom and my new position as lead singer for the Dixie Melody Boys. Please know that much thought and prayer went into this decision, as I sought counsel and blessing from all parties involved. That includes first and foremost my wife, Alison, who has stood by me and supported me through every life change since the retirement of the Florida Boys Quartet. She is my rock and I can honestly say that I could not and would not have made it through the last eight years without her.
Secondly, I want to acknowledge and thank the man who, except for my wife, in the last five years has become my closest confidant and dearest friend, John Rulapaugh. I have said it from the stage and behind his back that John is the single greatest talent to come along in our field in a very long time. No disrespect to anyone else, but I can truthfully say that there is no one that I had rather sing with than John Rulapaugh. From the first time we sang together in a scrap-iron group at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion to the last concert we perform as Freedom, there has been a certain “magic” that I cannot describe in words. My time singing with John has been some of the most enjoyable and rewarding in my entire career and I am thankful for the opportunity to have shared the stage with him. For the first time ever, I want to publicly thank Bob Jones, Johnny Garner, Ron Halbert, Betty Walden, and Carolyn Cockrill for your belief and support in Freedom’s mission. The last four years would not have been possible without you folks, and we are eternally grateful. To the countless number of saints who have prayed for us over these last four years, thank you for your unwavering support. Also, I must acknowledge our dear friend, Jonathan Sawrie, who has been a tremendous joy to work with over the last several months.
As most of you know, John Rulapaugh is a consummate family man and has a very successful career in the cabin rental and real estate market in the Smoky Mountain region. Likewise, I have stayed busy working towards my Bachelor of Science Religion Degree through Liberty University. Thus, we have purposely worked a limited schedule as Freedom. For the last several years, I have struggled with the idea of seeking a career outside of Gospel music. However, I have come to realize that my love and passion for it is just as strong today as it was the first time I walked on stage, therefore, I am grateful for this return to a full-time singing position.
The Dixie Melody Boys’ place in Gospel music history is firmly established, and I am so thankful to finally be a part of their legacy. To explain, I must recall the first time I met their leader, Ed O’ Neal. I was 15 years old and my family group, the Garner Boys, opened a concert for the Dixie Melody Boys at the high school auditorium in Wayne City, IL. After the concert, Ed approached me in his unmistakeable way and said, “Hey buddy, can you play the bass guitar?” After I replied, “No, sir,” he said, “Well, how soon can you learn?” I’ll never forget that night, as I gained one of the biggest cheerleaders I’ll ever know in Mr. O’ Neal. To this day, he has encouraged me in my career as no other. He made the first official offer to me when I was 19 years old, but circumstances kept me from taking the job. After filling in with them for the last several weeks, I knew that the Lord was leading me to finally accept the offer. Not only did I want to sing with the Dixie Melody Boys, I felt that I needed to. Call me nostalgic, but just as I wanted to remind people of how great the Florida Boys were when I accepted that position, I want to remind Gospel music fans of the great heritage of the Dixie Melody Boys and their incomparable leader, Mr. Ed O’ Neal. He has championed me through my entire career and I want to honor him and the legacy of the group he has led for over 50 years. I want to thank Matt, Aaron, Steve, and Rayburn for their dedication to this group, as well. I pray that you will continue to support Freedom as they carry on the great tradition of Gospel music that we started out to preserve, and hope that you will join me now in honoring one of Gospel music’s treasures, the Dixie Melody Boys.