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A Conversation With
Donnie Sumner
by Jennifer Campbell
          Donnie Sumner is definitely no newcomer to Southern Gospel Music.  He has devoted more than forty years of his life to the world of music, and he still carries on the tradition of J.D. Sumner, his beloved Uncle.  Raised the adopted son of a minister, he has been through many trials and now commits his life to spreading the Good News of the Gospel to everyone he meets. 
          Donnie began his professional career in 1960 with his group ďThe SongsmenĒ which became The Stamps Trio in 1964.  In 1965, Donnie became the lead vocalist and arranger for J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet and remained with them for eight years.  During the last three years of Donnieís time with The Stamps, they sung all the background vocals for Elvis both on stage and on his recordings. 
          Late in 1972, Donnie resigned from The Stamps and organized his own group, the Tennessee Rangers.  In 1973, Elvis called and asked Donnie again to become part of his entourage and ďpersonal family.Ē  For the next three years Donnie was a constant house guest, arranger, and stage companion to his friend Elvis.  Donnie did all of Elvisí vocal arrangements during this time and at the request of Elvis would sing Gospel Music to him every night in private living room concerts.  Elvis changed the name from The Tennessee Rangers to Voice, Inc.  The entire time they worked for Elvis, Donnie and Voice opened all of Elvisí concerts and were a part of his background vocal team. 
          In September of 1976, eleven months before Elvisí death, Donnie passed through a traumatic drug-related crisis and a subsequent ďNew Birth in ChristĒ and resigned his position with Elvis.  Donnie has since dedicated his life to Jesus Christ and is currently in a full-time ministry.  Now, sit back, relax, and be blessed by reading ďA Conversation With Donnie Sumner.Ē 

Jennifer:  Who has had the greatest influence on your life and ministry? 

Donnie:  On my ministry, my father who was an old-fashioned, conservative, Church of God preacher has probably influenced my ministry more than anybody by the way that he raised me, by his lifestyle before me, by his encouragement to memorize scripture and the fundamental beliefs that he instilled in me.  Of course, since that time I have done my own study and worked out my own salvation with fear and trembling and I have my own theology.  Iím forever settled with it, itís in concrete and nobody will ever be able to change it.  I know who I am and what I am in Christ, but I do thank my daddy for the heritage of being the son of a preacher and growing up with that lifestyle and probably the greatest example of Christian living that I have ever seen.  I thank my mom and dad for that. 
          On my life, I guess it would have to be a toss up between my daddy and J.D.  My daddy is J.D.ís brother.  My daddyís name is Russell Sumner and my mamaís name is Nell Sumner.  The biggest influence on my life would be because of the fact that my mother and father adopted me and took me out of a less than pleasant situation and put me in a Godly home that taught me morals, right and wrong, and instilled the truth of the Gospel in me.  That truth has sustained me through many times when the powers of darkness would have robbed me of my life, my health, and my possessions.  However, the Gospel that they have instilled in me because of the adoption that brought me into their life has always been a thread that I could hold on to when the going got rough. 
          Without a doubt, J.D. was the greatest influence on my life musically.  He was my hero and as far back as I can remember I always wanted to be just like him.  When I got a chance to sing with him and the Stamps Quartet, I thought Iíd died and gone to Heaven.  He has affected my adulthood, my personality, and my manner of conversation more than anybody in my life.  Iíve developed his way of talking, not as deep as he does it, but for all practical purposes, I could be his blood son.  People say I talk like him, act like him, and look like him.  But, without a doubt, J.D. Sumner has probably had the greatest influence on my life.  I lived with him constantly day and night during my most formative adult years when I was with the Stamps Quartet.  So, I would have to say that J.D. probably is the biggest influence on my life as I now see it. 

Jennifer:  How would you define Southern Gospel Music? 

Donnie:  To define Southern Gospel Music, you have to break it up into what was, what is, and what is to come.  Southern Gospel Music is the most exciting, stimulating form of music in existence.  It surpasses Rock and Roll, it surpasses Opera, and it surpasses Country.  I donít care what kind of music you throw on stage with it.  Take a crowd, not attuned to any particular form of music, and put all forms of music in front of them with the greatest of performers in each line.  Southern Gospel Music will blow them all off the stage.  Itís without a doubt the most exciting and stimulating form of music in existence today. 
          Southern Gospel was a take off or the stepchild of the Vaudeville era.  It was and is still the only remaining form of music that you would find in the old Vaudeville shows.  They used to do Country, Western, Pop, Spirituals, and Hymns.  When the rest of Vaudeville died out, Southern Gospel Music became an entity of itís own.  When I first came into Southern Gospel Music, we were doing Country and Western swing songs, love ballads, and all kinds of stuff in Southern Gospel Quartets.  We did a comedy routine during the intermission and it was like a clean, moral, and wholesome Vaudeville show.  But, in those days in the middle 50's and the early 60's, it was strictly a form of entertainment.  Then there came a time when everybody got religion, but nobody was living the life they were singing about and Gospel Music took a big down sweep.  The cream rose to the top and those that were living the life remained, and those who werenít for various reasons found themselves on the outside looking in.  Gospel Music had a serious decline there for quite awhile, and then thanks to the folks who run the National Quartet Convention, it began to take an upswing.  Then along came Bill Gaither and heís put together a bunch of people who live the lives that they sing about and are morally upstanding folks.  The cream of the industry has been portrayed on those videos. 
         Consequently, Southern Gospel Music at this point has become not only an exciting form of music, but an inspirational and a life-changing form of music.  So, I guess the bottom line is that Southern Gospel Music is the only form of music that can stimulate you, motivate you, and change you, all in a positive way.  Itís the only form of music that can do that. 

Jennifer:  What song has been an encouragement to you through some of the hardest trials of your life?  Please explain. 

Donnie:  I recall several years ago I was going through a domestic problem.  When my wife left me back in 1976, I was going through probably the most traumatic time of my life.  I was a brand-new Christian trying to get off drugs.  The drug culture didnít want to be around me because I was trying to quit, and the church world wouldnít accept me because I hadnít paid my dues yet.  I was out there by myself and I bumped into a song by Bill Gaither called ďJoy Comes in the Morning.Ē  ďHold on my child, joy comes in the morning.  Weeping only lasts for the night.Ē  I probably sung that thing, over a period of about six or seven months, 20-30,000 times.  I would say that this song has probably carried me through one of the Darkest times in my life. 

Jennifer:  Name a song that you would have liked to have written and tell why. 

Donnie:  I would like to have written ďHe Touched Me,Ē simply by reason of the fact that this song probably comes closer to telling my story than any that I know of.  It moves me every time I sing it.  I relive where I came from to what I have become now. 

Jennifer:  Tell me a little bit about your family and your time on and off the road. 

Donnie:  My wife Marty and I were married in 1983.  Since then, weíve traveled more than a million and a half miles by land.  Except for a night that she stayed in the hospital with her mother, weíve never spent a night apart since 1983.  Sheís not my better half, sheís my best most.  I am the most spoiled husband this side of Heaven.  The only thing that would make my life any better is to be with my wife and be around Jesus.  I got it made.  I got the best wife in the world.  Both of my children are married, and I have grand kids and two grand dogs. 
          When Iím on the road, Iím either driving or writing music while my wife drives.  (I could also be found) watching TV in the motel room, eating in a restaurant, singing in church, or socializing with the pastor of the local church where Iím working.  I donít do anything on the road but eat, sleep, sing, write, and travel.  Thatís it. 
          Off the road is a different story.  My main time is spent in the studio.  I probably spend 40-60 hours a week in the studio during a four-day period.  I reserve Tuesday-Friday for my home life and I try to always leave on Saturday and get back home Monday.  I try to work at least two services a week in churches.  I do an occasional concert and an occasional mini-revival, but for the most part I just work Sundays. The major part of the rest of the time I spend in the studio.  I have a full-blown, professional studio with 32 digital tracks, Pro-tools, disk-drive recording, ADATís, D88's, DA88's, and every kind of microphone.  I got a great studio and I love it and spend a lot of time in there.  About half of what I do, I do free for ministries.  In the last six or seven years, Iíve probably done 20-25 free albums for ministers that Iíve bumped into who I want to help.  My philosophy is I can get anything in life I want if I have enough people to get what they want. 
          When Iím not in the studio, Iím either helping my wife in the flowers or Iím fishing.  There is an anointing on fishing, and I love to fish.  When my wife can get me to, I help her in the flowers.  Thatís pretty much my time. 

Jennifer:  If you had one wish, what would it be? 

Donnie:  My wish would be that I could be the kind of husband, father, and granddad that would cause my wife, my children, and my grandchildren to be proud of and to be worthy of their love, and in amid all of that be the kind of person that God would wish for me to be.  Because I really do believe that the most important thing in life is what youíre going to do when you draw that last one.  If I can get to Heaven and hear well done, Iím happy.  That will have made everything else pretty much right. 

Jennifer:  What is your most embarrassing moment? 

Donnie:  In 1987, I was on PTL when they were still up and running.  I did what they call Campmeeting Time, and I ministered and sang 28 times that year.  My most embarrassing moment in my life was when I was on National television, on prime time, on the biggest show, besides Jim & Tammy, on the PTL Network.  I was singing a song and the Floor Director kept making crazy motions, and he was so far back that I couldnít really see what he was doing.  Finally, after about two minutes of all these wild motions, he brought up a big cue card about twenty-five feet from the stage.  On this cue card, it said zipper.  I just kind of very casually swept my hand in front of myself as I was singing and sure enough, I felt that I was insufficiently attired in the pants department.  So, what I did was when I came down to the ending on that particular song, I raised my arms real high and brought them down to cut the song off with the soundtrack.  As I did, I just came down into a squat and turned my back to the audience.  I made a big production out of cutting that song off.  As I stood up, I very quickly found the tab on my zipper and with great finesse, very quickly, I pulled that little gentleman right up.  I went on with the best of the program, but I think my face was redder underneath that make-up than it had ever been in my life. 

Jennifer:  What would you consider as the most wonderful day of your life? 

Donnie:  Well, there were three wonderful days of my life that I can recall at this point.  One was February 4, 1966, when my son was born.  The other one was March 6, 1970, when my daughter was born.  The other was October 15, 1973, when I married my wife.  Those were three beautiful days. 

Jennifer:  Are there any certain aspirations that you have and would like to accomplish? 

Donnie:  The thing that I would like to do most is to touch as many lives with the Good News of the Gospel as I possibly can in the hope that I can sufficiently have impact on their lives to change them into what they would wish to be and would be something for Godís glory.  Thatís the only thing that I aspire for. 

Jennifer:  Please tell me about any additional information that you would like to include, such as special tours or new projects. 

Donnie:  I just completed an album called Southern Classics.  Itís some of my favorite songs and I did 12-voice male backup on all of the songs myself.  I did it here in the studio, did all of the orchestrations myself, except some guitar work and a girl voice here and there.  Most everything else on the tape, I did it, and itís probably one of the best records Iíve ever done.  I always get a blessing out of my music.  Iíve got a brand-new project coming out in August.  It will include all of the songs that Iíve done on the Gaither Homecoming Videos.  Itís called Donnie Sumner sings Homecoming Favorites. 
          One of the heavy things that is going to be on my web page when it is finished is going to be this Drug Rehab Center.  Iím tying into City of Hope, which is owned and operated by a cousin of mine.  Itís one of the finest Christian Rehab Centers this side of the Mississippi River.  They have 150 beds, a trained staff of physicians, their own cafeteria, and itís just an awesome facility. 
          Iím also going to put all of my radio shows on there, so people can listen to them.  Itís called ďLive in the Spirit.Ē  Itís a 15-minute radio program that is currently on once a week, but hopefully I can get it up to five programs a week.  Just me and my piano and a ďYou Can Make ItĒ inspirational segment. 

Jennifer:  If you could send someone back in time, what messages would you send to the young Donnie Sumner? 

Donnie:  I would tell him donít forget where heís going, donít get so caught up in where youíre going that you lose a grip on reality.  Itís a good country we live in, you can do anything you want to, and the only person that can keep you from doing it is you.  Get you a big dream, go for it, nobody can stop you.  In going for it, donít forget the Rock, the greatest foundation in the world, the foundation of Christ Jesus.  If you build on anything besides that, itís going to fall.  The Bible said it, itís without controversy, and Iíve also experienced it.  So, I would tell myself to keep Christ in the center of everything I do.  If He canít be there, for me not to show up.  Weíre supposed to go together. 

          This should be the testimony of everyoneís life.  We should learn to put Christ in the center of everything we do.  If we do this, everything will come together, including your relationship with Christ.  In John 15:15, Jesus says, ďI have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.Ē  Learn to trust Him, go with Him, and be His friend.  Jesus Christ, without a doubt, will always be your best friend.  I hope and pray that you have been blessed by reading ďA Conversation With Donnie Sumner.Ē 

Contact Information:
Donnie H. Sumner
P.O. Box 2302
Lebanon, TN 37088

Donnieís Favorites 
Favorite Food: Chinese or Ham 
Favorite Restaurant: Golden Dragon (Hermitage, TN) 
Favorite Song: He Touched Me 
Favorite Soloist: David Phelps 
Favorite Group: Martins 
Favorite Musician: Anthony Burger 
Favorite Hobby/Interest: Fishing 
Favorite Scripture: Phillipians 4:13 
Favorite Animal: Parakeet 
Dream Vacation: Hawaii 


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