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
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
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.
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
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