Nelons (1977-Present) (AKA The Rex Nelon Singers)
The Rex Nelon Singers formed in 1977. The group had been called The LeFevres up until that point, but Eva Mae LeFevre decided to retire and as Rex Nelon said, "We had no LeFevres left."
The name of the group was ultimately shortened to “The Nelons.” Original group members included Rex Nelon (bass), Kelly Nelon (alto for the LeFevres since 1972), Rodney Swain (tenor), and Janet Paschal (soprano). The group’s first recording for the Canaan label in 1977 was titled The Sun’s Coming Up. A live recording followed in 1978 which included a song written and performed by Rex Nelon called “I Love To Call His Name.” In 1980, a song from the group’s 1979 recording Feelings became the Nelons’ first number one song on the Singing News chart. “Come Morning” actually hit the top position three times in non-consecutive months, which is rare.
After Janet Paschal’s departure from the group in 1981, Karen Peck became the soprano for the Nelons. Jerry Thompson married Kelly Nelon and began singing with the group as well. The group would enjoy a successful run of popularity with Peck and Thompson. Four songs that are now considered Nelons classics all came from a 1983 project titled We Shall Behold The King. Those songs are “We Shall Behold The King,” “When I Receive My Robe And Crown,” “Oh, For A Thousand Tongues,” and “Walk Right Out Of This Valley.”
For the rest of the 1980s, the Nelons sang in a style that came to be labeled “middle of the road.” They were more progressive than most Southern Gospel groups of the time, but they weren’t full blown contemporary in style, certainly not compared to other vocal groups of the day like Second Chapter of Acts or the Imperials. Songs like “God’s Way Up,” “Don’t Give Up” and “Thanks” attracted a younger audience while tunes like “The Sweetest Song” continued to appeal to traditional Southern Gospel fans.
In 1990, Karen Peck left the group to form Karen Peck & New River. The singing members of the Nelons were all relatives for a few months with Rex, Kelly and Jerry joined on vocals by Todd Nelon who had formerly played bass guitar for the group. Shifting away from the familiar line-up that included a soprano changed the group's vocal sound significantly, and it would not last for long.
1991 began a series changes for the group. At a couple of points, there was a question of whether the group would continue. Kelly had already launched a solo career, and she soon left to pursue that goal. Rex considered retirement, but discovered a young 17-year old talent in Charlotte Penhollow and alto Tammy Britton. Jerry left in 1992 with the intention of joining Kelly in a vocal duo format. During these changes, another Nelons song reached number one on the Singing News chart in 1992. The song was “I’m Glad I Know Who Jesus Is” from A New Generation, the Lari Goss produced album from 1991 that was made while Todd, Kelly and Jerry were still with the group.
Some months later, Rex considered disbanding the Nelons, but Kelly and Jerry didn't want to see that happen. They were in the process of recording a CD under the name Kelly Nelon Thompson and Legacy with soprano Kelly Benton. This project was re-branded Kelly Nelon Thompson and The Nelons. Rex was brought in to sing one song, but the cover photo only showed the two Kellys, Jerry, and pianist Stan Whitmire. Charlotte Penhollow and Tammy Britton left to make room for the returning Kelly and Jerry and the new Kelly, but Charlotte was back by 1994 after Kelly Benton left.
The group then went through another series of personnel changes in the late 1990s. Charlotte Penhollow had married drummer Greg Ritchie in late 1995, and within a few months, she had left the Nelons to join her husband in Jeff & Sheri Easter's group. Amy Roth sang soprano for the Nelons, joining in 1996. Jerry Thompson and Kelly divorced some months later, and Thompson left the group. David Hill was with the group for one CD in 1998 and Rex ultimately retired. He continued to appear on Gaither's Homecoming video series until his death in 2000. Paul Lancaster was also on hand briefly for a CD titled Following After, an album titled in memory of Rex.
Ultimately, Kelly married the group’s bass player Jason Clark, who began singing tenor with the group. Jason’s father, Dan Clark, joined the group to sing bass and Katy Van Horn was the group's soprano until Kelly's daughter Amber Thompson replaced her. At that point, all the members were related once more (though three of them now had the last name of Clark). Dan came off the road in 2003 and the Nelons subsequently became a trio consisting of Jason, Kelly, and Amber. Their daughter Autumn began singing occasionally, and became a full-time member of the Nelons in 2014.
The Nelons have won five Dove Awards, including four for best Southern Gospel Album. Kelly Nelon received seven Singing News Fan Awards in the categories of Favorite Female Vocalist and Favorite Alto between 1980 and 1990.
Singing News Fan Awards
Favorite Mixed Quartet (1981)
Favorite Band (1985)
1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s
Contributors: David Bruce Murray, Chris Koiner, Daniel J. Mount