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The Inspirations (1964-Present)
Martin Cook, a former piano player for the Kingsmen and a chemistry teacher at Swain High School in Bryson City, NC, formed the Inspirations in 1964 with several of his teenage students: Archie Watkins, Ronnie Hutchins, Jack Laws and Dean Robinson. The Inspirations became full-time in 1969, a year after hosting their first “Singing In The Smokies” event. Bass singer Mike Holcomb joined them in 1972.
The 1970s saw the Inspirations rise to national attention with a number of hit songs. Their sound was defined by the piercing tenor vocals of Archie Watkins and the booming bass of Mike Holcomb. The group was also invited to be part of the regular cast on the Gospel Singing Jubilee television program. They had the very first number one song on the Singing News chart in January of 1970 with “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” (This honor was shared with three other groups who had different versions of the same song.) Beginning in November 1973, the group had the top song for 12 months in a row. “Touring That City” held the position through February 1974 and “When I Wake Up To Sleep No More” was the most popular song for the next seven months. “Jesus Is Mine” was also a number one song for the group in 1976.
The Inspirations continued to present concerts with a traditional style and a conservative image in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Songs like “Cry For The Children” and “We Need To Thank God” resounded strongly with Christian conservatives and fans of traditional gospel music. For most of the 2000s, the members of the Inspirations were Archie Watkins, Matt Dibler, Melton Campbell, Mike Holcomb, Martin Cook and Myron Cook. The Inspirations returned to the top position on the Singing News chart in 2002 after a 26-year absence with “I’ll Not Turn My Back On Him Now.” "I Have Not Forgotten" (April 2007) and "If You Only Knew" (November 2007) were also number one songs for the Inspirations during the 2000s.
In 2009, original tenor Archie Watkins left the group after a 45-year run. Dallas Rogers, Jodi Hosterman, Mark Clark and Daron Osborne pulled stints in the tenor position with the Inspirations until Harold Reed joined in 2015. In the meantime, Watkins formed Smoky Mountain Reunion with former Inspirations members Marlin Shubert, Jack Laws, Troy Burns and Eddie Deitz.
Long-time bass singer Mike Holcomb left the Inspirations in 2013 after a 41-year tenure. Jon Epley moved from baritone to fill the bass spot, opening the way for the return of former baritone Melton Campbell. In 2015, Epley left to join the Ball Brothers and was replaced by former Diplomats bass singer Joe Brown.
In early 2017, original pianist, manager, emcee, and co-owner Martin Cook retired from the Inspirations. Cook's stint with the group spanned some 53 years. Bass singer Joe Brown departed at the same time as Cook. Original Inspirations tenor Archie Watkins became the new owner and manager of the group. The other members of Watkins' group, Smoky Mountain Reunion (all former Inspirations), were blended with the current group giving them seven singers in total. Utility musician Luke Vaught assumed piano duties.
After the departure of lead singer Matt Dibler in 2018, Roland Kesterson moved back to a primary singing role filling the lead position. Around the same time, former Chuck Wagon Gang bass singer Wyatt Austin was hired to play bass guitar and occasionally be featured on bass vocals.
In mid-2020 after several months not touring due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Inspirations announced the older group members (Archie Watkins, Eddie Dietz, and Marlin Shubert) would remain off the road until a vaccine was developed. They ultimately decided to retire from traveling with Watkins continuing to hold the role of group owner/manager. Roland Kesterson, Luke Vaught, and Wyatt Austin resumed traveling with Vaught pulling double-duty as pianist and baritone and Austin moving into the bass vocalist role full-time. They were joined by tenor singer Isaac Moore. Concert promoters consequently began introducing the revamped lineup as the Young Inspirations. The new lineup released their first album in 2021, a live recording titled What A Wonderful Time Live.
Singing News Fan Awards
Favorite Group (1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978)
Favorite Traditional Male Quartet (2005, 2006 (tied))
Album of the Year (2004 - The Journey Ahead)
Song Of The Year (1974 - Touring That City, 1976 - Jesus Is Mine, 2002 I'll Not Turn My Back On Him Now, 2003 - We Need To Thank God, 2007 - I Have Not Forgotten)
Due to the large number of projects recorded by the Inspirations, the discography section has been divided into separate pages by decade. Please click on one of the links below to access the decade you wish to view.
1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 2020s