Ray D. Reese knows he has been in Martinsburg. He just can't remember when. Understandable for the Kingsmen Quartet's bass singer, who has traveled all over the world, appearing in different venues several nights a week for almost 50 years.
But one thing he knows for sure. His first appearance at the Pennsylvania State Singing Convention will be at 7 p.m. Aug. 10 at The Park at Morrisons Cove.
The Kingsmen will be among the well-known gospel groups performing during the free four all-day music event that begins Aug. 8 and wraps up Aug. 11 with special guest Lulu Roman, who was a comedienne on "Hee Haw."
The 38th annual convention also will feature the Gold City Quartet on Friday and the Little Roy and Lizzy Show on Thursday.
Leading the crowd in worship on Aug. 11 will be former Altoonan Jim Worthing, who was the lead singer with the Cumberland Boys for 11 years.
Interspersed among the better-known gospel artists will be local performers as well as singers from North Carolina, Michigan, Tennessee, Oklahoma and throughout Pennsylvania.
The following Southern gospel singers will be featured at the Pennsylvania State Singing Convention at The Park at Morrisons Cove, Martinsburg:
Thursday: Little Roy Lewis and Lizzy Show at 8 p.m.
Aug. 9: Gold City Quartet at 7 p.m.
Aug. 10: The Kingsmen Quartet at 7 p.m.
Aug. 11: Lulu Roman of "Hee Haw" at 2:30 p.m.
The Vicksburg Quartet of Duncansville, who no longer sing, started the popular event and continue to host it.
Crowds pack the park, said Steve Aungst, festival organizer and an original member of the Vicksburg Quartet. He estimates that between 1,500 to 2,000 people take in the Southern gospel sound each day. Popular groups, such as the Kingsmen and Gold City, help to keep the numbers up.
Southern gospel music fans have been following the Kingsmen Quartet for 57 years.
Reese said the quartet will entertain with some of its older songs as well as newer ones. He attributes the group's longevity to the quartet's ability to maintain its personality despite changes in the industry and within the group.
He said the group used to travel with a band but now the accompaniment is digitalized with his son Brandon operating the sound. Ray also has seen many singers members come and go during his 47 years with the quartet. He said singers drop out because of age, family obligations, a call to ministry or other factors.
Brandon, who handles many of the business duties for the quartet, compared finding a new singer to a basketball team's general manager job of finding the right player to replace one who retires or quits.
"It's tough, but it doesn't happen that often," Brandon said.
Despite all the changes, one aspect remains constant: the group's desire to share the gospel.
"We started out spreading the gospel in song. That's what we do," Ray said.
The message seems to resonate with the fans.
"Some of my greatest moments overtime have been to enable people to see the Lord," Ray said.
"People will come up to me nowadays and say what our ministry means to them, how it affected their lives years ago."
Members of Gold City receive similar responses.
"[After a concert], someone will come up to us and say, 'I feel like I am in church,'" said Tim Riley, bass singer for Gold City.
Riley, who has been with the 33-year-old group almost since its inception, said, "we let the songs do the talking. We don't have any preachers. We do very little talking. We're there to sing."
One of the popular numbers the group sings is "I Get Down," where Riley demonstrates his range by hitting a low C. Another favorite is "When I Get Carried Away."
"We sing a lot of different stuff," Riley said.
The group used to create its own material until eight years ago when its songwriter and Riley's oldest son, Douglas, was killed in a vehicle accident.
Tim said it was difficult to continue after the tragedy, and it was especially difficult on his younger son, Daniel, because he had to sing and fulfill contract obligations.
"We didn't lose him," Riley said of Doug, "because we know where he is."
But he admitted his son's premature death has been difficult.
"You never get over it. You learn to live with it," he said.
As a tribute to his son, Riley said the group is working on a recording featuring songs that Doug wrote.
Riley said the group performs year-round, and it can be difficult to always be on the road.
"That's why you have to have a purpose, you have to have a calling," he said.
"I have been doing this for almost 50 years," he said, explaining that he was with other groups before joining Gold City.
"You have to leave with the faith that God is going to take care of you," he said.
Riley as well as Little Roy Lewis of the Little Roy and Lizzie Show, who will help to kick off the convention, will be inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in October at Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Making a return visit to the sing-off is soloist Lulu Roman who takes the stage Aug. 11.
"People like her," Aungst said. "She can hardly leave the stage."
He said Roman gives off downhome vibes, and people adhere to her. She is sometimes so entertaining that she goes over her time limit.
That doesn't bother Aungst, because she closes the show.
It's the other three days that worry him when he needs to give more than 100 different groups and soloists their due while holding to a midnight shutdown schedule.
"A lot of people come to sing," he said."