Friday, November 4, 2011

Retro SGM Radio: Kenny Bishop - Grace Works For Everyone

Front Porch singing, concerts in every major venue and city, award-winning recordings, family camaraderie, and a very special combination of talent, voice, personality, and music style. The Bishops were well known and much loved when they retired in 2001. Kenny Bishop went on to delve into politics and began to see the Lord work and change him as he found himself on a new path. This path has led him to start 2006 with a schedule filling with engagements, a solo recording about to be released, and a desire in his heart to reach those who stand on the fringe of the church, looking for acceptance and grace.

Kenny recently took a few moments to share with Sgmradio his thoughts and plans for this new season in his life, in his first extensive interview since returning to the music scene. We present this interview almost in its entirety, to share with you the heart of this unusual artist and man of God.

Sgmradio: Kenny, your mission for your life…more than just your music…is outlined on your website. Can you explain to us your vision for your music as you head into this New Year? What do you want to say to your audience?

Kenny: For over fifteen years I enjoyed standing in front of audiences, blending voices with my dad and my brother, encouraging Christians and trying to convince non-believers to trust Christ as their redeemer and Lord. I was thrilled, especially, when I felt we had connected the audience with the One we were singing about. And honestly, that didn’t happen every night. But the sense of completeness I felt when it did was my assurance that we were doing the thing God wanted us to do at the time.

My approach today is a bit different. More than I’d like to be viewed as a singer, I want more to be understood as a communicator who tries to build bridges and understanding among those who profess Faith, and those who feel they’ve been alienated by those same people. The music is a vehicle that allows me an audience that is made up mostly of people who are pretty sure of what they believe. My years with the Bishops are making that possible.

But I’m convinced that we, as “religious” people need to be challenged. So, when I have the opportunity now to stand and sing to a group of solid Believers who are settled into their Christian routine, I challenge them to do something dangerous. I ask them to do the thing that Jesus did when he stepped outside of the accepted religious norm, objected to the exclusivity of the church of the day and reached into the world of the hurting, wounded and unwanted. I ask them to stop living up to the stereotype of being satisfied with their own spiritual condition while shunning and locking out anyone who would not fit comfortably into their group. I challenge them to truly study the life and deeds of Christ and make him their example for ministry. Most basically, my message is, if grace works for anyone it works for everyone. It’s for everyone or for no one.

Sgmradio: You have a new project hitting the streets soon. Can you tell us about this recording and its producer?

Kenny: I’m honestly a little nervous about this recording. It’s been over four years since I’ve been in a studio as an artist. It’s been ten years since I’ve recorded a solo piece. But as apprehensive as I am, I’m equally as thrilled with the opportunity to do it again…Right now the projected street date is sometime around mid-spring.

When I sat down with the record company to discuss my goals and hopes for the project we batted around several names to consider as the producer. When Norman Holland suggested Woody Wright I jumped on it...I’ve known Woody for a long time; he and I had an instant connection with the message of grace, which is what this recording is all about.

Sgmradio: Tell us about some of the writers for this new release. Are any of the songs “Kenny originals”?

Kenny: Even before I was aware that I would ever do this project, I decided, if I ever made another record, that I wanted the message to be singularly focused. I wanted to bare my heart in every song. And right now the thing that is on my heart more than anything else is grace.

So Daywind assembled several of their great writers in a room, and dialed in several more on a conference call and allowed me to address them personally. I shared my heart and my passion for reaching once-upon-a-time Believers who’ve felt abandoned by the Christian community. I also told them of my desire to try and awaken the church community to the enormous mission field that is within close reach of their own doors, and my desire to try and challenge them to take the risk of going after them. Several great songs came from that session. Woody Wright is not only a great producer; he is also an unbelievable writer. He contributed to this project, as did Gerald Crabb, Sonya Isaacs and Becky Isaacs Bowman, Jeff Steele, and Dawn Doss. I co-wrote a couple of songs with Caleb Collins and Adam Kohout and wrote another piece as well.

Sgmradio: What is the most special song to you on this new project?

Kenny: …The song that probably says what I hope to convey more than any of the others is “Don’t Let Who You Are Keep You Away.” In Scripture, Christ was the perfect example of acceptance and reception. The same God who desires a relationship with an outcast, unreligious Samaritan woman also receives an honest hyper-religious rule-keeper like Nicodemus. He tells both of them, in a sense, “Don’t let who you are keep you away.” If those two polar opposites are welcomed into God’s realm, all of us can be.

Sgmradio: Can you describe your ‘solo’ sound for us?

Kenny: One of the things I hope to accomplish on this record is to identify a sound that I can enjoy singing, an audience can relate to and enjoy, and one that will avoid sounding like my brother. Mark is such a phenomenal talent. His writing is clever and unmatched, and his sound is unmistakable and so enjoyable. But we are brothers, and it would be easy to drift into his sound if I’m not careful. I’m not sure how to tag it, but the base for my sound will definitely be Southern Gospel.

Sgmradio: Do you have a close-future goal of what you would like to see happen with your music/ministry, in perhaps the next 6 months to a year?

Kenny: I don’t think I’m capable of looking that far ahead. I’m really surprised at this point that we’re even discussing records, appearances and music. I wasn’t sure that I would ever have another opportunity to share in a public way again. Not too long ago I was convinced that I had squandered all of my chances to make any kind of declarations about God’s love, whether through songs or sharing the Scriptures. God continues to surprise me with opportunities, so I find it difficult to make any plans on my own. My goal though is simply to go in the direction that God makes available and tell about grace when I get there.

Sgmradio: Your calendar is filling with engagements. Tell us about the kinds of venues and places you will be visiting in the coming months. (Editor’s note: Kenny Bishop is being represented by the Tana Lonon Agency, based in Florida).

Kenny: I have a wonderful support team that understands my approach to ministry. Daywind Records and the folks there are simply marvelous. Tana Lonon is a crucial part of the team as well. She and I have spent lots of time talking about our shared vision of doing what it takes and going wherever we can to share the message of unconditional love. In so many ways, I couldn’t begin to compare myself to Jesus, but I’ve asked her to imagine if He had a booking agent, how would a request for Him to come and minister be handled. We can’t think of a place He wouldn’t go, or a group of people who couldn’t benefit from His message and ministry. As it is right now, I’m pretty much singing and sharing exclusively in churches. I wouldn’t be disappointed if that never changed.

Sgmradio: Your website indicates more of an emphasis on reaching people where they really are. How has this affected the way you interact with your audience?

Kenny: The departure of the Bishops was abrupt and final. A lot of people were confused, angry and worried. The situation was not good; however, the rumors that made their way back to me were even more sordid. I did not want to just reappear as quickly and without explanation as I disappeared. I could not pretend that my departure four years ago was noble or righteous. At the same time, I did not want to embarrass anyone or say more than was necessary.

But I was determined to be honest and let people know that Prodigals do come home. In my rebellion I learned a lot – probably more than I ever did in all of my years in the pews. I learned mostly that there is a huge world full of used-to-be Believers who desperately want to know God again, but they’ve been turned off by the pride and self-preservation of a church system that places more importance on its image than it does its true mission to be lovers of the unloved. I talk about this in my appearances.

I do look for and reach out to those who are there with needs, but I have other opportunities to minister to them. I focus much of my time in front of church congregations on exposing Christ as the real lover and forgiver that he is, and challenging them to follow his example wherever it may lead them.

Sgmradio: Does your involvement in (state) politics help or hinder your music ministry? What affect does it have?

Kenny: I work for the Governor in Kentucky. I’ve been a part of his staff since he was a U.S. Congressman. I simply love my work and the people I am able to be around everyday. Governor Fletcher and the First Lady are very supportive of my ministry work. He was pastor of a church in Lexington, Kentucky for a number of years, so he has a heart for helping others. I’m often called on to sing at official events. We host a performance series at the Governor’s Mansion as well, and the most well received and acclaimed event we’ve hosted was a Sunday night Gospel singing that featured Jeff and Sheri Easter, Triumphant Quartet, my brother Mark and the Bishops. We’re planning to do another soon.

Sgmradio: What other types of activities are you currently involved in, apart from your political interests and involvement?

Kenny: I love my church. I am not involved in leadership there, but I do offer input, worship and simply take in the Word. I also do as much volunteer work as I can. There are a lot of hungry people who need to be fed and children who simply need a heart to love them. The most abundant joys of my life are my children Casie and Christian.

Sgmradio: What do you see as your involvement in Southern Gospel Music? Are you interested in again being one of the ‘movers and shakers’ in SGM?

Kenny: To be a part of some of the major decisions and planning that took place during my involvement in the industry was a treat for me. However, now I simply want to share the things I’ve come to know and feel so deeply. My name doesn’t do much in the industry today. My record company and the others who’ve invested in me deserve a good return on their commitment. I want them to be profitable and feel the risk they took in me was worth it. They are a great tool that the Lord has brought into my life to give me opportunities to share Grace. That’s my motivation to be a part of Gospel Music.

Sgmradio: What is the one thing that excites you the most about being back in front of a crowd, singing about Jesus?

Kenny: Singing about Jesus.

Written by Lorraine Walker. First published February 2006 on
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