Clarke Beasley: At the Helm of the National Quartet Convention
The National Quartet Convention has long been one of the biggest and most prestigious Southern Gospel institutions. From its humble beginnings in 1957 in Memphis, Tennessee, this weeklong event sees fans and performers from all over the world descending on Louisville Kentucky for six days and nights of Southern Gospel Music. Sgmradio recently caught up with NQC Executive Director, Clarke Beasley, to find out about the man behind the helm of what JD Sumner called, “The Grand Daddy of them all”.
Clarke Beasley, son of a man who is also a Southern Gospel institution, Les Beasley, took on the role of Executive Director of the National Quartet Convention in 1993.“It was a big challenge, but it was also very exciting”, Clarke says. “ I had been working at the GMA for two years and had received quite a bit of event planning experience there helping to produce GMA Week. That really prepared me for the job at NQC… I was hired [initially] to bring all of the convention services in house, i.e. ticketing, advertising promotion, event management, etc., and move our headquarters to Louisville in preparation for the event’s move to Louisville in 1994.”
When JD Sumner first conceived the idea of a three-day event, he wanted to bring together artists and industry personnel, which was a unique idea at the time. However, Clarke also pays tribute to another Southern Gospel legend for making the NQC come to life. “[JD] was singing for the Blackwood Brothers at the time and convinced James Blackwood that it was something the Blackwood Brothers should sponsor. Much credit should be given to James Blackwood for being willing to take the initial risk.”
The National Quartet Convention is now a major production; a yearlong project directed by a board that oversees all of the activities, exhibits, concerts and showcases. What might appear enormously daunting to outside observers, Clarke as Executive Director finds exciting. “It is a multi-faceted event with many moving parts. The challenge is to keep all of the balls in the air without dropping any of them. That aspect of the job makes it a continuous challenge.”
“I love the event itself, and I always have. Even though I have enormous responsibilities now, I still love the event as much as I did when I attended the event as a kid. The actual event itself always charges my batteries for the planning process that takes place throughout the year.”
There are always special occurrences at NQC that are not experienced anywhere else, and as both industry insider and Southern Gospel fan, Clarke has his favourite memories. “The moments that stand out were the Speer Family retirement celebration, the Singing Senators performance (Trent Lott, Larry Craig, John Ashcroft and Jim Jeffords) and of course the Cathedrals Retirement and Glen Payne’s [call-in] performance of “I Won’t Have to Cross Jordan Alone.” That was probably the most special moment of them all.”
The 49th year of the National Quartet Convention promises to provide many memorable moments of its own. The Celebrity Baseball game is returning, as well as the Pianorama with famed pianist Dino. Friday afternoon will provide concertgoers the special treat of a presentation of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers along with Jim and Carol Cymbala. This will be of special interest to those who sing in their own church choir, and many who enjoy the ministry of the Cymbalas and Brooklyn Tabernacle. Clarke talks about this event directed to Church.
“I firmly believe that much of the future of our music will be determined by to what extent we can become a regular component of Sunday morning music in America’s mainstream churches. Bringing in the Cymbalas helps us appeal to a range of church leadership that might not otherwise be interested in what we are doing. Brian Hudson, who is handling many of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers dates, mentioned the idea to me, and I thought it was a great idea. With Dr. Jeremiah leading the morning Bible study, the Cymbalas and Brooklyn Tab performing that afternoon along with Mike Speck’s choral extravaganza, the Friday package has a stronger church appeal than we have ever offered. You can expect more of this in the future.”
This choir presentation, along with the webcast of NQC Radio, and the soon to be released NQC TV, are just some of the new initiatives being developed to keep NQC relevant to its audience, and to help it to retain it’s notoriety as the premiere SGM event of the year. Clarke explains that it’s these one-of-a-kind events that will help the NQC retain its competitive edge. To those who think that this event has had it’s day, he responds, “Some say that about our music in general. I believe that as the music goes, so goes the NQC. That is why I work really hard to expand the economic base of the entire industry through my work with the Southern Gospel Music Guild. I currently serve as President of the Guild, and I really enjoy working on behalf of the industry at large.”
“SGM is musically charming and unique…however, the most important component of our music is the overt, straight-forward presentation of Biblical truth within its lyric. We must guard with all vigilance that component of our music to insure that never changes.”
Clarke has seen the industry from both a performer and a promoter outlook. He traveled for several years with the Florida Boys, and knows what it’s like to get on the road, week after week. “What many do not realize is how truly arduous the lifestyle is. Traveling over 200 days a year is enormously taxing both physically and psychologically. Those who do it are truly called and gifted.”
Having this insight into the life of a Southern Gospel Artist has given Clarke great regard for many of the industry’s performers who have been traveling for decades. This includes his father, Les Beasley. He is grateful to have grown up as the son of one of SGM’s legends. “It was quite a privilege, not just because of his status in Gospel Music, but because of who he is. I cannot imagine a greater example to emulate.” Clarke continues, “My favorite quote of his is, ‘There is no limit to what someone can do as long as he does not care who receives the credit.’ That is a belief he has lived by.”
Meanwhile, Clarke’s own children are not quite ready for the SGM mantel to be passed down to them. They do enjoy Southern Gospel, but haven’t yet shown interest in becoming involved in the family business. “My children are 10 and 7, so their primary interests right now are in baseball, their friends, and how they can blame each other for their bathrooms being messy.”
The next generation will tell the tale of the future of Southern Gospel. What does Clarke see as the future of SGM? “I see a future where we are a regular component of Sunday morning worship in most churches. I also see a future where high standards will be set and artists will be required to meet them. These high standards will be set not only in musical excellence but in ministry readiness and in personal conduct.”
“I believe that the next five years will be of critical importance to the next 20 years of the future of our music, and as I said before, as the music goes, so goes the NQC.” Clarke continues, “I am very optimistic on what we can achieve within the next five years and in the future beyond that. I am convinced our music will be used as a powerful tool of evangelism to reach the lost and encourage the believers.”
Clarke Beasley and his team are working hard to pull together an event that will, as always, surpass the year before it. That requires a day-to-day determination to keep to the vision and mission of the event, as they work toward September and the beginning of the 49th NQC. Even Clarke however, is aware that SGM and the NQC are rooted in an experience in the daily lives of the singers, songwriters, and all who are involved in this type of musical evangelism. He was reminded of this lesson again recently.
“With one of my close friends and neighbors losing his wife this week, I am reminded that life is precious and short, and I should strive every day to enjoy the God-given blessing of life and make each day contribute something to the Kingdom of God.”
For more information on the National Quartet Convention, click on www.natqc.com
First published June 2006 on www.sgmradio.com
Written by Lorraine Walker
For current features and columns, click on http://www.sgmradio.com