Renaissance Southern Gospel Quartet Wins Nationally

Bethel’s Renaissance Southern Gospel Quartet took top honors recently at the 2009 National Quartet Convention in Louisville, Ky., as they bested 41 other groups in the competition. Bethany Ellis, a Bethel Renaissance choral student, also brought home honors after earning a third place finish among 76 contestants in the solo talent competition. The National Quartet Convention is gospel music’s largest annual event, and as the winners of the talent competition, quartet members Anna Pirtle, Dustin Doyle, Blaine Sumler and Josh Murrell, accompanied by Adam Catt, Roger Morris and the group’s director Matthew Holt, opened the event’s Saturday evening concert on the convention’s main stage to an audience of more than 23,000.
As winners, the group will also have the opportunity to record a new album compliments of Cross and Crown Music. The company will also include a free single to radio. As third place solo winner, Ellis will also get a free single to radio compliments of Cross and Crown Music.
“This really is an amazing thing for these young people,” said director Holt, who has been involved in the gospel music industry for many years.
Holt, a former member of the well-known gospel group the Perrys, pointed out the magnitude of the students’ convention experience.
“There were thousands of people at this convention who have spent their entire lives hoping to sing on that stage like our southern gospel group got to do,” he said. “I feel confident that this experience will be something they’ll always look back on as a wonderful event in their lives.”
When asked what made them shine in the competition, Holt said he felt it was a combination of things.
“These young people have a God-given talent,” he said. “I really think God knew what He was doing when He brought this group together. And they’ve worked so hard every day. Their work ethic is remarkable.”
Holt pointed out as well that Bethel’s was the only college group who took part in the quartet competition which made their win all the more outstanding.
“They competed against seasoned veterans,” Holt said. “There were people in this competition who don’t have to study and keep their grades up on top of rehearsing. Some of the other groups are out on the road pretty much all the time performing together.”
Holt says he’s hopeful that this group of performers will stay together and continue spreading God’s word through their music.
“They each have to finish school,” he said. “And I’m sure they’ve each had their own plans for what they’ll do when they graduate. But I would love to have this group of Bethel alumni touring so that many more people can learn about Renaissance and our southern gospel music division.”
Proximity after graduation could be a challenge as well.
“These students hail from a number of different places, so continuing as a group would be a big commitment on their part,” Holt said.
Anna Pirtle is from Bolivar, Dustin Doyle is from Chalybeate, Ky., Blaine Sumler is from Lexington, and Josh Murrell is from Paris. And accompanists Adam Catt and Roger Morris are from Brownsville, Ky., and McKenzie respectively.
But for now, the students are enjoying the memories of their experience.
“Being a part of the National Quartet Convention was an awesome experience in itself,” said Pirtle. “Little did I know that we would go on to compete in the talent show and win. And performing to one of the biggest gospel audiences anywhere – it really was a dream come true.”
“I know a lot of people use that term loosely, but it really was a dream come true,” said Doyle, who said he grew up watching his southern gospel heroes and dreaming that one day he would do the same thing.
Sumler added what he felt like when the group was announced as the talent winner.
“When they called our name, I was speechless,” he said. “A floodgate of emotions came over me, and even now I wake up each day thinking did that really happen?”
Murrell, the newest member of the group, is barely out of high school and only began practicing with them this past July.
“I have just been so excited about even going to the quartet convention,” Murrell said. “So, when they announced us as winners, I was ecstatic!”
Bethany Ellis, a McKenzie native, is also ecstatic.
“The quartet convention was one of the best weeks of my life,” Ellis said. “Traveling with the quartet, my friends, to be supportive was all I was looking for, but I guess God had different plans.”
Ellis, who also won at the Frank Arnold Ministries Songfest this year, will now have a single radio release to go along with a new release CD from Daywind – her prize from that competition.
“This has been a great year,” Ellis said. “And through God’s blessings, hopefully these steps are moving me closer toward my goal of being a full-time southern gospel singer. I want to thank Bethel’s Renaissance program for all they do, and I want to thank my parents for always supporting me.”
The quartet and Bethany will begin work on their respective albums in the coming months, and yet, they will still find time to study and to travel with and take part in Renaissance activities.
Prospective students interested in Bethel’s Southern Gospel Music Division or who are interested in other areas of the Renaissance Performing Arts Program can contact 731-352-6445 or 731-352-6414 or they can go to