We’d like to thank Wesley Burke for putting together such a great article that was featured in the April edition of SGN Scoops Magazine. We thought that you’d enjoying reading it as well! And as always… please comment!
It’s a beautiful day in the small town of Munford, TN in September 1999. The main drag through town is blocked off, and the town’s fair is in full swing. An older model bus approaches the fair area, and turns in and parks in a vacant lot behind a simple wooden stage where a steady stream of local gospel artists has been performing. The name in the marquee area of the front of the bus simply says “Dills”, and off the bus comes a father and mother, their two sons, and the sons’ wives. One of the wives is a native of the small town, having graduated from the local high school, and until her marriage had sung with her own family, who would also grace the same stage during the fair. A small crowd of maybe 15-20 people sit on metal bleachers listening to the singing, while hundreds more are wandering through the booths and exhibits. The quality of music from the gospel stage hits every part of the spectrum, but when this group sings, there’s something different about them, especially when just the sons and their wives sing. There’s a specialness to their blend that shows a lot of potential.
Let’s fast forward 10 years. It’s September 2009, and The Dills are in the middle of a week at the National Quartet Convention. Their last two major projects have been picked up by Crossroads Records, one of Southern Gospel’s biggest labels for distribution and radio promotion.
Mickey Gamble, executive at Crossroads explains how they came to the company’s attention: “I first met them through Kevin Ward, who has recorded several projects with them. Then they were participants in our EmPower Your Ministry course last year.”
They’ve had several songs go to the top 40 of the Singing News charts, performed on the Singing At Sea cruise for several years, and been featured in showcases at the NQC. It’s a long way removed from the tiny stage at Celebrate Munford. Don’t let the success fool you, though, as these Dills haven’t forgotten where they came from. Shawn, Tim, LeeAnn, and Bridget Dill are truly grateful for the journey they’ve been on, and are humbled by the way God has blessed their music and their ministry.
Bridget Dill shares the story of how the four present day members of the group began singing together:
“Shawn began playing piano for his parents at the age of 7. A few years later at the age of 7, Tim began playing drums and both of the boys started singing with the family group.” Bridget continues, “LeeAnn began traveling and singing with her family at a very young age. Over the years, the paths of the two families (the Johnsons and the Dills) crossed often and deep friendships developed. LeeAnn and Shawn later married.”
The marriage of LeeAnn and Shawn played an important part in Bridget joining the group. Bridget shares, “I was asked to attend a New Years Eve service in 1993 with some friends who were singing for a Watch Night service with the Dills and the Johnsons. Though married, Shawn and LeeAnn had been traveling with their respective families and this was to be the last night LeeAnn would sing with her family. The plan was for her to begin traveling and singing with the Dills beginning in January 1994. She was due to deliver Logan at any time, so my friends decided I should come along to assist in the concert in case both families had to leave in the event of his delivery. Before the concert our mutual friends introduced me to Tim, Shawn, LeeAnn, and the rest of the families.”
Bridget continues, “A few days later I received a call from Tim informing me that LeeAnn had indeed delivered the baby and everyone was well. He also took the opportunity to ask me out on a date. Two weeks later, after an inspirational first date, I began traveling with the Dills. Tim and I were engaged later that year in November 1994, and 3 years later, we married.”
Shawn and Tim’s parents retired from traveling with the group in January of 2004. It wasn’t long after that the group took their first major road trip, leaving West Tennessee for a series of concerts in Virginia. Prior to that trip, the group had stayed within a 4-5 hour radius of their home. Shawn talks about the expansion of their ministry and states, “We never really tried to get our name out there nationally, I guess you would say, we just started praying that if God would open the doors, we would walk through them. We feel that we have been blessed to have ministered to so many people and we love the friendships we’ve made through the past 6 years and look forward to making many more.”
These days, the Dills are keeping themselves on the forefront of the merger of technology and Southern Gospel music. They use multimedia presentations in their concerts where they can, with a very moving and effective video to go along with their great song, “Uncommon.” They are also all very active on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to keep up with their fans. Their website meshes the traditional website with blog posts and microblogging (Twitter).
Their vision to use any and all methods to further the good news they share doesn’t go unnoticed. Crossroads’ Gamble calls the group “a very smart group with new marketing and new media.” He also states that they are “a very good example of some of the younger groups in the industry that are thriving but ‘under the radar’ as far as the mainstream SG media is concerned. They are being very successful because they have learned how to become ‘famous with their own people.’”
In their willingness to use current technology, the group actually solicited input from their fans on their blog while trying to select just the right mix of hymns for a new recording. Tim says the process “went extremely well. We received nearly 100 suggestions for what people considered to be their favorite hymn! Naturally we could not use all of them and some of the suggestions were not even ‘hymns.’ We did manage to choose the songs based on those suggestions with the exception of 2 or 3 that we chose to put on the album.” The end result is a very strong and enjoyable CD of classic hymns from the group done in their own unique style.
The future is looking bright for this talented group of individuals. The Dills latest mainline recording, Story Of A Lifetime, was released to much critical acclaim. Their current single, a cover of the CCM group Truth’s hit song “Holy Of Holies”, is a very powerful ballad that speaks of the awe inspiring access that we have to God’s throne. In addition to Story Of A Lifetime, the group has also just recently released a new table project entitled simply Hymns.
Looking to the future, Tim states, “We naturally would like to see that our hard work is paying off ‘visibly’ by seeing the ministry opportunities grow. Although, the world and music industry is changing so dramatically that I think it would be very difficult to know what to expect in the future. I think that’s why we’d just love to be where God wants us to be at that time! Since He’s the only one that knows what the future holds… I figure that’s where we should strive to be!”
Bridget sums things up nicely when she says, “God took four semi-bashful teenagers with a love for His music and brought us together through the help of some circumstances and dear friends. Though alone we’re not extremely outgoing, there’s a power amongst us when we are standing on stage together that we can only describe as God’s anointing. We love each other, we love the Lord, and we are extremely humbled that He has brought us together and allowed us to serve Him doing what we love to do.”
They’ve come a long way since that Saturday in September 1999.