Tink and I were watching the award show for the Gospel Music Association Doves which celebrates Jesus from traditional to Southern to contemporary music.
The cameras moved to a black-clothed figure on a darkened stage. Her blonde hair glistened. Then, her voice, a perfect soprano, pierced sweetly through the air. Tink watched my best friend, Karen Peck, then turned to me.
“You know, you two are amazing. It’s really something what you’ve done.”
I nodded. “Thank you, Lord.”
Had either of us, purebred country girls, become successful at any career that was outside-the-box of nine-to-fine laboring or even one of us found ourself on television or magazine covers, it would be astounding. We come from a small Southern town, we graduated from a high school with 180 students in our class.
Yet, we both have had remarkable God-given success. Karen is a Southern Gospel Music singer and Hall of Famer. I write Southern fiction, nonfiction, and this long running syndicated newspaper column. We have both appeared in movies and on countless television shows. Karen has had over 20 number-one hit songs and many awards and Grammy nominations. I’ve won two or three.
As school friends, then after college, we roomed together in a duplex built in the 1920s where every board squeaked or moaned. Karen was singing with a group. I was writing newspaper sports.
In that drafty, old house, cheered by an enormous 150-year-old oak tree that spread out over the front porch, we opened our doors to friends for homemade lasagna and spaghetti. One friend, consistent in dropping by, was a tall, stout guy with a head full of curvy, wavy blonde hair named Leslie Chastain.
Close to our age, Leslie loved Southern Gospel Music and had become a promoter, lining up shows featuring several gospel groups each time.
Many times, Leslie popped in, opening the squeaking screen door and, unfazed, finding us in hot curlers or coming in from backyard sunbathing. He’d say, “I just brought by some fliers about my show I’m having next Saturday.” Then, he’d reel off who was going to be there, likely to say, “She has a voice almost as good as Karen’s. But ain’t nobody can outdo Karen.”
For an hour, he’d sit in our tiny living room, talking nonstop. “There’s going to be some real good gospel singing. Y’all need to come, you hear?”
Over the ensuing 35 years, Leslie never strayed one iota from Southern Gospel. Through his vast network, he has helped many a young hopeful get a start. Last summer, I was cutting grass at Mama’s when he saw me, then pulled in. He got out of the car with several fliers and a CD. He said, “She’s gonna be as big as Karen Peck. I discovered her. You need to come. There’s going to be some good gospel singing.”
Leslie called the other day to invite us to his last gospel music singing. With a voice as jolly as ever, he said, “I have melanoma in my brain. I’m not going to live but, oh, another couple of months. Maybe. Instead of a funeral, I’m having a gospel music show. There’s going to be lot of groups there. Karen will be there. The place seats 1,500 but you tell them I said that you and Tink are to be seated at the front. It sure would be a great honor to have y’all there.”
Then, Leslie being Leslie, promised, “There’s going to be some good gospel singing there. Really good.”
I know God loves Leslie Chastain. So do we. It is our plan to be there, to hear the last concert that Leslie Chastain produces.
The best gospel singing, though, that Leslie ever hears awaits him inside the Pearly Gates.
[Ronda Rich is the bestselling author of “There’s A Better Day A’Comin’.” We are thankful that Leslie is headed for that better day.]