Last night, the Collingsworth Family recorded two live DVDs, Majestic and We Will Serve The Lord. The taping was at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium in Spartanburg, SC, a 3,244-seat venue that was at or very near capacity. As Phil Collingsworth Sr. noted in the introductions, it was the first live video they had recorded below the Mason-Dixon line.
First up was a Kim Collingsworth piano solo video, aptly entitled Majestic. The first song began with a grand orchestral flourish as Kim walked out on stage. In fact, the orchestration was so slow and dramatic that it would have taken even discerning listeners a few measures to realize it was “Goodbye, World, Goodbye.” After a verse or so, Kim kicked it into a faster gear and finished the song off in its customary convention style.
Two guest pianists, Tim Parton and Stan Whitmire, were present for the evening, and both joined in the opening medley. After Kim finished “Goodbye, World, Goodbye,” she slid off the piano bench as Tim Parton walked on stage to play “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Stan Whitmire played “When We All Get To Heaven.” Tim returned to the bench for “I’ll Fly Away.” Stan finished with “We Will Rise,” as Kim came over to the piano bench to play a third-hand high part.
For the rest of this part of the program, Kim would play one or two piano solos or medleys between segments that featured special guests. The first special guest was the Collingsworth Family, plus Brooklyn Collingsworth Blair’s husband William and Courtney Collingsworth Metz’s husband Michael; they came out on stage to sing the Maranatha/Promise Keepers oldie “Family Prayer Song,” written by Morris Chapman; Kim introduced it by noting that it was sung at her wedding.
The second special guest was her sixteen-year-old nephew Jesse Keep. After Kim shared the story of how he was diagnosed with eye cancer as an infant, and after seventy operations, lost one eye at age two and the other at age four, Timothy played “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and played and sang “Think About His Love.” It was a deeply moving moment and received an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Kim played several more songs (one of which featured Courtney and Brooklyn on violins) before the next special guest, five of Kim’s nieces billed as the Keaton Cousins. These little girls were all between the ages of (approximately) five and nine, and sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to another hearty ovation.
Tim Parton and Stan Whitmire returned to the stage for the grand finale, a half-dozen or so songs that featured the three piano masters at three Yamaha Grand pianos—Kim at her personal Yamaha Grand and Tim and Stan at two more that had been rented for the occasion. After a Christmas medley (“Ring Christmas Bells” with “What Child is This”), they finished with several patriotic songs (“God Bless America,” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”) Kim dedicated them to her brother, who spent many years in the Armed Forces, and whom longtime fans will remember from the Christmas in Kosovo video.
After a half-hour intermission, they shifted gears to record a full-family DVD, We Will Serve The Lord. Most of the set list was pulled from their 2013 CD release The Lord is Good; they staged ten of the twelve songs. (The two they didn’t stage were “My Debt Was Paid” and “I Could Never Outlove The Lord.”)
The pacing of the set list was particularly interesting; based on audience response, it seems as though they saved all their strongest material of this second taping for its second half. The first half featured several fast, mid-tempo, and slow but subdued songs from The Lord is Good, along with two Kim Collingsworth piano solos, “He Set Me Free” and “His Hand in Mine.” There was a live band with Stan Whitmire on keyboard (and sliding over to the piano whenever Kim stood to sing), and noted studio musicians Jeremy Medkiff on bass guitar and John Hammond on drums.
At about the midway point, they featured Phil Jr. on the project’s lone big ballad, “How Great His Love For Me (with ‘Love Found a Pardon.’)” The next song, the old Frederick Lehman hymn “The Love of God,” was the vocal highlight of the night. It was a simple piano-and-voice arrangement; Brooklyn sang the first verse, with Kim playing piano and adding harmonies on a few lines. Phil Jr. sang the second, with Brooklyn and Kim singing power harmonies. It was both spectacular and exquisite, the sort of moment that transcends genre.
They introduced a new arrangement of “Be Thou My Vision,” featuring (in what I believe is a first for the family) all four of the family’s instrumentalists at once—Kim on piano, Phil Sr. on trumpet, and Courtney and Brooklyn on violins.
Kim introduced “Show a Little Bit of Love and Kindness” by playing a few measures in the “windshield-wiper” style in which she first learned the song as a child. Then Stan Whitmire slid over to the piano bench, as she stood to sing the song with her family. This song received the most enthusiastic audience response in the second half.
The final two songs were a new song, “God is Moving,” and the longtime Collingsworth classic “The Healer is Here.” The program concluded with a few more encores of “Show a Little Bit of Love and Kindness.”
The Collingsworth Family does a masterful job of mixing heartfelt performances with the utmost professionalism in their stage presentation. For as long as Southern Gospel has groups of this caliber, its future is in good hands.