Connections: Guy Penrod
A Life Filled With Music
Guy Penrod is one of gospel music’s best-known vocalists. He visited recently with Pentecostal Evangel Editor Ken Horn.
evangel: Talk about what it was like to be raised in a pastor’s home.
PENROD: It was fabulous! I love my upbringing. We traveled a lot. We went to a lot of fellowship meetings, and it was a blast.
I had a father and mother who loved the Lord and gave their hearts to ministry in the various churches they served. They loved people, and I am very thankful for that. I think seeing their love for folks and seeing them minister helped to mold me. It gave me a good perspective that there’s more, that this world is not all there is to life. My dad and mom lived with a motivation to see what they could lay up in heaven.
I received that perspective as a kid, and I learned young that music was a wonderful vehicle for me to communicate. I enjoyed that as a kid. I got to stand up in front of the congregation as a kid. I guess that was somewhat of an advantage. Dad needed someone to sing in the smaller churches, and I was the only one who could sing. There were only six people when he started his first church.
evangel: You told me your father was a soul winner.
PENROD: He was very meticulous about his passion for winning souls. He realized that life is short, and he wanted to talk to people about their eternal state. I remember as a kid going with him on visitation. He would take a map and grid out an area of the city. Then we would park at one end of a block and knock on every door.
Whoever answered, he would say, “Hi. I am the Rev. Joe Penrod. I pastor the church just down the street. We just stopped in today to talk to you about your soul and what you might need in life, to be a help to you.”
It was invaluable training, seeing him doing that kind of work and hearing the way he interacted with people — the way he advised, prayed with and cared for them. I am always thankful for that beautiful upbringing.
evangel: At what point did you feel like singing was going to be a major part of your life?
PENROD: Living in Texas and New Mexico, with it being so far between places, we didn’t get a lot of singing musicians. But we had an occasional group or soloist who came through. I excelled in music and was involved from early on, in junior high and high school in choirs, school competitions and plays. And I saw a positive response from it.
I didn’t really have much of a plan after graduation, other than trying to figure out where to go to school.
Dad had a special speaker at the church — Jerry Falwell. Dad wanted me to sing prior to the speaker. So I sang a song, and Dr. Falwell got up and said, “Son, if you want to go to Liberty University [in Lynchburg, Va.], I am offering you a full scholarship right now for the four years.”
At Liberty, I sang on singing teams and traveled with Dr. Falwell extensively. Wherever he would go, he wanted someone to sing a song before he spoke. I sang my way through college, got out of school, and quickly went into music.
evangel: You actually sang on your own for some time before you were recruited for the Gaither Vocal Band.
PENROD: There was a sweet lady named Beverly Darnell who contracted me a lot in the studio. She was a friend of Bill Gaither. He called her to say that they had a change in the Vocal Band and asked, “Do you have any suggestions for me?” She recommended me highly.
Then I received a call asking if I was interested in trying out. At the time I was singing vocals on a television show in Nashville, Tenn. I was very much at peace; I felt like I was right where God wanted me.
But I auditioned over a pretty lengthy period of time (Bill makes decisions slowly) and at one point he asked, “Are you interested?” I said, “I think so.” And 14 years later …
evangel: What were your impressions when you started traveling with the Gaither Vocal Band?
PENROD: Being a musician, being a Christian, I knew the Vocal Band was a big deal. The first concert that I sang with the Vocal Band was in Oakland, Calif. There were about 900 people there, and we loaded in and loaded out product and sound equipment — stuff that I had done in college.
Then the videos we made started to grow rather quickly. It morphed into 14 buses, five semitrailers, and arenas all around the country. I woke up every day in a new world, from being in South Africa, to Australia, to Europe, to Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. It’s quite amazing that God allowed me to be a part of something like that.
evangel: Looking back at those 14 years, give us a highlight.
PENROD: Probably the Holy Land trip. The videos we did from Jerusalem were among the most impactful on me. To be at the Garden Tomb and sing “Because He Lives,” and then to do a video on the wall of David’s citadel in Jerusalem — it was very surreal and very important to me.
evangel: A couple of years ago you made a decision to go into a solo career.
PENROD: I wanted to try to encapsulate in music form what could be put into the marketplace, and see the world around us affected by the truth of the Word of God. I think the Bible is a manual for the human body. I think every person’s body should come with a Bible, just like your computer comes with a manual or my tractor comes with a manual. Then you refer to it to see how you work.
I wanted to approach a record, and hopefully a career, from that perspective, so we can see impact outside the walls of the church. There are so many who are lost, and the things that are lifted up in media, in Hollywood, in music and in the world around us often don’t lead to good places. We don’t battle against flesh and blood, as the Word tells us, but against principalities and powers of darkness in high places.
So I wanted to raise up the ways of God in the form of songs that can attract folks who need Christ, who are hurting and have hit a wall. Most people don’t come to those places until they have a need. At their point of need, I want to be there with an answer. That really is the motivating factor — to cast the nets farther purposefully, and then the church can reach into the world.
evangel: Your latest project is called Hymns.
PENROD: Hymns speak to the human condition and challenges in general. It’s an interesting day we live in. Self seems to be the prevalent thing to serve these days. And we all face much the same situations, as far as self goes. In the Word of God, sin boils down to three areas: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.
Conditions are much the same for us now as they were in [earlier years when many hymns were written] in terms of the challenges we face: what we are going to do, how we define right and wrong, how to live, and how to make right decisions. The hymns have an enduring message within them. I think of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” — the loss of family, and then the sorrow that’s born out of it.
I love to hear George Beverly Shea’s rich, baritone voice, and on this album he sings a duet with me, “Does Jesus Care?” When he sings of grief, of temptation, of personal failings — to hear that pathos come out of a 103-year-old man. It is a message that is specific to every generation. And then to hear, “Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares. His heart is touched with my grief.”
Hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” are not only good theology, but good psychology as well. This recording is intended to encourage, to uplift, and to sing along with. I put the songs in keys where people can sing along with them.
evangel: Give us a brief snapshot of what it’s like homeschooling eight children and leading the kind of busy life you lead.
PENROD: We’ve done a lot of stuff right, I think. And we’ve done some stuff wrong. We’ve made mistakes. We believe that our kids are the most precious gift we have. We want to keep them around as long as we can, and influence them with the things we have learned. We want to pour into our children so that when they step into the world to make their way, they have a foundation.
We believe that before you are actually presented with challenges, temptations and opportunities, you make a decision as to how you are going to handle these situations. We can make those decisions because the Word is our guide and the Holy Spirit is within us to guide us. If we’ve already decided that we are going to live upright before God, a lot of decisions are already made for us as we go through life.
That’s at the core of what we want to do with our kids. Of course there’s reading, writing, arithmetic, history — all of those things. Homeschooling is not without challenges and hard work. But I highly recommend it because you can keep your children around just as long as you can. It works well with my schedule, too. We love it.
For more information about Guy Penrod’s ministry, visit GuyPenrod.com.
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