Pictured above (L-R): Willie Sawrey, Cayden Howell, Ed O’ Neal, Derrick Boyd, and Earl Roberts
Kinston, NC (Jan. 9, 2020) — The year of 2019 was one filled with numerous changes for a man who is no stranger to change. Ed O’Neal, long-time Dixie Melody Boys’ owner/manager, SGMA Hall of Fame member, and 60-year Southern Gospel music veteran has endured the test of time. As has often been stated, Ed O’Neal is no stranger to changes and adversities. In fact, over the past five and a half decades he has seen over 90 personnel changes. “That has to be a record in this business,” Ed says with a chuckle.
The past year saw more group personnel changes for the seasoned veteran; however, the adversity he personally experienced throughout much of 2019 seemed to be one of his biggest challenges. “On April 1, I was involved in a pretty serious automobile accident,” he recalls. “It has been a tough recovery, and it seemed when I was getting past the injuries from the accident, more health issues popped up. I will admit that it has been a tough road, but I am so thankful that I am doing much better and able to get back on the road and enjoy singing and traveling again.”
During the summer and fall of 2019, health issues made it difficult for O’Neal to travel. “During the time I wasn’t able to travel, Willie (Sawrey) and the other guys worked really hard to fulfill the commitments we had, and they did a very good job. I continued to manage the group, just as I always have, even though I couldn’t be on the road,” Ed explains. “There were a lot of rumors circulating that I was never coming back on the road and that I was selling the group or that the group was coming off the road, but we were able to prove those rumors to be false. The truth is, I am committed to managing The Dixie Melody Boys as long as I am able to do so. I’ve put a lot of years into The Dixie Melody Boys. I love the promoters and the pastors who have supported us over the years. They are lifelong friends, and I am thankful that over the past month or so I have been able to get back on the road and have enjoyed seeing many of those friends again.”
Mr Ed, as he is affectionately known by many of those lifelong friends, is delighted with the group of young men who are now a part of the Dixie Melody Boys, and who are helping him carry on the musical tradition that began nearly six decades ago. In addition to Ed and Willie Sawrey, who has been with the group for almost four years and serves as the quartet’s baritone and road manager, former Dixie Melody Boys’ tenor Derrick Boyd has rejoined the group. “Derrick is a great tenor who traveled with me back in the 90s,” Ed states. “It’s really good to have him back. He has made a lot of friends over the years, having traveled with groups like The Kingsmen, The Anchormen, and The Toney Brothers. He has over 30 years’ experience and that is very valuable.”
Serving as the group’s lead singer is Booneville, Mississippi, native Cayden Howell. Unlike his fellow quartet members, Cayden is new to the Southern Gospel Music field, but he is delighted to have the opportunity to be a part of a group with such a rich history. Being a part of the Dixie Melody Boys fulfills a lifelong dream for the Southern Gospel newcomer who grew up loving the quartet sounds. “There’s just something about the four-part harmony. I’ve loved quartet music since the first time I heard it, and I am so thankful and blessed to be singing with The Dixie Melody Boys. I’m ready to see what God has in store for the future,” Cayden states.
“We are delighted to have Cayden on board with The Dixie Melody Boys. He is a talented young man who comes from a wonderful family,” Ed shares about his 18-year-old lead vocalist.
As a result of the numerous health issues encountered during 2019, Ed made the decision to add yet another vocalist to The Dixie Melody Boys. “It became pretty apparent to me that there would be some weeks that I physically would not be able to travel with the group,” he explains, “but I felt it very important that even when I was unable to be at an engagement that the Dixie Melody Boys would be delivering what the audience was expecting. It was important for me to find the best person to fill the role of bass singer.” Ed found this in 40-year veteran and Tunnel Hill, Georgia, resident Earl Roberts. Earl first began singing at the tender age of 15 and over the past four decades he has sung with numerous regional groups from the state of Georgia and is delighted to join the ranks of the full-time road warriors.
“I had been seeking a full-time position in Southern Gospel Music for a while and had been praying for God’s direction,” says Earl. “This led to the position with The Dixie Melody Boys, and I am having a great time.”
With new excitement, Ed O’Neal and The Dixie Melody Boys look forward to new opportunities in 2020. “We are very excited about the future. I believe I have four guys who are willing to work hard and embrace whatever 2020 brings. I will admit the past year has been really tough, but God has brought us to a great place,” Ed states.
Ed O’Neal’s love for the people and his desire to always present quality music, united with his desire to never compromise his responsibility to spread the Gospel through Southern Gospel Music in a professional manner, have allowed The Dixie Melody Boys to remain at the forefront of Southern Gospel Music for nearly six decades. A brief conversation with this Southern Gospel living legend confirms the vigor and vitality he possesses. It’s that spirit and love for singing Gospel music that drives him each day.
“I want to see The Dixie Melody Boys continue the great tradition I started a long time ago,” says Ed. At 83 years of age, I still love to do what I do. As I have said many times, the faces and the names may change, but The Dixie Melody Boys still have a message to share, and even after all these years I still believe God has great things in store. I’m excited about the good guys I have with me, and I’m excited about what lies ahead in 2020. I think it’s gonna be a great year!”
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