Published: October 14, 2012
On Aug. 23, a world famous gang invaded a home in Rutherford County.
That’s the date members of the iconic gospel-singing group Chuck Wagon Gang stepped into my heart, not with just their music, but with their kindness.
“The Chuck Wagon folks are one ‘gang’ we welcome to our city,” said Mark O’Neal, the town manager for Smyrna.
This is the kind of “gang” police might consider giving an escort into town as opposed to trying get out it out.
This group’s fateful performance was not on a big stage venue or on national television. Witnessing and fellowship was the only currency involved.
Instead, this was the date that the in-demand, booked a year in advance group came off the road, stopped their tour, and stayed the night cramped in their bus in an impersonal super market parking lot in downtown Smyrna.
They came to visit a dear friend with prolonged health issues.
“We would love to play God’s music for your ailing friend, right there by his sickbed,” said Shaye Smith, the Chuck Wagon Gang’s managing owner, who harmonizes the alto part of the group’s seemingly immortal and unique sound.
That generous offer came back in July when my wife, Pat, and I were interviewing the Chuck Wagon Gang after they performed at nearby Middle Tennessee State University.
It was this writer’s personal pleasure to drive Smith and her adorable 1-year-old daughter, Chloe, as well as Julie Hudson, who sings soprano, to and from their tour bus to the residence of John and Hilda Stuart, of Smyrna.
John Stuart, 80, has been in and out of hospitals multiple times in recent years.
Band members Jeremy Stephens, Stan Hill and Buster Kendrick chorused their agreement to volunteer their limited time and vast talents to minister in song for the pleasure of ailing John Stuart.
“I’ve loved the Chuck Wagon Gang for years, back to when they came to our hometown, Philadelphia, Miss.,” John Stuart recalled.
“I’ve got more than 20 tapes and recordings of the Chuck Wagon Gang, dating back to the 1940s,” added Hilda “Mammie” Stuart, who is a retired Murfreesboro bank executive.
Before the music, the Stuarts and Hill, who lives in the mountains of East Tennessee, shared country boy stories.
“I went hunting with a few buddies when my mixed-mutt of a pup out did all the high-priced hunters bred specifically for bird hunting,” John Stuart said. “One of the city boys offered me $50 on the spot, if I’d sell my dog.
“‘Can’t do it,’ I replied. A few days passed, and he came back with a $1,000 dollar offer. I had to turn him down again…”
Hill recalled one of his own special dogs.
Just how special was that hunter?
“I cried for days when I accidentally ran over our dog,” Hill said.
After sharing stories and swapping old family photographs, the Chuck Wagon Gang broke out in song, starting with “Burning Bush” and “ The Old Rugged Cross,” both of which are loved by Christians all over the world.
Tears of thankfulness slid down appreciative John Stuart’s face, as the group’s voices harmonized late into the morning, leading up to the last minute before they had to board their bus for a four-hour drive to perform that night in Grayville, Ill.
“It was mighty nice of ya’ll to come by and visit a spell,” John Stuart said in his best slow and accented Southern drawl.
Stay tuned to hear more from the group.
For the Chuck Wagon Gang has consented to come for a concert at the new Smyrna Parkway Baptist Church, located near Interstate 24 on Lee Victory Parkway.