The Gospel Lights
Lead and Rhythm Guitar Player
I was born at home, about three miles Southwest of the small town of McLemoresville Tennessee that had at the time a population of about two hundred people, late in the evening on October 18, 1949. My mothers name is Evelyn. She told me that she had been working in the cotton field while she was carrying me. But the day I was born she had been working in the house trying to get things in good shape before she gave birth to me. What she didn't know was she had worked too hard that day and she almost didn't have enough strength left to give birth to me.
I grew up, lived and worked on my dads' farm because farming was what my father, Lotee, loved to do. He was also a good carpenter but he really didn't like doing it. My first schooling was at an old three-room school, where my parents also attended when they were children, with classes from pre-school thru the eighth grade, down a gravel road. The named of the school was Dunbar School. It was surrounded by fields, hills and ditches. It was really a fun place. I went there until I finished the second grade. There in the second grade is where I was introduced to the chance to get involved in music. I played an instrument called chimes, a small xylophone, in the school's toot-toot band. This little band was made up of students and under the directions of the principal, who was a piano player and singer. The band had four other horns, which was a flute, soprano, alto and tenor. I thought we were pretty good and I remember a lady named Mrs. Parker made a recording of one of our sessions. One reason I remember it so well was during the recording a car pulled up at the school and blew its horn and that horn sound was heard during the play back. I loved making music even back then.
Devotion would be held every morning in the eight-grade classroom and I along with the small students would sit on the place for the books and armrest on the desk of one of the larger students and we would sing songs as the principal played the piano. This was something that I looked forward to each day and I still remember many of those old songs we would sing.
When I started the third grade, a new school had been built that combined all the small community schools: Dunbar near McLemoresville TN, Clay School in Trezevant TN, Wingo School in a community outside of Trezevant TN and Barker School in Atwood TN. This school was built for all the black children in the West Carroll County
area. I continued to play in the toot-toot band and ended up playing the tenor horn. There was a picture made of this band when I was in the fourth grade that we still have a copy of. This little band was under the direction of the fourth grade teacher named Mrs. McBride.
It was about this time when I started banging on the pianos in the classrooms and anywhere I could find one. I had a cousin named Will Deshong, who was a soldier in World War I. He had a guitar that he played and he left it in the corner behind a door.
I fell in love with that guitar and would go into another world it seems when I found out we were going to visit him because I knew I would get a chance to try to play that guitar.
It was about that same time when I started thinking seriously about God and my soul. Not too long after this I accepted Jesus as my Savior during the fall revival services and was baptized in one of my cousin's pond. After that I joined The New Reedy Creek Baptist Church near McLemoresville, TN. We attended Sunday school and church every Sunday and I eventually joined the church youth choir.
I wanted a piano but I would have given anything that I had for a guitar. I liked the piano but I loved the guitar more. Our family didn't have much extra money so my dad never bought me a guitar even though I did everything including begging. Many years went by but the love for music only grew stronger.
I finished M T A Junior high school and started the 10th grade at the only black high school in Carroll County that was in McKenzie Tennessee, named Webb High School. I really thought this was my opportunity to get involved in music through the High School band. The School had a large and outstanding band. I tried to get into the fine art program unsuccessfully. This would have been a sure way to get into the band. I wanted to play so badly I borrowed a guitar from my brother in-law, J.C Dupree and thought my dad would ad least pay for a few guitar lessons, but that didn't happen. I wanted to learn so bad I would go with one of my classmates and friend when he went to take guitar lessons. I finished high school and barber school in Memphis TN and the only musical instrument I had was a little blue radio that was never too far away from me.
After barber school I cut hair on the weekends and enrolled in a machine shop trade school. While going to machine shop trade school I got married to Sandra a loving and supporting wife. We have been married for thirty-six years. After finishing trade school and acquiring a job as a machinist and a couple of children later one day while at the washer in McLemoresville TN, I spotted a guitar in the storefront window across the street. I just had to go over and investigate. I bought that guitar for $48.00 and it was one of the happiest days of my life. I have several guitars today but since that day I have not been without a guitar.
To be honest I really started trying to play rock and roll music. I also went through many things in life, some good and many not so good. I was getting pretty good at playing rock and roll but I had got away from the church and the way I was taught and raised.
In 1973 I started praying and shortly re-dedicated my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, which brought joy to my soul again. I started praying for direction for my life and I was shown a vision of playing in a gospel group.
Shortly after this I believe I was lead to play the guitar and form a gospel group. I remember asking the Lord, if this was what He wanted me to do, please help me with the guitar and give me who I needed to help. Since that day things began to happen until the group had singers, instruments and a van to travel.
The group has had many ups and downs but we have never quit even to this day. It has always been a blessing and through it all I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as we tried to praise the Lord in a way that's pleasing to Him.
The name of the group has never changed. The name came from one of my favorite scriptures: Matt. 5:16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good work, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
I am a deacon at the New Reedy Creek Baptist Church near McLemoresville Tennessee where I am also the assistant adult Sunday school teacher. I am usually there every Sunday unless I am out of town or with the group for a singing engagement. I also sing with the church male chorus the third Sunday morning of each month.
I have worked or been in school since I got out of High school. I graduated from Jackson State Community College recently and I work as the Design Engineering Coordinator for Dana Corporation in Humboldt Tennessee. I worked as a machinist and toolmaker for seven years prior to the twenty-nine plus years I have worked for Dana Corporation.
My wife and I raised eight children at home and helped with one that didn't live with us. Today we have fifteen grandchildren. I was one of five children. My dad was one of twelve children and my dads' father was one of sixteen children. So there is a lot of Hillsmans
I am one of the guitar players and the founder of The Gospel Lights of Mclemoresville Tennessee. The Group was started with all members being from McLemoresville but we started taking members from other places, anyone who wanted to help praise and serve the Lord.
I have been with the group since it was formed and we are planning to celebrate our 21st anniversary this fall, the 3rd weekend in November 2004. We sang and practiced several years in the basement of the New Reedy Baptist before we started singing in public. There were some members of the church that thought and told us later that they thought we would never come out of that basement. I didn't know if we would ever come out of the basement either but I new I could feel the presence of the Lord as we sang, played and praised Him.
I am thankful to the Lord, for the group members, friends, family, fans and everyone else that have made this experience a blessing and a joyous experience.
I truly hope and pray that the group will carry out what ever it is that The Lord wants us to do so we can be a blessing to everyone we meet as we journey home to Glory Land and we will forever give him all the praise and glory.
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