Don Coffey’s clarion tenor voice captivates listeners, both in concert and over the radio.
A duet he recorded with Kirk Talley (“I Know a Man Who Can”) soared to No. 1 in March 2002 on Black Mountain Southern-gospel station WFGW (1010 AM) — and stayed there for 5-1/2 months, becoming the station’s top song of the year.
“If it had gotten national promotion, I think it would have been a big song,” argues veteran announcer Jay Michael Sumner.
Coffey — a soloist who also performs with three quartets — is one of a host of local artists whose performances across the region help sustain the Southern-gospel tradition.
“There is a tremendous amount of Southern gospel [groups] — both on the professional and amateur level — that call Western North Carolina home,” says Danny Jones, editor of Singing News magazine in Boone.
Coffey’s long-running love of the music embraces both its ringing harmonies and its message.
“It all comes together to make one beautiful sound. It’s just incredible,” proclaims an enthusiastic Coffey. Plus, he adds, “It’s the only genre of music that speaks to eternal truth.”
At age 11, the Indiana native met noted Asheville tenor Ernie Phillips, formerly with the legendary Kingsmen Quartet. That encounter helped steer Coffey toward Southern gospel. After an 11-year stint in the Navy, he and his wife, Sandy, decided to settle in Weaverville, her hometown.
Coffey’s desire to spend time with his family is the main reason he hasn’t pursued opportunities to become a full-time touring singer. But the tenor also dislikes the highly competitive Southern-gospel industry.
“The business of Southern-gospel music makes me want to puke,” declares Coffey.
A voice teacher during the week, the 38-year-old Coffey spends his weekends singing professionally with The Skylanders Quartet.
Unlike most such groups, however, this one is allied with a nonprofit organization. Coffey House Ministries, founded by the singer, donates all net proceeds to charity. So far, the group has contributed about $6,000 to assorted worthy causes.
“That’s what it’s all about for us,” he reveals.