Valdosta Daily Times

Features

January 23, 2014

The Florida Boys play Dixie

DIXIE — How could Charlie Waller ever have imagined that he would one day be lead singer and manager of famed gospel group the Florida Boys?

In the late 1960s, he was a 16-year-old kid. He sung a little at church. He attended a gospel show and met then-Florida Boys lead singer Les Beasley after the show.

Through the years, Waller attended more Florida Boys shows and Beasley remembered him. As Waller became an adult involved in radio and promotions, he and Beasley became friends.

Years later, as Waller led the Southern Gospel Music Association venue at Dollywood and organized the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, he and Beasley discussed the future of the Florida Boys.

Waller recalls suggesting to Beasley, “‘Why don’t you get five young guys and go on the road?’ You ever heard Les talk? He said, ‘Young’uns are crazy. Nowadays, I don’t want to be on a bus with no five young’uns. Why don’t you take it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, though one thing’s for sure. I can sing as good as you ever did.’”

Waller’s last remark was a joke between two old friends. Men who are still friends now that Waller guesses Les is 85 and he’s 65, but he seriously became the lead of the Florida Boys in 2007.

This weekend, the Florida Boys make a stop for a concert in the Brooks County town of Dixie. The famed gospel group is traveling to Florida to film a television special, and the Dixie show came as a stop along the way.

Waller is also good friends with Butch Williams, a South Georgia musician, who’s well known for his gospel group, the Diamonds. Waller and Williams made this concert happen.

On Friday night, the Diamonds will join the Florida Boys for the Dixie concert. They will also be joined by Joyce Croft, the famed Valdosta-based gospel songwriter whose husband and songwriting partner, Brother Colbert Croft, passed away a few weeks ago.

“Having Joyce with us will be a treat,” Waller says in a phone interview Wednesday. “They wrote so many great gospel tunes and it will be a thrill to see her.”

The Florida Boys has also had several hits.

With a history reaching back to 1947, the Florida Boys played Carnegie Hall’s first gospel concert. Elvis Presley was a Florida Boys fan; Waller and the Florida Boys played a birthday celebration for Presley at Graceland.

The Florida Boys’ No. 1 hits include “Standing on the Solid Rock,” “When He was on the Cross, I was on His Mind,” “Lead Me to the Altar,” “I Lean on You Lord.” Through its history, the Florida Boys has recorded approximately 100 albums.

The group still maintains an average of 130 performances per year, which Waller describes as being “a gracious plenty.”

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