Rory Partin Interview
Rory Partin wasn't born when
some of the great songwriters first penned many of the great standards
that he sings and his big band plays today. He did, however, grow up in
an era where the church continually preached the 'evils' of 'secular' (a
word I despise) music.
"One of the reasons that
I am in mainstream music is so I can be out there in the world. Christ
is clear that we should be in the world not of it but the church as a whole
has kind gathered around itself (pulling inward) and said 'we are safe
in here.' I heard preachers growing up say, 'You shouldn't have any non
Christian friends because they will drag you down.' That is so opposite
to what Christ was getting across and what he was doing," said Partin.
One of the premier crooners
in music, the Louisiana born Partin is the lead vocalist and bandleader
of the Rory Partin Band. Singing swinging tunes such as "Walkin' My Baby
Back Home," "Route 66" and "It Had To Be You," he has a rich vocal style
that is only superceded by his great looks. With style and class the talented
Partin revives the memory of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin.
The big band's music for
the most part has new arrangements created by Terry Waddell. The other
band members are too numerous to mention but include some of the most gifted
and experienced artists including vocalist Jeannie Dennis (Tommy Dorsey,
Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra Jr.) and her husband Quitman Dennis who
served as the bandleader and arranger for Bobby Darin. Partin's album
The Very Thought of You features some outstanding trumpet solos by
Jamie Simmons (Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Temptations) and the incomparable
Cole Burgess on saxophone.
With six presidential inaugural
balls to their credit the Rory Partin Band (prior to 2000 known as the
Bo Thorpe Orchestra) have raised their profile not only among politicos
but assumed their rightful place as one of the more highly esteemed groups
of musicians and vocalists in big band history.
"What I'm hoping (to accomplish)
with my music is to be a Christian out there doing the best that he can
do within his genre. I am not trying to imitate anybody. (I am trying to)
make an impact in the mainstream and to make the church rethink what it
means to be a Christian," said Partin.
While pursuing his musical
dreams Partin has not been without his detractors. "I have got flack from
Christians for doing mainstream (music) because (they think) I should be
in the church. I think God is glorified by creativity. When we do great
things I think that it glorifies Him because He put this in us. He knows
this is something that we were created to do. He is the creator so it brings
Him joy," said Partin, "I know my gifts are given to me to build up the
church. I serve in the church and on the worship team."
Partin continues along this
stream of thought for another moment, "There is a big difference between
your vocation and your service within the church. You do need to be serving
and you do need to be plugged into a local body. You need to be fed and
accountable but it doesn't have to be your vocation. If you are writing
a symphony and there are no lyrics to it, what makes it a Christian symphony?"
Responding to my query as
to whether or not this is the sole reason why Christian artists in mainstream
music are not more visible, Partin shared his thoughts while reminding
me that he is well aware that he is making a very general statement. "We
have been told all of our lives that we can't do or listen to this or that
kind of music because it is dangerous and it might pull us away from Christ
(causing us) to go to hell. As a result the creativity in Christians is
squelched to a huge extent," he said.
On the other hand, Partin
pointed to churches that are growing as those communities that encourage
creativity in the arts within the body of Christ. He used his home church
as an example. Partin said that whether you are a poet, dancer, musician,
singer, actor or whatever within his church you will find a place to serve.
He noted that recently one Sunday morning the pastor encouraged those in
the congregation to speak to him if they felt their particular art form
was not represented. The church would try and find an appropriate way for
it to be expressed in worship.
Partin and his wife pop/rock
singer Jeni Varnadeau have over the years been heavily involved with missions'
initiatives in other countries and more specifically when it has involved
youth. Both Rory and Jeni have a longstanding interest in missions. Jeni's
late sister Lisa was a missionary with the Baptist Church in North Africa.
When he was a child Rory's parents were heavily involved in a mission organization
and for several years the family would spend their summers ministering
in Honduras.. Following the death of Jeni's sister Lisa, the husband and
wife team combined to write a couple of songs for the International Mission
Partin owes more than his
interest in missions to his family. It was his mother Jacqueline whose
musical taste buds first whetted his appetite for the music he sings today.
"When I was a kid (in Moss Bluff Louisiana) my mother used to play a lot
of people such as Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Perry Como.
At the same time she was playing Mahalia Jackson, Ray Charles and Al Green.
I latched on to crooning. I always tried to imitate Bing Crosby when I
was a kid," said Partin.
Concerning this year's release
of The Very Thought of You the crooner said, "I selected the songs
that I have always enjoyed listening to and singing. They are just songs
that I love. I love to sing songs that say something to me and speak to
"It is amazing when you
think about it, songs that were written in the 'twenties, 'thirties, 'forties,
'fifties and 'sixties are still popular and still hits. When you look at
my album there is no original stuff on here. When people buy a big band
album they want to know most of the songs. For some reason with big bands
it is the standards that people love and they want to hear them over and
over again. This music has traditionally been passed down from generation
to generation. My parents passed it on to me," said Partin.
Partin thinks the popularity
of jazz is also due to the fact it is identified as being very American.
He said, "I think the music reminds us of a time when things were a lot
more simple. It reminds us of a time when we were proud of our governments
and the things that we were doing."
Partin got his start singing
backup for multiple Grammy and Dove Award winner Larnelle Harris from 1990-93.
He first came into contact with the Bo Thorpe Orchestra when a teacher
of Partin's was asked to audition as a singer. The teacher got permission
for Partin to also audition. Partin was chosen over his teacher. He toured
with the band as both a singer and trumpet player for several years before
taking a brief hiatus. Shortly after returning to the band he learned that
Bo Thorpe was planning to sell the orchestra due to his own failing health.
Six years ago on New Year's Eve Thorpe officially handed the reins over
to Partin and then passed away just thirteen days later.
Today, the Rory Partin Band
is not only playing the traditional mainstream venues but has appeared
at several church gigs. It is fair to say that he has made his mark as
a big band leader and singer but more importantly he has done so without
compromising any of his Christian values and beliefs. Rory Partin is truly
an inspiration and role model to all young aspiring musicians.
By Joe Montague, exclusive
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.