Gospel flows from New River

Pam Griffin
The New River Quartet, (from left) Kim Cannon, Jim Liufau, Steve Banks and Ken Spivey, will perform at the Annual Winterfest Concert at 3 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Life Center at Destin United Methodist Church, 200 Beach Drive. ONE, a small mixed group, and Kim Cannon, soloist, will also perform. Admission is free.

The New River quartet loves to sing.

“We are really a Southern Gospel quartet that sings a lot of Gaither Vocal Band songs,” the Rev. Kim Cannon, a group member, told The Log. “We love the Lord and love to sing the Gospel of Christ.”

The name New River, Cannon said, came from someone who wore a shirt from the New River clothing company.

“The guys were singing ‘There is a River’ and thought New River would be a great name. They considered Old Stream but thought that New River was a little more positive.”

The group began around 1994 with four men from Destin United Methodist Church — Reed Sampson, Gary Alden, Steve Banks and Jim Liufau.

“Reed was big with barbershop chorus and quartets,” Liufau told The Log. “He also directed the group, and ultimately relocated to Wisconsin to work for the barbershop international organization. He was retired from the Air Force and was a writer for The Log.”

Alden, according to Liufau, was also retired military and served as a mayor of Destin. He relocated with his wife to Sedona, Ariz.

“Steve is a principal and founding owner of TSA Consulting Group providing consulting services to public school districts nationwide,” Liufau said. “I’m just your friendly neighborhood State Farm agent.”

Group dynamics began to change, and Paul Whittlesey replaced Alden.

“Paul and Reed sang together in the barbershop chorus and Paul ultimately took over as director for the barbershop organization,” Liufau said. “He was and is very active with Niceville UMC and their music program.”

When Sampson left the group, Ray Navitsky replaced him.

“When I was chamber president we hired Ray as our chamber director,” Liufau said. “He had been a longtime member of a mixed quartet when he was in Stuart. I believe his quartet consisted of two men and two women. Ray, now retired, lives in the Villages.”

After Navitsky left, the group was inactive for some time, although Navitsky would return from time to time for performances at the Sounds of the Season in the mid-2000s.

“When Kim Cannon came on board in 2006, Steve Banks mentioned the group’s existence,” Liufau said. “Ken was recruited as our bass — and voila. New River renewed!”

Members now are Liufau, lead singer and Destin resident for 28 years and actively involved in ministries at Destin UMC; Banks, tenor with the group since the beginning; Ken Spivey, bass, an ordained Methodist minister who has pastored, led music, and played piano; and Cannon, baritone beginning his eighth year as minister of music and worship at DUMC and solo artist with four CDs released.

New River is a favorite of the Destin Snowbird Club and the Walton County Snowbirds and has sung at services at DUMC and at retreats and special events. Other performances have been at Manor at Bluewater Bay, worship services at Grace Lutheran and a lighting ceremony of the Destin Christmas tree. The group also opened in 2011 for Mark Lowery at Village Baptist.