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The McKinney Family and Friends gospel group has developed a strong following across the Mid-South as they share their love and faith in Jesus Christ.

Courtesy Photo

The McKinney Family and Friends worship and praise ministry has been keeping a "song in their hearts" and "praise on their lips" for more than a quarter century.

But according to Phillis McKinney, one of the key members of the group, the gospel group's roots date back more than a half century.

The group was formed by McKinney's father, The Rev. Phillip A. McKinney, who was pastor of Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church, and the family's matriarch, Erma McKinney.

"There were nine of us children," said McKinney. "We would sing and perform stair-step. My dad could sing. I used to play piano for my dad. I was his musician. We were all so musically inclined because of my dad. I know that at night, sometimes my dad and I would play and sing to one o'clock in the morning. Nobody else seemed to mind."

The McKinney family was dealt a blow when Reverend McKinney passed away at age 57 in 1970.

"When he died we began calling it the McKinney Family and Friends," said McKinney.

Their mother acted in the role of chief promoter and scheduler and, according to McKinney, insisted the group be punctual when showing up for performances and beginning on time.

It's a tradition that the group continues today, as they enjoy singing engagements as far away as Chicago, Nashville and places in between.

Most of the group are members of the praise team at The Hill Hernando Baptist Church in Hernando.

"Both Pastor Michael O. Minor and Pastor Bartholomew Orr are ambassadors and mentors in our lives," added McKinney.

It's the personal testimony of her devout and steadfast faith in Jesus Christ that is the hallmark of Phillis McKinney's life.

As a longtime postal clerk at the U.S. Post Office in Southaven, McKinney is often that uplifting, smiling face that greets customers from behind the counter.

And a song is always on her lips.

"Even at the post office, if we find out that it's somebody's birthday, we will sing 'Happy Birthday' to our customers," McKinney said. "If they are doing somebody's passport in the back and they see it's their birthday, everybody will come out and sing 'Happy Birthday' to them. I know that doesn't happen too many places."

Known to friends and fans of the gospel group alike as "Country Girl," McKinney said the group has built a devoted following over the years.

"All of us grew up in Hernando, except one that grew up in Arkansas," McKinney said of the group, which consists of Mary Bledsoe, Elsie Miller, Wendy Pate and Shelah Hancock.

"It's just exciting to us to be able to lift up our voices in song and praise God, and know that one day I will be singing with the Heavenly Choir," McKinney said.

McKinney said that through the group's music, they have been able to touch people's lives.

"People come in the post office and tell me they were really blessed by the service," McKinney said. "They love being in the midst of God. It's about God showing up. It's not about us at all. It's about Jesus. We have what we call a warrior line at the post office," she said of fellow believers who are strong in their faith. "It's important that Christ shows up in us and lets His light shine through us. It's all about Jesus."

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

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