Willie Neal "The Country Boy" Johnson hails from and still resides in Texas, Tyler and also from one big musical family. He is the eldest of six children (3 boys and 3 girls) and says that his mother always had them singing in one church or another. Rev. C.W. Jackson recognized Willie's talent and extended the offer for Willie to join his group, The Five Ways of Joy Gospel Singers. He accepted and thus the professional career of Willie Neal Johnson began while he was yet in his teens.
After a few years, Willie approached some of his hometown pals and convinced them to join him in forming a new group, Willie Neal Johnson and the Gospel Keynotes. The original members were: Ralph McGee, Rev. J.D. Talley, Charles Bailey, John Jackson, Lonzo Jackson, and Archie B. McGee. The newly formed Gospel Keynotes repidly became one of the standout gospel groups in their area and soon got their first big break - an introduction to Mr. Ernie Young, President of Nashboro Records. This meeting resulted in the group being signed to the Nashville based gospel record label and having their first taste of success with a national hit record, "Show Me The Way". During this association, more than 20 albums and many gospel singers were recorded.
Over the years, personnel changes would occur and the following members of the Gospel Keynotes at one time: Larry McGowan, Paul Beasley, and Donny Timmons.
After Nashboro Reocrds shut its doors and ceased to function, Willie Neal Johnson and the Gospel Keynotes signed with Malaco Records in Jackson, Ms in 1985. With Malaco, the group has undergone another personnel change as well as a name change. They are now known as Willie Neal Johnson and the New Keynotes. Members are: Robert Williams (from the Gospel Keynotes), LaManuel Boykin, Maurice Morgan, David Talley, Sheldon Talley, Kenneth Talley and Teddy Cross (also from the Gospel Keynotes).
Under the direction and leadership of Willie Neal Johnson, who's commonly referred to as "the country boy", the New Keynotes are a combination of gospel talents and styles fused and blended into an explosive high energy, electrifying performance group. They can stir up emotions the moment they step on stage to perform!
Their selection of materials and the manner in which they present their songs in a performance is like a good old fashoined, foot stompin', hand clapping, tear streaming revival, lead by a soul stirring, aisle walking preacher, singing and shouting and dispensing the gospel in a soul saving manner.
Since signing with Malaco, Willie Neal and the Keynotes hace recorded seven albums, each of which successively propelled the group to new heights. They are now one of gospel's premier traditional quartets who have set new standards for the genre.
After having helped to introduce the "Choirtet" concept to the masses with "I'm Yours, Lord" which features the Misissippi Mass Choir, Willie Neal and the New Keynotes have found a niche that has not only increased their support in the quartet arena, but brought them new fans as well.
The current release, "Lord, Take Us Through", with special guest Evangelist Dorothy Norwood, hit Billboard's Top 25 and is a testament to the "cross-over" appeal that the group has garnered so much attention in the music industry.