By Sherrie Norris
It has always been considered a “rite of passage” when speakers and musicians are invited to participate at Singing On The Mountain, one of the south east’s premiere summer events.
But, when you are invited back year after year, it becomes part of the family tradition for which the event has been known for nearly a century.
On Sunday, June 23, as hundreds make their way to MacRae Meadows in the shadows of Grandfather Mountain near Linville — often considered “the singing grounds” — many will admit that they return for two good reasons: Michael Combs and The Cockman Family.
According to the folks behind the scenes, these two entertainment headliners truly are among the reasons why Singing on the Mountain continues to draw crowds back, time after time.
“It’s Home” for Michael Combs
Michael Combs has been “ a regular” at Singing On The Mountain since 1995. First invited to sing at the event by the late Tony Greene of The Greenes, who served as master of ceremonies for many years, Combs was an instant favorite and eventually replaced Greene as emcee following Greene’s death. He has missed only a couple of times and only then due to illness, but is greatly anticipating returning to the mountain this coming Sunday.
Combs enjoys interacting with the crowd at Singing On The Mountain and told High Country Press, “These are my people. I love Singing on the Mountain. It’s home to me and we’re all home folks”
Since Combs lives in nearby Ashe County, it really is like being home for him, he added, and gives him a rare opportunity to sing locally.
Combs has a heartwarming testimony, and one that he loves to share, both on and off the stage.
It was after “squandering many years living in the world and nearly destroying my life with drugs and alcohol,” he said, that something — “or someone” wonderful happened in his life.
Combs said he gave his life to Christ on a Monday night during a revival meeting in Jacksonville, Fla. He will never forget that night —February 6, 1989.
Since that time, many things have happened, Combs shared, including the almost immediate ministry of music, with which he said God blessed him.
“I never thought I would be doing what I’ve been doing for the last 30 years,” Combs said. “But now, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else!”
Combs admitted to experiencing “some valleys” during those three decades of traveling on the road, which included four major surgeries, resulting in “a lot of down time off the road.”
He was actually dying from a liver disease, he said, when the Lord rescued him. God not only saved his soul and placed within him a new heart, he described, but God also gave him a new liver, too.
On September 9, 1991, Combs received a liver transplant at The University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Unfortunately, however, the anti-rejection drugs he needed for his new liver destroyed his kidneys.
Still, he didn’t give up, but rather continued traveling part-time through his ministry for more than a year — “giving God all the Glory” that he was able to avoid kidney dialysis while waiting on that new kidney. “Some even thought he was crazy,” said his wife, Denise Combs, when he went into Daywind Recording Studio in Nashville with only 8 percent kidney function to record his 20th album, “I Can Trust Him.”
On January 9, 2017, Combs received “a drastically needed kidney,” Denise described. “And the surgery was a complete success, enabling Michael to continue the call on his life of singing and ministering the Gospel.”
In 2018, Combs returned to full-time ministry after recovering from his kidney transplant. “God has blessed me in an unbelievable way,” he said — his voice and energy level are stronger than before.
Since then, Combs received the 2018 AGM Awards Music Video of the year, “Good Versus Evil.” More recently, he received the 2019 AGM Awards Fan Favorite Artist of the Year. This year, too, he was named Top 10 Nominee for Favorite Soloist with The Singing News fan awards. The Lord has allowed Combs to write and record songs that some call “classics” today — many of which are sung in local churches on any given Sunday.
What an honor, he said, to learn that his songs are sung at numerous gospel music talent competitions, as well as receiving continuous air play on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio and other major radio stations around the country.
Combs said he certainly feels the favor of God upon him and the ministry with which he’s been given.
He is blessed, also, he said, that God continues to open the doors for him and his beautiful wife, Denise, to travel for 30 years (and counting!) to minister together through song and testimony.
“We have been blessed to see hundreds give their hearts to Jesus in our services,” he said. “Three decades of bringing glory to God, our Father.”
Yes, Michael Combs is a favorite at “Singing on The Mountain” and appreciates the Hartley Family allowing him to emcee each year and be part of the event.
When not traveling, Combs enjoys time at home, playing a little golf and spending time with his family, which includes two children and seven grandchildren.
Two Decades and Counting For The Cockman Family
Twenty-three years ago, while filming the George Beverly Shea & Friends UNC-TV Special at Montreat College, Hugh Morton, owner of Grandfather Mountain, came back stage to tell the Cockman Family that he wanted them to sing that year at the annual Singing on the Mountain.
According to family spokesperson John Cockman, Jr., “We accepted the invitation and are greatly anticipating returning once again — our 24th consecutive year to sing for this great event.”
The Cockmans have met a lot of people through the years on the mountain. They consider it a joy meeting members of the Hartley family who now host the singing — along with members of the staff at the Mountain, especially long-time friend and vice president Harris Prevost. “When folks ask me how long the singing lasts, I usually say it starts at 8:30 and goes until it rains,” said John.
The Cockmans will have a tent set up along the edge of the grounds where they love to meet as many people as will stop by during the day. “The fourth Sunday of June each year is marked on our calendar for the Singing. Gospel music, a powerful message presented and friendly people who love the Lord gather in the most beautiful spot in America. What more could we want or need?”
About The Cockman Family Bluegrass Gospel
Since launching their performing career in February of 1988, the Cockman Family has developed the classic family harmonies and youthful flair for which they are well known today.
Their unique bluegrass gospel style, original songs and original arrangements of the old gospel songs have been immensely popular with their audiences. This group’s family ties are strong — and the warmth of that relationship is easily conveyed in their performances.
UNC-TV has featured The Cockman Family on seven one-hour “The Arthur Smith Show: Now & Then” public television specials, “Carolina Christmas,” and “George Beverly Shea & Friends.” The Cockman Family also starred in an hour-long holiday program entitled “A Cockman Family Christmas: Maker of the Stars.” The holiday program was included on the national programming of the American Public Television.
The family performed many shows during three summers at Opryland and Dollywood.
The Cockman Family was awarded the 2011 North Carolina Community Traditions Award, given by the North Carolina Folklore Society. This award recognizes contributions and appreciation of State folk life.
The NC Arts Council chose the Cockman Family for inclusion in its selective NC Touring and Resident Artist Directory. They were also featured as one of the premiere artist showcase groups at the ArtsMarket sponsored by the NC Arts Council.
Among the group’s other accomplishments, The Cockman Family was named one of “The 12 Most Creative Families in America” by USA Today Weekend and American Greetings Cards, and was also awarded the 2011 Bluegrass Gospel Group of the Year by Southern Branch Bluegrass Radio.
The Cockman Family hosts the Murray’s Mill Harvest Bluegrass Festival each year, and for many years, they also have served as host band at Fiddler’s Grove Old Time Festival.
Members of The Cockman Family
Family patriarch, John Cockman, Sr., is a retired high school furniture and cabinet-making teacher of 34 years and is the group’s guitar player. He and his wife Jane are the proud parents of the group members and have 13 beautiful grandchildren. Jane teaches piano at home, which includes lessons with the grandchildren.
Caroline Cockman Fisher is the lead singer for the group and also shares harmony parts with her brothers. She is an avid songwriter with 17 of her original songs having been recorded by the family, four of which were released as singles to radio. Caroline and her husband Kelly have two children. Caroline taught third grade while starting a family, and believes that being a stay at home mom is best for her family. Caroline has been selected as Female Vocalist of the Year and also Songwriter of the Year for PowerGrass Internet Radio. Caroline is also a vocal teacher.
Dr. John Cockman, Jr. is a physics professor at Appalachian State University who sings bass and plays the fiddle in the group. He is also a prolific gospel songwriter. John teaches fiddle around the world on his web site, www.bluegrassdaddy.com. He also teaches a free fiddle workshop in Blowing Rock each Tuesday evening during the summer time. John and wife Jennifer have three daughters, the two older ones having won Yodeling Duo and the Youth Harmony award at the Western Music Association in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Billy Cockman, furniture engineer and licensed contractor, won the 2013-2014, National Banjo Championship in Winfield, Kansas. In addition, he won the 2009 NC state banjo championship and the 2010 South Carolina state banjo championship. Billy sings lead and tenor, plays the banjo and guitar for the group, and has also written many of the group’s original songs. He also teaches banjo. He and his wife Jamie have two children.
David Cockman, a furniture industry manager, is the bass fiddler and sings baritone for the group. David also writes many of The Cockman Family’s original songs. He helps with the emcee work and provides lots of humor for live performances. He and his wife Jessie have three children.
Ben Cockman , full-time stringed instrument instructor, is the guitar and mandolin picker of the family with a special style of picking that adds versatility and depth to the instrumentation. Winner of the 2014-2015 National Guitar Flat Pick Championship in Winfield, he also won the 2012 South Carolina State and West Virginia State Flat Pick Guitar championships, the 2012 Merlefest Flat Pick guitar championship, the 2012 Wayne Henderson Bluegrass Festival Guitar Championship and the 2012 Ossipee Music Festival’s New England Guitar Championship. Ben teaches guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro and bass full time. Ben also teaches the grandchildren their stringed instruments. Ben’s wife, Melissa, plays a big part in the family as a professional photographer. Her website is www.melissacockmanphotography.com. Ben and Melissa have three beautiful daughters.
Make plans now to attend Singing on the Mountain this coming Sunday, June 23, with music beginning around 8:45 a.m. The “singing grounds” are located on US Highway 221, two miles north of Linville and one mile from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Singing on the Mountain Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. To donate to the ongoing success of this historic fellowship event, you can either mail a tax deductible donation to Singing on the Mountain Foundation, Inc., c/o Ken Hartley, 531 Brentwood Road #209, Denver, NC 28037 or email [email protected] All donations are greatly appreciated.
For more information, visit www.singingonthemountain.org.