The members of Chosen Witness have a combined total of over 100 years experience in Southern Gospel Music. The group’s desire is for their enthusiasm for spreading Christ’s message through song to be apparent in their music. Chosen Witness ministers through mostly original material but they also include some traditional favorites as well.
Chosen Witness was formed in 1997 by Mark Jones. Mark had written a song entitled “My Son” and needed someone to sing and record it. So he gathered together some guys that he had been in other groups with to learn the song. Those guys were Neal Champion, Johnny Lesley, Rodney Brazil and Tolbert Essary.
Neal and Mark had played together in a group called The Columbians. Neal played the bass guitar and Mark the piano. They also played with and Neal sang with The Bama Boys. Johnny Lesley and Tobert Essary had sung with Crystal River and Mark was also the piano player for that group. Rodney was the bass singer for The Bama Boys for a few years at about the age of 17 or so.
In 1996, Mark had a singing at his church, Hannah United Methodist, where the song “My Son” was featured. After this singing, Mark, Neal, Johnny and Rodney talked and felt like God was calling them back into the singing ministry, after each had been out of it for a while working in their local churches.
The original group consisted of the following members — Mark Jones-Piano; Neal Champion-Tenor; Rodney Brazil-Baritone; Johnny Lesley-Lead; Loretta Champion-Keyboard and Greg Harrelson as the sound man (a few months later Greg had a little sidekick by the name of Steve Ingram helping him out).
This group of people got together to pray for a name for the group and God gave Loretta the name Chosen Witness and they chose Colossians 3:12-17 as the group verse. After choosing the name, Neal suggested the need for a “theme song” for the group. Mark wrote the song “Chosen Witness“, which became the title song of their debut recording project.
January 1998 the group got their first bass singer, Brandon Porter from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Brandon had recently moved to Birmingham, AL, to attend Deason Divinity School, which is a division of Samford University, preparing for full time ministry. In 1999, Brandon resigned to pursue other ministries.
In 1999, the group saw more changes. Rodney resigned the group to become a full time Pastor in Slocomb, AL (right outside of Dothan) and got married. Scott Bouldin (Neal’s cousin) stepped in to sing Baritone. After a few months, Scott resigned to become Youth Pastor at Kennedy Baptist Church in Kennedy, AL. Loretta Champion (Neal’s wife) began to sing with the group and the sound man, Greg Harrelson, started singing Bass. Greg’s sidekick, Steve Ingram, became the new sound man. Steve also had a sidekick by the name of Daniel Key, who became the soundman after Steve left to get married.
The group saw more changes in 2001 when Johnny Lesley resigned and Johnny Duren joined the group as the new baritone.
It has been said that Chosen Witness is a training ground for Pastors/Preachers/Youth Pastors — Brandon, Rodney, and Scott.
From 2001-2009, the group consisted of Mark Jones-Piano; Neal Champion-Tenor/Lead; Loretta Champion-Ladies’ Part; Johnny Duren, Baritone; and Greg Harrelson- Bass.
In 2010 Gary Spencer became the newest member of the group replacing Johnny Duren at the baritone part. However, Gary’s stay with the group was short and he departed in January of 2011.
As we waited for the right person to joined Chosen Witness and fill the baritone spot Mark “Baritone” Jones stood up from the piano and filled the baritone part on numerous dates.
In January of 2012 Dave Ezell was welcomed as the new Baritone singer for Chosen Witness. Dave brought much experience in southern gospel music including his most recent stay with The Capstone Quartet of Tuscaloosa, AL.
After nearly 17 years of traveling with Chosen Witness, in 2014, Greg Harrelson stepped down as Bass singer. Many friends and many lasting memories were made over the years as Greg shared his voice and his Cajun humor with people.
Randall Southerland joined Chosen Witness, filling the Bass position in 2014. Randall had helped the group out many times in recent years filling in on various dates.
The group has recorded 5 projects with 90% of the material being original songs written within the group. The group continues to travel all over Alabama, Mississippi, and Lousiana to share the gospel through song.
Okay, now here is how we all really know each other and how we are tied together.
We said earlier that Mark, Neal, Johnny Lesley, and Rodney had all sung in other groups with Mark as the piano player.
Rodney and Loretta are brother and sister. Mark is their first cousin. Mark’s Dad, Calvin Jones, and Rodney and Loretta’s Mother, Frances Brazil, are brother and sister.
Neal and Loretta are married to each other, as a result of Loretta being Mark’s cousin! Get Neal to tell you the story sometime about that!
Scott is Neal’s first cousin and also was part of the Bama Boys. And for all of those who ask, Yes, Chris Champion is Neal’s brother!
We met Brandon through Chris, when they both worked at the Solid Gospel Radio Network in Nashville, TN.
Neal, Loretta and Greg met while attending The Cornerstone Church, in Helena, AL.
Neal and Loretta served as Youth Leaders at The Cornerstone Church. During this time, Steve and Daniel (and Daniel’s wife, Renee), were teenagers in the Youth Group at Cornerstone.
Neal and Mark knew Johnny Duren from groups such as “The Songs of Faith” and “The Capstone Quartet”, that Johnny had been a part of.
Neal met Dave when Neal went to a practice of the Capstone Quartet. Neal was going to fill in with them one weekend and Dave was there considering joining Capstone as a fill time member. Dave later did just that so we knew him from his time singing with the Capstone Quartet.
Neal and Loretta met Randall one evening while bowling in a local bowling league. Randall happened to be there as a sub bowler. We soon discovered each others love of southern gospel music and as they say, the rest is history.
We hope you got all of this! If not, then read it again and this time very, very slow!