It didn’t really generate many headlines, but former Kingdom Heirs front man Steve French died June 22 in a double-suicide in West Virginia. Authorities say he and his girlfriend, Lindsey Hudson, 29, were on the run from police when they jumped to their deaths from a bridge over the New River Gorge.
It was his relationship with Hudson that led to his departure from the band he founded and managed for more than 30 years.
The Kingdom Heirs have been a resident Southern Gospel band at Pigeon Forge’s Dollywood theme park since the park’s inception (it was formerly Silver Dollar City). Steve French founded the band with his brother, Kreis French, who still plays guitar for the group, in 1981. He sang baritone with the group and served as emcee until unexpectedly announcing that he was retiring in December 2014.
It didn’t take long, of course, for news to emerge that French had left his wife of 33 years and was in a relationship with Hudson, who reportedly also worked at Dollywood.
Exactly what happened between that time and when Sevier County authorities issued capias warrants for the couple’s arrests — presumably for failing to appear in court — has been kept out of the public eye. But a post about French’s retirement on this blog back in 2014 generated considerable comments from people who hinted that French and Hudson were engaged in unlawful activities. Those comments did not appear on the blog, because I refuse to approve comments that levy serious accusations against someone without proof. Eventually, comments on the post were closed. None of those commenting ever specified exactly what it was that French and his new fiance were supposed to have done.
In any event, it’s a disappointing end for what was in many ways the glue that held together what I’ve long considered to be the best quartet in Southern Gospel music.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom Heirs continue to perform at Dollywood during much of the year, and tour during the off-season. Lead singer Arthur Rice, who has been with the group since 1995 and is currently president of the Southern Gospel Music Association, has long seemed to set the tone and direction for the group. He seems sincere, in addition to being one of the most talented lead singers in Southern Gospel music.