A pair of Midwest contractors are taking “whistle while you work” to heart.
Aaron Gray and Josh Arnett both grew up singing in Southern gospel groups and wound up working construction as adults. When a video of them singing “How Great Thou Art” in 2015 on a job site went viral, the duo returned to their musical roots. Known as the Singing Contractors, Gray and Arnett’s aptly titled album debut, Workin’ on a Building: Hymns and Gospel Classics, comes out Friday on Gaither Music Group.
“I believe the album shows that we are just two simple guys and very raw, but thankful to have such an unbelievable opportunity,” Gray tells Billboard.
Arnett adds, “The Gaither label knows what we stand for and does a great job showing it. … From the look of our stage setup, to the type of country and gospel music, a cappella renditions and interviews we do, hopefully allows people to see our personality and see us for who we really are.”
The son of a preacher, Gray grew up in Charleston, Ill., and his family band traveled extensively, singing at churches and revivals. Arnett, a married 43-year-old father of four, was born and raised in Anderson, Ind., and also grew up traveling and singing with his family. Arnett and Gray first met in their teens while performing with their families, and later reconnected after Gray moved to Indiana.
“Six or seven years ago, we started subcontracting off the same guy, and that’s how this all started,” says Arnett. “We’d get on a job site and we’d be alone in the house and we’d strike up a tune. Then one day Aaron said, ‘Hey man, we need to record this on video and put it on Facebook.’ We did it for fun. We did it joking around, but people would write messages and say, ‘Hey we want to hear more from the Singing Contractors.’” The name stuck.
It didn’t take long for media to take notice. An Indianapolis television station came to a job site to film them sawing and singing for a local news piece, and a week later they got an email from Fox & Friends wanting to fly them to New York to appear on the show.
“They said, ‘We would love to interview you. We love your song and were wondering if you could jump on a plane and come to New York,’” recalls Gray, a married 42-year-old father of three. “I was like, ‘Uh, well, I don’t fly,’ but we flew anyway and just had an unbelievable time! We were able to sing ‘How Great Thou Art’ on live TV and that was really cool. Then things just kept on happening.”
When they returned home, they began selling T-shirts to raise money to record an album. Fans rallied behind the hard-working duo and they soon had enough money to record an independent project. “From that point on, we felt it was our duty and we felt like the calling was to keep pursuing every door that God has opened,” Arnett says. “We felt like the call was to do as much as we could, but at the same time we had to keep working contracting to pay our bills.”
It was their musical talent not their carpentry skills that caught the attention of Paul Sizelove, president of Gaither Music Group. “We met Paul at Cracker Barrel and he told us what he wanted to do,” says Gray. “We fell in love with Paul and felt comfortable with him. We thought, ‘Man, let’s do it!’ And here we are.”
In addition to the album, the Singing Contractors also have a DVD hosted by Bill Gaither. “Getting to record with Gaither and be able to interact with Bill and Gloria [Gaither] has been super fun and exciting,” says Gray.
The album has a country flavor on such songs as the Kris Kristofferson classic “Why Me Lord?” and also pays homage to the duo’s Southern Gospel roots on the classic title track and on “He Saw Not What I Was, He Saw What I Could Be,” a song Gray grew up singing with his brother and sister.
The future finds the Singing Contractors caught between two worlds. “We would love to sing more and work less,” admits Arnett. “We still work every day subcontracting to pay the bills and have the flexibility to take off when we choose to go sing and meet people.”
Their day job has helped prepare them for their new career, Gray says. “Being in construction has definitely prepped us for hard work, because the music side of things is not easy. It is a lot of work.”
But the rewards are also sweet and the duo enjoys getting to sing for larger audiences and spread their positive message. “I hope people see through this project that there is hope and forgiveness for past mistakes and that God is merciful to anyone,” Arnett says.