Military veterans make a Heavenly Scent through gospel music

// "We are soldier for the Lord..." - Jimmy Oliver

  • Heavenly Scent are (back row, left to right): Jimmy Oliver, Lee Rice and David Dunbar; (front row, left to right): John Rutland and Joe LeGrand. (Photo by David B. Hardt)

In 1995, on a cold, snowy, winter day at a Yakima military training center, Lee Rice was training with his Army unit. Rice loved serving his country, but he had a passion to sing and had always wanted to put together a musical group.

To the rhythmic pounding and rattling of mortars dropping in the distance and the M-4 rifles cracking through the crisp air, Rice used some of his rare downtime to approach David Dunbar, who was nearby weathering the cold. He presented Dunbar, a fellow music lover, with his idea and Dunbar was immediately onboard.

When Rice returned home from his training, he went straight to work looking for other talented vocalists who might want to participate in his gospel singing group. Soon he was joined by three talented men who had also served their country – John E. Rutland, Joseph LeGrand and Jimmy Oliver – and the Heavenly Scent gospel group began to make beautiful music together.

Heavenly Scent is a nationally and internationally renowned group and recent Black Essence Grammy nominee. They’re now making a solid mark on the Tacoma music scene.

“We have a new sound and our own unique style. We are rooted in the vocal and lyrical execution of traditional gospel music. What really separates us from other groups is that we use choreography, the art of creating our moves through the Holy Spirit, to be the best we can be for the Lord,” Rice said.

Dunbar, who acts as first and second tenor, knows that keeping a group together takes work, but he strongly believes his group has deep enough roots to make it.

“One of our strengths in this group is that we are all military veterans. Our cohesion and discipline, which God has given us, is a big reason we are such a great group. If one can’t hit the note, I know someone else can. We are just blessed to have such great cohesion,” said the singing veteran.

The message of Heavenly Scent is very clear, as explained by Joe LeGrand: “Our message to the folks out there is that we want to spread the Word of God through song. We enjoy what we are doing, and what we are conveying is the joy of serving our Lord and Savior.”

Heavenly Scent’s passion, discipline and hard work have paid off for the troops-turned-vocalists, and they have had the opportunity to showcase with Mavis Staples of the Legendary Staple Singers. They have also completed a small tour through the Northwest and were invited to appear as a feature act on the Dr. Bobby Jones Show, airing out of Nashville.

The success of endeavor requires time, effort and financing, and since all of the singers are married, their performances, travels and hours of practice and work represent great sacrifices. “Our family members are very supportive of us and go to a whole lot of our services and shows. We also have a good core of people that follow us, so the support is overwhelming. We are all married men, so when our families are not able to join us at our shows, we are very mindful of what we do and what we say, not only in how we represent ourselves, but also because we represent God,” Rice offered.

Heavenly Scent wants to reach out and touch as many as they can. “We desire to sing to the world and to soldiers of the armed forces, including the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard. We want to share the goodness of God with others through our music. We are soldiers for the Lord – soldiers singing to solders,” said Jimmy Oliver.

Even though they have already enjoyed some great success, Heavenly Scent is currently looking for management to take them to the next level. “We are looking for a manager and a promoter who would be willing to work with a dynamic, powerful group. We are all professional men and veterans with military backgrounds, so if we were blessed with someone to fill those shoes and give us some support and direction, that would be great,” said John E. Rutland.

With more than 60 years of combined military experience under their belts, this veteran group enjoys using their harmonious vocals and lyrics to quicken and refresh the spirits of the audience. Heavenly Scent sings traditional gospel songs to encourage others to hold on until the race has been run, and these are the kinds of songs that appear on their album, “Double Dose.” The members of Heavenly Scent stand by the Word of God, and that is the motivation for their hard work and dedication to the group, as evidenced by one of their favorite scriptures: “I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” (John 9:4, KJV)

To learn more about Heavenly Scent or to schedule them for an appearance at your church or event, visit or call (253) 831-2470.


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