Love of singing takes Ironton teen-ager to far-away lands

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 10, 2002

Ironton teenager Elliott Cunningham is basically like any other 15-year-old, except his love of singing will take him all the way to Alaska while touring with The Continentals singing group.

The Continentals, based in Ventura, Calif., are a musical

missionary group that travels the world spreading a religious message through Contemporary Christian music. They are an inter-denominational, non-profit ministry.

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"I’m doing what I love to do," Cunningham said. "To do this, you have to love to sing and be faithful to it. It has to be something you are dedicated to."

Cunningham, a sophomore-to-be at Rose Hill Christian School in Ashland, will leave July 18 and return Aug. 26. He is very excited because he had a great time on tour last year, and this year he will visit Alaska, something he has dreamed about since he was young, he said.

"Ever since he was 10 or 11 he has wanted to go to Alaska," his mother, Nancy Cunningham, said. "He chose to go there over Hawaii."

"At least I know what I’m getting into this year. Last year, I had no idea," Elliott said. "You establish such a good relationship with people on the tour."

Though Elliott got his start when the Continentals came to his church and allowed him to audition, his love for singing developed at a young age.

He started singing in the bathtub as a kid and "I don’t think there is a time he has stopped since," Nancy Cunningham said.

Elliott agrees with his mom.

"There is probably not a day that goes by that I am not singing," he said. "If I am not singing, I am humming."

The support he and his family has received from churches and the community has been great, he said.

The Cunninghams have raised almost $3,000 to finance his trip, but still need to raise money to finance the more than $4,000 trip. For donations or concert information, contact Sharon Baptist Church or Nancy Cunningham.

The Continentals have grown from a single tour in 1967 into Continental Ministries.

The organization now has more than 60 groups touring world-wide, including more than 15,000 people in six age divisions,

performing 1,500 concerts each year.

They have performed in all 50 states as well as 76 countries. International singing groups have been established in many countries including Chile, Germany, Japan, Korea, France and New Zealand.

Cunningham will be touring with the Young Continentals in western-states including Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Alaska.

This group consists of 30 members, ages 12 to 16, and they perform many genres of contemporary Christian music including alternative, rock and rap.

"The Young Continentals program is meant to reach out to other young people," Dean Butler, talent director for the Continentals, said. "We hope to give them the power to live a life of moral integrity.

"Elliott is at a level spiritually and musically we know he can do what we ask. Our main goal is to empower him to reach his fullest potential through Christ."

"We are real proud that, at his age, he can accomplish what he has," his grandmother, Pearl Staton, said. "I think it would be hard for most people."

While his singing ability may carry him to Alaska, his dreams to sing professionally may take him much farther. Michael Caldwell/The Ironton Tribune