Friends told him he should sing country, but he had grown up surrounded by gospel music.
Now, three years after recording an album of country gospel music, a man who celebrates “God, country and family” has been recognized by the International Country Gospel Music Association as male vocalist of the year.
“I’m able to take patriot, country gospel songs where they’ve never been,” said Mike Leichner, 63.
The senior pastor of the Ark Church in Maize, Leichner wants his music to send positive messages, especially to his fellow veterans. Leichner was in the Marines from 1971-74, something that deeply impacts his music.
While watching the news, Leichner saw a report about a young man dragging and stomping on a flag. The person was confronted by a veteran, who told him that she had seen people die for the flag.
“That right there is a songwriter’s inspiration,” Leichner said. “In respect, that’s right up next to the cross. You don’t run down the cross, you don’t run down the flag.”
Leichner wrote “Don’t Bring the Country Out in Me” partly inspired by that news report. The song talks about “American country, where we believe in the 10 Commandments,” Leichner said.
Leichner, who is from Wichita, grew up touring the country with his family, the “Singing Ledbetters.” In the 1980s and 90s he toured with his brothers, playing guitar. Yet it wasn’t until 2015 that his personal music career took off when “House of Good News,” a “bluesy, southern rock country song,” went to #1 on Cashbox Magazine’s Christian Country Gospel Chart. Since then he’s recorded other music that has also done well and recently released the CD “American Made.”
A pastor for 28 years, Leichner tries to be gone from his nondenominational church no more than one Sunday each month. His travel has increased since winning the award, however, with churches, veterans’ organizations and others asking him to visit. He doesn’t charge when he performs at veterans’ events.
Ultimately, he wants to have concerts on military bases.
“Just to bring a little joy and happiness sometimes where there is none and (to) those who have served us, put their life on the line, that’s the greatest joy there is,” Leichner said. “My real dream is to be a real strength and help to our fighting men and women.”
Dee Leichner, Leichner’s wife, said she was “awestruck” when Leichner was named male vocalist of the year. The couple just sat there, hardly realizing what had happened, she said.
When people ask him who he is, Leichner tells them, “I’m a pastor in Wichita.”
The award sitting on his mantle is still “pretty unbelievable,” he said.
Leichner’s music is available online at www.mikeleichner.com. His website also lists upcoming events, including a September event in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and an October event in Liberal, Kansas. Leichner also sings regularly at his church at 5501 N. Maize Road in Maize.