The First Family of Bluegrass Gospel

The Lewis Family is known for their distinctive sound emphasized by the often hilariously blazing banjo virtuoso Little Roy Lewis.
Another characteristic is the enormous bass drum, accompanied by the phenomenal vocal harmonies by the Lewis daughters who were always identically dressed.

For several decades, the Lewis Family dominated the Georgia bluegrass festival scene, and the band was nothing less than a Georgia musical institution.

It is for good reasons that their name of the “First Family of Bluegrass Gospel” got its way. Roy “Pop” Lewis actually was using a ladder in 1925 to help Pauline Holloway, “Mom” Lewis at age just 15 escape her family home to go to McCormick, South Carolina.

By the end of the 1940s, “Pop” and “Mom” Lewis, together with four of their children (their has eight children in total), formed a singing group named “The Lewis Family”, and in 1951, they performed at a “Woodmen of the World” festival.

That same year, they recorded their first songs with the Sullivan label, a relatively small and insignificant label, but by the end of 1957, the group made recordings with the much bigger Starday label.

The Lewis Family’s music was heavily influenced by the Chuckwagon Gang who played and sang a sort of unique gospel quartet vocal harmonies. Another major influential factor was Martha Carson’s big-beat gospel music. The sound and shows of the Lewis Family, though, had their unique and distinctive and famous nature right from the start.

From 1954 on, the Lewis Family started their weekly appearances on an Augusta, Georgia, television show near Lincolnton, the hometown of the band. These television shows were very popular and continued through 1991.

The group recorded some 60 fine albums for various labels, and their live performances also had a very durable consistency. The band released recordings on Canaan, Starday, Daywind, and Riverson labels, but the musical style and sound never changed dramatically over the years.

All through the 1990s, The Lewis Family was performing some two hundred shows every year. They gave great shows at several important Southern gospel festivals like the annual Albert E. Brumley Memorial Singing event in Springdale, Arkansas, and at numerous bluegrass festivals all across America.

The shows of the band were marked by stage razzle-dazzle and cornball humor, accompanied by a profound gospel message. The Lewis Family was giving a unique and musically impressive view of the traveling family band’s musical history.

The group was operating in a style that was a little off the traditional mainstream bluegrass path, however, Little Roy Lewis is widely recognized as being among the nation’s best five-string banjo masters in the bluegrass world. He is unmatched for his unbelievable speed on the banjo’s fretboard.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the Lewis daughters Polly, Janis, and Miggie joined the singing family gradually while a few of their brothers quit the band to pursue their business careers. The vocal harmonies of these sisters actually anchor quite a few of the Lewis Family’s characteristic songs,  and in more recent years, a new third generation of musicians within the Lewis Family took over the musical stage.

Several of The Lewis Family’s members are highly talented vocalists that play multiple instruments. The group used to play a number of upbeat numbers, such as The Good Time Get Together, songs structured in a way that multiple musicians can play various virtuoso solos on a number of instruments, and at times they included novelties like an autoharp.

The Lewis Family’s repertoire is a mixture of a great number of traditional pieces combined with unique compositions and songs written by Georgia musicians. Special attention should be attributed to the fine works of Randall Hylton, a famed bluegrass songwriter.

Until a few years ago, the Lewis Family was hosting their own annual bluegrass event in Lincolnton: the Lewis Family Homecoming and Bluegrass Festival. In 1992, the Lewis Family were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the group has won several impressive Dove awards.