Honoring the legends of gospel music

I have enjoyed the honor of working for many years to spread the news about the wonderful work accomplished by the Southern Gospel Music Association to honor those who have innovated and made strides in Southern gospel music.

This year at the induction ceremonies in Dollywood held in conjunction with the Singing News Fan Awards, there were six inductions.

Two of the inductees had a tremendous impact on my life and music and I was thrilled to see them honored.
Both are from the Lewis Family of Lincolnton, Ga. Polly Lewis Williamson Copsey and Little Roy Lewis.

SGMA executive director Charlie Waller said that the Lewis Family began appearing on their own regular television show airing from Augusta’s WJBF-TV in 1954.

Waller said Polly was honored five times as the winner of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music Association’s Traditional Female Vocalist award and twice she walked away with the organization’s Overall Female Vocalist honors.

“As a member of the talented Lewis Family, Polly was performing regularly by the early 1960s — ultimately establishing the singing side of the Lewis performances alongside sisters Miggie and Janis,” he said. “As a traveling member of the family, Polly performed at some of the most prestigious venues in the country, including the Lincoln Center in New York, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

“Polly provided a stabilizing force on stage — somehow managing to return an audience to sanity amidst the frequent comic antics of younger brother “Little Roy,” he said. “Her voice became perhaps the most recognizable of the talented Lewises and she was featured on some of the family’s best-known recordings, including “Slippers with Wings” and “Hallelujah Turnpike.”
“Her constant smile and grace onstage remains etched in the memory of Southern Gospel fans across the nation,” he said.
Her daughter Sheri Easter, son Scott Williamson, granddaughter Morgan Easter, and son-in-law Jeff Easter appeared on stage to accept her induction from Hall of Famer Little Jan Buckner-Goff.

“I am so grateful for the timeliness of this,” Sheri said. “Momma is completely bedridden at this point. But when we go every night to put her to bed and make her comfortable, we tell her stories. We told her a few months ago that she was going to be inducted in the SGMA Hall of Fame, and she did exactly like she always did. She was very humble, she was very grateful, she nodded and she shed a tear.

As a singing ensemble, the Lewis Family dates to the late 1940s, when Mom and Pop Lewis began performing with four of their children, Waller said.

“In 1951, when brother Esley entered the US Army, Little Roy at the age of nine became a regular performing member — ultimately appearing on all of the Family’s musical recordings beginning with the first on the little-known Hollywood label in 1951,” he said. “Roy Lewis was the youngest of the eight children born to the Lewis Family of Lincolnton, Georgia.
“Especially gifted within a family known for its gift of mastering stringed instruments, Little Roy began playing banjo by the age of six — winning a local talent contest just two short years later,” Waller said. “In time, he became the most visible of the many Lewises — often dominating the stage with lightning speed on the banjo as well as his own comedic genius.”

Waller added that though the Lewis family ended its regular appearance schedule in 2009, Little Roy continues today to take the stage with Lizzy Long as “The Little Roy and Lizzy Show.”

Little Roy Lewis accepted his induction from SGMA Hall of Fame member Connie Hopper.

“This is the neatest honor that I have ever had in my life,” he said. “You just don’t know how I feel to be looking at some of the people that I have known. I walk through the Hall of Fame a while ago and seen the people on the wall and I recall names from all those years back.”

In classic style Little Roy jokes about being uncomfortable in a coat, takes it off and hands it to Hopper.

“I am so honored and it all started at our church in Lincolnton, Ga. at Hephzibah Baptist Church,” he said. “There use to be a group – the Happy Goodman Family  …. They came to our church in the early 1950s and Rusty told us that Wally and Ed Fowler has got a big gospel singing at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta. And they would like for us to come down and sing for them.

“When I got down there, J.D. Sumner put me up in a chair,” he said. “That was the biggest honor. People like that is the reason I am here today.”

The other members of the 2013 SGMA Hall of Fame class of inductees are In the living category are Duane Nicholson of the Couriers and Tim Riley of Gold City; the late John T. Benson, Jr. and the late Thomas A. Dorsey.

Country Music entertainer and TV star Louise Mandrell received the James D. Vaughn Impact Award at the event.

The Southern Gospel Music Association is a non-profit organization that maintains the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame, the only facility honoring this genre of music, for the historic preservation of the accomplishments of the music and its people. Museum hours match those of Dollywood. Donations are tax-deductible. Individuals and businesses may donate to assist with honoring inductees with special bronze plaques that are displayed in the Hall of Fame. For more information about the museum or its inductees, visit www.sgma.org.