GOGR Music History - The LeFevres
"The South's Most Colorful Singers and Musicians" were the words many used
to describe the LeFevres for many years, and what an apt description it is!
The LeFevre family brought a sparkling array of instrumentation and excitement to the gospel music stage that has never been equaled.
Urias and Alphus LeFevre began their music careers in 1921 joined by their sister, Maude. These children from Smithville, Tennessee began singing country tunes, but soon changed their style toward Pentecostal-influenced gospel music. They traveled the area performing at local church services. The talents of these young children continued to flourish. Maude got married in the mid 20s, and their sister Peggy joined the boys for a short time. The skills of Alphus and Urias didn't escape the notice of others, and soon they were employed by WSM radio as staff musicians.
The LeFevre brothers continued to perform together after their sisters had left the group to pursue family interests. Both Urias and Alphus attended the Church of God Bible Training School at Lee College in Cleveland, Tennessee. Here, they established many friendships that would affect their singing career through the years.
Several school quartets were formed with the LeFevre brothers as integral members. Other singers affiliating themselves with Urias and Alphus during these years included Johnny Yates, B.C. Robinson, and James McCoy.
Wedding bells in 1937 changed the makeup of the LeFevres in a very dramatic way when Urias LeFevre married Eva Mae Whittington. Eva Mae was the 17-year-old daughter of Rev. H.L. Whittington, a Church of God minister. Urias had met Eva Mae several years earlier at Rev. Whittington's church and proclaimed to his brother Alphus that he'd met his future wife that evening. Eva Mae was only eight years old at the time! Divine providence, wouldn't you say?
Eva Mae was a very talented pianist and organist who had learned to play by ear while working in her father's ministry. Not only could she play the piano, but she had a wonderful alto voice and an effervescence personality that made her a natural for the gospel music stage. Urias, Alphus, and Eva Mae soon became the LeFevre Trio, and they performed together for more than forty years. Eva Mae's distinctive piano style became the foundation for the unique sound of the LeFevre Trio. In a world that was dominated by male groups, Eva Mae's presence brought a wonderful change to the gospel music field.
The gospel music industry had never seen a group with such an outstanding female member. The ultraconservative Church of God had a difficult time accepting Eva Mae's makeup, hair style, and jewelry. Eva Mae was a trendsetter as the first female emcee in gospel music. She thrived in the spotlight, and the group continued to grow in popularity.
The LeFevres were affiliated with the Vaughan Music Company for a short time, but soon branched out on their own as they regularly performed for camp meetings and revivals across the south, often in conjunction with the preaching of Rev. Whittington. Their popularity soon garnered them a Sunday morning spot on WGST radio in Atlanta where their fame continued to spread.
Times were not always good for the LeFevres. They moved to Charleston, S.C.
in 1937. The depression was in full swing. The group sought a sponsorship agreement to remain on radio in order to make ends meet. The only firm that
offered to sponsor them was Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. As bad as they needed the money, they turned down the offer.
The NuGrape and Orange Crush Soft Drink Company soon sponsored the LeFevres. Under their sponsorship agreement, they recorded numerous transcription discs that were distributed throughout the South. In some circles, they became known as the Suncrest Trio.
When the LeFevres moved to Atlanta, Ga. in 1939, gospel music as we know it was in its infancy and professional groups were unheard of. It wasn't long before the people in the South knew all about the LeFevres. They were noted to be the first full time group to operate out of Atlanta, Georgia. At that time, most of their energies were in church work and not on the concert stage.
When World War II began in 1941, both Urias and Alphus were called into the armed forces. Eva Mae continued to carry on the name of the LeFevre Trio with other members including Jim Waits, Jimmy Kirby, and Connor Hall. The Church of God connection between the LeFevres and Homeland Harmony Quartet was invaluable during the war years. Eva Mae played the piano for the Homeland Harmony Quartet, and several members of the Homeland Harmony also spent time with the LeFevres. Upon his return from the service, Alf left the group for a short time to sing with the Stamps Quartet, but that was short lived. He was a LeFevre at heart, and that's where he belonged.
After the brothers returned from the war, the LeFevres began to make many inroads in the gospel music field. They began a long-standing career with Bibletone Records, recording more than one hundred songs for that label. As gospel music changed, the LeFevres added many different musicians to the group, but the core of the LeFevre Trio remained constant. During this time, Urias and Eva Mae had five children, so a few breaks from the road were inevitable. Other "adopted" LeFevres during this time included gospel greats such as Hovie Lister, Jim Waits, Troy Lumpkin, Johnny Atkinson, Bob Prather, Bob Robinson, Bill Huie, Earl Terry, Doug Prater, and others.
The LeFevres left Atlanta for a short time in the mid-50s to work with evangelist Thea Jones. Jones was a Church of God minister who founded his own church in Philadelphia. The LeFevres became a part of his ministry, regularly performing in this large church that nearly covered nearly an entire block of downtown Philadelphia. Eva Mae left the group for a short time to become a full time mother. Urias and Alphus continue to perform as a male quartet with Bill Huie and Bob Robinson. Robinson had an uncanny ability to play the piano in the "Eva Mae style," so the group continued to flourish.
In May 1957 the LeFevres moved back to Atlanta from Philadelphia and Jimmy Jones joined the group as bass singer. A few months later, Rex Nelon joined the group as bass singer and Jimmy moved up to the baritone position. The LeFevres continued to perfect their stage show, and the instrumental skills of the members added versatility to the program. The LeFevre Trio with Jimmy and Rex became one of the finest acts on the gospel music circuit. They took advantage of the "dual bass singers" and often featured them in a dual role on songs such as "Hide Me Rock of Ages" and "Wait Upon the Lord."
Pierce LeFevre, eldest son of Urias and Eva Mae, joined the LeFevres January 1, 1959. He added a youthful exuberance to the group. Pierce was a fine singer, and an excellent trumpeteer. The group could perform as a duet, a trio, a quartet, a quintet, a male quartet, a mixed quartet . . . the variations were endless. The LeFevres has always been good instrumentalists, but the addition of Pierce added a new dimension to the group. Instrumentals became a focus of the LeFevre program. They regularly included the accordion, violin (or "fiddle" depending on the song!), trumpet, bass, guitar, and of course piano in their programs. Occasionally two of the other LeFevre children, Meurice and Andrea, would join the group adding the trombone and saxophone to the family instrumentals.
As the years went by, Pierce took a more active role in the LeFevre's concert appearances, often sharing the emcee role with his mother. Pierce was a very outspoken individual, and had a tendency to think "outside of the box." His ideas and insight helped to further the career of the LeFevres.
Shortly after Pierce joined the group, Rex Nelon left for a short time and
Jimmy Jones returned to the bass part, but Rex returned just a few short months later. One of the most memorable aggregations of the LeFevres
included the trio, Pierce, Jimmy Jones, and Rex Nelon. This particular group remained intact for many years and made many contributions to the
gospel music industry. They were also quite prolific in the recording studio, becoming one of the leading artists on Sing Records.
The 1960s were very kind to the LeFevres. Their youngest son, Mylon, wrote the song "Without Him." Not only did it became a staple of their performances, but nearly every group in gospel music recorded the song. Mylon performed with the group on a limited basis as a youngster, and later joined the group on a full time basis. The LeFevres soon gained a younger audience due in part to Mylon's influence.
Through the years, there were highs and lows in their career, but the LeFevres essentially built a gospel music empire. The group was on the cutting edge of gospel music. They had one of the finest sound systems in the business and were second to none with their instrumental talents. They joined forces with the Johnson Sisters, Prophets Quartet, and Blue Ridge Quartet to form the Gospel Singing Caravan.
The Caravan was a great concert package, and also became one of gospel music's largest syndicated television programs. After the Caravan disbanded, the LeFevres produced "The LeFevre Family Show" which was one of the first gospel music programs produced in living color. Jerry Goff, who was then married to Andrea LeFevre, was the producer of the show and often performed with the family. The LeFevres later joined forces with the Speer Family in yet another television venture.
The LeFevres were owners in the Sing Music Company. This became one of the largest recording companies in gospel music. The LeFevres had one of the first twenty-four track recording studios. Meurice LeFevre, second son of Urias and Eva Mae, was instrumental in the Sing Music Company both as businessman and producer. Members of the LeFevre family wore many hats in this company. The LeFevres remained in the upper echelon of gospel music for many years. This is due in part to their ability to become trend-setters in all aspects of gospel music.
Pierce left the group in late 1971 and some new LeFevres were hired to carry on the LeFevre tradition. Many great performers took the stage with the LeFevres in the 1970s. Ron and Barbara Daily were the first to join the group and were followed by many other musicians including Sharon and Teresa McNeill, "Little" Rex Foster, Ronnie Hutchens, Barbara Hodge, Rodney Swain, Janet Pascal, Kelly Nelon among others.
Age and the sting of death began to take its toll on the LeFevres in the 70s. Pierce had left in 1971 followed a few years later by his father's retirement. In the later 70s, Alphus and Eva Mae retired from the group and left the group in the able hands of long time bass singer Rex Nelon. Since there were no other LeFevres remaining in the group, he changed the name of the group to the "Rex Nelon Singers" and later shortened it to "The Nelons."
Urias LeFevre retired from the road in 1973 and passed away in 1979. Pierce died in a private airplane crash in 1985. A version of the LeFevre Trio performed at the first Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 1988. That group consisted of Eva Mae, Alphus, and Jimmy Jones. The trio was a crowd favorite that year. This writer was most impressed with Uncle Alf's clear, beautiful tenor voice. It sounded no different from it did the last time I'd heard him 15 years earlier. Only a couple months later, Uncle Alf passed away.
Alphus LeFevre was one of the most talented instrumentalists in gospel music, and his clear tenor voice was unsurpassed. He was a gentle person with a sweet spirit. Uncle Alphus also wrote all the arrangements for the LeFevres. Unlike many of the groups of the day, each of the LeFevre unique arrangements were written out for them in four or five part harmony. This made their style and harmony uniquely their own.
Through the years their son, Mylon, battled his personal demons, but he now has his own dynamic ministry. You can check out his ministry at
www.mylon.org. Meurice is an Atlanta area businessman. Andrea passed away a few years ago. The LeFevre's youngest child, Monteia, was severely
disabled at birth. She still lives in the Atlanta area.
The lone remaining member of the trio, Eva Mae LeFevre, has continued to press on in the service of God. This 1997 inductee in the SGMA Hall of Fame continues to sing with the exuberance gained from a lifetime of singing the gospel. Eva Mae was the subject of "This Is Your Life" at the 1998 GOGR and also a recipient of the GOGR Living Legend Award . Eva Mae and another former LeFevre alumnus, Jimmy Jones, are always crowd favorites at the GOGR.
After a period of retirement following her husband's death, the reigning Queen of Gospel Music again began performing on a limited basis with Keith Thorton. After Keith's untimely death, Mark Fuller joined Eva Mae as her pianist. They continue to perform as Eva Mae tells her stories and sings her songs in the style she has embodied her entire life.
The LeFevres have always stood for excellence in gospel music. Evidence of that is the fact that eight members of the extended LeFevre family are members of the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. They were survivors. They overcame the stock market crash of 1929, the Depression, World War II, family problems, church disassociation, and industry jealousy with a profound faith in God and a desire to sing the gospel. For nearly sixty years, they followed the advice of one of their earliest albums, "Sing and Be Happy," and the world of gospel music has reaped the benefits.
We would like to get in touch with Jimmy Jones. This would be for an article entitled "Whatever Happened to ...Jimmy Jones?" for The US Gospel News. Please advise. Thanks
John, You did a GREAT job on this history lesson. You know how much a LeFevre fan I am. There was only one thing I could add. Patricia (Pat) Cates Moore was the first woman to ever sing with the LeFevres beside Eva Mae. She was only with the LeFevres for about six months. She actually joined the group in 1971 and sang with the group while Pierce was still in the group as well. However, after she left the road she worked in the LeFevres office. Pat was not on any recordings. I was born in 1961 and fell in love with the LeFevres' music at an early age. It was a life long dream of mine to play the piano (Eva Mae style) with the LeFevres. It is an honor now to be playing and working with Eva Mae. By the way, Eva Mae and myself are about to release a new CD. A lifelong dream of mine.
Are there any sound tracks available for the Lefevres available?
In 1969 I recorded "Color Him Father" and several other songs with my group The Winstons at LeFevre's Studio in Atlanta.Is there a chance that I can get copies of my recording sessions there?Thanks
I never expected to see my name ever mentioned in the Lefevre History. I was shocked that it was there on the page! It was a short 6 to 8 months with them, but I will never forget the time with the Lefevres. God has changed my life in so many ways now, I live in Tennessee and I am married to a Nazarene pastor, I am the music director of the church in Paris, Tn and also teach private piano and vocals. Thanks to someone for including me in the history. I did most of the saprano vocals on " Now and Always" Thanks, Barbara "Hodge" Roach
I moved to Atlanta, GA in 1990 as a Minister of Music and became acquainted with Eva Mae LeFevre when she came to our church. My brother's favorite song that the LeFevres did was the old trio number entitled "When the Gates Swing Open". It was a dream of his to be able to sing that one song with Eva Mae. You see he thought he sounded like Uncle Alphus and to a certain extent he does. I asked Eva Mae if that would be possible. This dear lady not only said that it would, she invited my brother and myself and my parents over to her house to fulfill my brothers dream. We expected to be there for just a 1/2 hour or so at the most. However,for the next 4 hours we sat around her piano and sang every LeFevre trio song she could think of along with her daughter Andrea. It was an afternoon that our family will never forget and I give Eva Mae the credit for turning my brother's life around when he was going through some really tough times. Today my brother has written over 100 gospel songs and in conversation he will frequently reminisce of the day that we "sang with Eva Mae."
I've been married to Eva Mae's #2 son, Meurice for 25 memorable years. He is the light of my life and the spitting image of his "Mama", full of energy and a laugh a minute. Sorry girls, I'm keeping him. Oh yes, I love Eva Mae dearly.they broke the mold when God made her.
I became familiar with Eva Mae and the lefevres in the 1940s and was always fascinated with Eva Maes piano playing and her beautiful voice. When moving to Atlanta, I went to the Hemphill Ave. Church of God where her father preached and they were there and sang a lot. What a wonderful group they were. Myfavorite of all the groups
Alphus came to my church in a van with several young people. They sang and really blessed our church. This was in the late 1970s/1980s. It was at the Rose Hill Road Church of God in Reynoldsburg, OH.
Almost 40 years ago I listened to the LeFevres at a Baptist church in Illinois. As a child I listened to records we bought at the concerts over and over. Today Baptist churches are so racist and bigoted and out of touch, they make me puke. But the music of Eva Mae playing "Heaven Bound train" will play in my head forever. Thanks
I've been following the LeFevres for over 50 years and I still love to listen to their oldest recordings. I'm 73 years old and I think I have about every recording they put out. I talk to Eva Mae occasionally and we have had her at our church here in Jonesboro, GA. They are still my all-time old-time favorites. '
I've always loved the LeFevres. This is a great article which answered a lot of questions for me. Wouldn't it be great to go to church tonight and hear them once again?
I loved the Lefevres. They sang 2 songs that I have tried forever to find. "COME HOME" and "THE BEST IS YET TO COME". I need the sheet music for these.If anyone knows where I can find please let me know.Thank you.
My father, Bill Huie, sang with the LeFevre's for a time, as mentioned in your article. Unfortunately, I don't have any gospel recordings that he sang on with this group or others he sang with. I enjoyed the article. Thank you.
Oh how much I enjoyed reading the story of EvaMae. I did not know them but had heard of them. When I began attending GOGR I met her and love all the bickering with Charlie. I pray God's blessing on her and youo too John because I met you last year when I was introduced by Gala Fooks. Happy New Year!!!!
John, the depth of your knowledge astounds me each time a read one of your articles. I always learn some things from you that I've not found in my other SGM reading. Your informative style of writing combined with the entertaining memories reminds me of reading a good book. I slow down at the end to make it last just a little longer. Thanks for what you do to enlighten us all. Eva Mae is one of my all-time favorites, bacause when I see that beautiful smile and hear that infectious laugh, I know she is going to share the Good News with all of us!
John, I watched the LeFevers through the years and saw the changes of personel that you covered and man you've done it again! Thanks for the research!!
This is wonderful.............
John, Another great article from the pen of the history professor. The LeFevres are a legend in gospel music, and Eva Mae is always a blessing at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion each August.
I had dinner with Eva Mae and Mark Fuller last night at Eva Mae's favorite Cafe in Atlanta. The OK Cafe. I shared the wonderfull article with her and she and Mark would like a copy. If you will, email me and I will give you info on where to send it. Thanks again for all the free SGM education. Some of us might even get a degree in SGM.
John--Many thanks for another memory jogger on a great singing group. Also appreciate the history and seeing the various people that were associated with the LeFevres. I can't imagine how much time and effort you put into these History lessons, but please keep up the good work.
Hey! John great job as usual-Quite a history on this long running group-Keep up the good work-Thanks!! Harold Dickerson
As always, John, a fine job...a great recollection of one of the truly great and influential "heritage" groups in gospel music!
Well done John, as always.
John, Thanks for another excellent history lesson! Reading your new column is always a highlight of the beginning of each month!
I remember well in the 1950s when I was with the Revelaires we would be with the LeFevres at WGST doing separate recording sessions. Also being in concerts with them at times. Always a fine group to be associated with. I copied some of Eva Mae's technics such as right hand open octave playing. Thank you for your wonderful coverage of this great groups terrific history!
Wonderful article John!
Beautiful and inspirational. Thank you so much John for this article, that was both a story and a lesson.
John, Another outstanding article. The Gospel Singing Caravan was broadcast here (Huntington) on Sat evening - I rarely missed it. Obviously I had no social life!! Dean
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