James Easter, the last surviving member of bluegrass Gospel group, The Easter Brothers, passed away on December 10, 2021. He was 89 years of age and had been admitted to hospital on November 29, 2021, then moved to ICU after contracting COVID-19.
From Mount Airy, North Carolina, James Madison Easter was born on April 24, 1932, and when he was eight years old, his eldest brother, Russell, taught him how to play the guitar.
As the brothers began playing together into their teenage years, life for James Easter took a turn for the worse and he was imprisoned briefly. While there he formed a bluegrass-country music act, simply known as The Prison Band.
Stemming from his experiences James Easter co-wrote their most commercially successful song, Thank You Lord For Your Blessings On Me …
Meanwhile, in 1947 Russell formed a band, the Green Valley Quartet, the forerunner to the Easter Brothers. Over the course of the next two years, as first James and then Edd began to play, this combination became more formal calling themselves the Easter Brothers and the Green Valley Quartet. They went on to become one of the foremost bluegrass Gospel groups in the world, performing together for more than 60 years.
In the early days they were based in Danville, Virginia, and had a radio program on WBTM, and subsequently became popular throughout that state, West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and North Carolina. They worked several shows with Don Reno & Red Smiley, who recorded their novelty song Jimmy Caught the Dickens Pushing Ernest In The Tubb, and helped them with their first recordings.
The brothers also had their own show on Radio WPAQ for a time and made appearances on Reverend Leonard Repass’s television ministry show in Bluefield, West Virginia.
In 1958 and 1959 the Green Valley Quartet cut six songs that were made available on the Green Valley label. Over the next couple of years, the Easter Brothers recorded six sides released by King Records with two songs from the second session being put out on a New Dominion Barndance single, and four others on an EP on Carlton Haney’s Commandment label. Most of these are on the Rebel LP, Early Sessions. Cincinnati DJ Wayne Raney was one who helped them a lot by playing their first single, White Winged Angel/Have You Been Invited, and other very early recordings.
Eventually the brothers, who had become familiar figures within bluegrass Gospel circles from northern Georgia to southern Pennsylvania, dropped any reference to the Green Valley Quartet.
In 1979 they gave up their day jobs and became a full-time touring group. As well as working at venues across many of the eastern states, they ventured as far west as Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.
Whereupon they established their well-appointed Granite City Recording Studio, which included video recording equipment, and started their own Lifeline label.
Gradually the brothers introduced other members of the family to their act. Two of these were James Easter’s sons Jeff and Steve (aka ‘Rabbit’). Jeff and his wife Sheri, daughter of Polly Lewis, have since forged their own career in the Gospel music field.
This clip features three generations – James and Jeff Easter with Morgan Easter – singing another favorite Lord, I’m Ready To Go Home.
From the CD Like Father, Like Son.
During the next two decades, they were prolific recording artists with about two dozen releases during that time. Not surprisingly, this output dropped considerably as the brothers passed their 70th birthdays.
One notable collection from this later era is the brothers’ collaboration with Jeff and Sheri Easter and the Lewis Family, the Dove award-winning Bluegrass Album Of The Year (2009), We Are Family.
About this time Allen Mills (Lost And Found), who recorded with the Easter Brothers in February 1961, said of them …
“Their perseverance is the most impressive thing about them. They were not like anyone else. They’re simple, down-to-earth folks. They’re the same today as they were in 1960 when I met them. You’ll never change them. Those fellas, as long as I’ve known them, are still committed to the word of the Lord, and they’ve never veered from that to this day. ‘This is what we do, and we hope you like it!’ That’s gratifying to me.” [Bluegrass Unlimited, September 2007]
And to all of us, I’m sure.
During the 2014 Absolutely Gospel Music Awards show there was a special tribute to the Easter Brothers with performances by some of bluegrass and Gospel music’s finest …
Throughout their career, the brother act was featured on a variety of different broadcast television programs; The PTL Club, Huff Cook, Camp Meetin’ USA, Sing Out America, Great American Gospel, Bluegrass Road, and Top of the Morning are just a few of the national and international television shows on which they appeared.
Their music was characterised by their three-part harmonies, a rich blend of voices with James Easter singing lead and tenor, Russell (lead) and Edd (baritone). A Heart That Will Never Break Again is a typical example.
Two of their compositions, Thank You Lord for Your Blessings on Me and They’re Holding Up the Ladder, won Dove Awards (2002 and 2009, respectively).
Also, the Easter Brothers are members of the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, inducted in 2018.
They are further honored with artist Tim White’s 18-foot by 14-foot mural located in downtown Mount Airy, across the street from Mayberry’s Music Center, which was operated by James Easter.
The adjoining marker reads …
The legendary Easter Brothers grew up here in Mount Airy, NC. their earliest musical influence was inspired by their mother and her “clawhammer” style banjo picking. Brothers Edd and Russell formed the Easter Brothers group in 1953 and were joined by their brother James in 1956. The brothers wrote over 400 songs. In 2013 the American Gospel Association honored the Easter Brothers for over 60 years of faithful service to Bluegrass Gospel Singing & Songwriting. The Easters have been awarded three Dove Awards as well. The Easter Brothers have made beautiful music through the decades and always gave God the glory for their “Music Ministry”.
The Lonesome River Band, led by Sammy Shelor, who recorded with brothers in 2000, recognised their great contributions to bluegrass Gospel genre with their CD Singing Up There: A Tribute to the Easter Brothers, released on June 2, 2021.
R.I.P. James Easter
The celebration of life services for James Easter will be held on Saturday, December 18, 2021, at The Temple Baptist Church in Mt. Airy, North Carolina at 1:00 p.m. Visitation for family and friends will be held prior to the funeral beginning at 11:00 a.m.
The graveside service will be held at Miracle Waters Worship in Mt. Airy.
The Easter Brothers and The Green Valley Quartet
- 14 Songs Of Faith (Commandment LP-200, released 1965)
- Blue Grass And Country Hymns (Stark SR-200-1, 1967)
- The Easter Brothers and their Green Valley Quartet (County 716, November 1968)
- Let Me Stand Lord (Commandment Com-LP 203, 1969)
- Bible On The Table (Troy LP-25513, November 1969)
- Lord I Will (Commandment LP-204, 1970)
- Country Hymn Time (Commandment LP-300, 1970)
- From Earth To Glory Land (Commandment LP-400, 1970
- I’ve Been Touched (Commandment LP-500, 1971)
- Just Another Hill (Commandment LP-600, 1972)
- He’s Everything I Need (Commandment LP-800, 1973)
- Coming Home (Mayberry LP-900, 1973)
- Don’t Overlook Your Blessings (Mission MR-EB-441, 1974)
- Easter Brothers In Nashville (Mission MR-EB-476, 1975)
- As Long As I Have Jesus (The Mountain Song) (Mayberry LP-1200, 1976)
- Hold On (Old Homestead OHS-70008, 1977)
- We’re Going Home (QCA QC-360, 1977)
- I’m Holding To His Hand (QCA QC-388, 1979)
- Live At The Gospel Chicken House (LifeLine LL 2020, 1980)
- The Easter Brothers (LifeLine E LBO 2003, 1980)
- I Feel Like Traveling On (Rebel REB-1595, 1980).
- Forever On My Knees (LifeLine LL-4030, 1980)
- Early Sessions (Rebel REB-1615, 1983)
- Almost Home (REBEL REB-1605, 1982).
- Songs About Mama (LifeLine GCRS-4090, 1983)
- Little Grain Of Sand (LifeLine LL 5050, 1983)
- Hereafter (LifeLine /Benson LBO 2010, 1984)
- Wake Up America (Morada MZS-133, 1984)
- Tribute To Reno & Smiley (Rebel REB-1635, 1985)
- He’s The Rock I’m Leaning On (Morning Star MST-4010, 1985).
- We’re Going Home (Morada MZS-360, 1985)
- I’ll Live Again In Glory (LifeLine 16923, 1990)
- The Troops Are Coming Home (LifeLine LL-1015, 1991)
- Little At A Time (LifeLine TRS-0033, release date unknown)
- Songs Of The Louvin Brothers (LifeLine TRS-0034, unknown)
- We’re Gonna Make It (LifeLine LL 0456, unknown)
- Wore Out (LifeLine C-1733, unknown)
- Happy Are The Days (LifeLine TRS-LL-8910, unknown)
- Songs That Will Never Grow Old Vol. One (LifeLine 4006, unknown)
- Song Of Songs (LifeLine #unknown, unknown)
- I’m Still On The Rock (LifeLine #unknown, unknown)
- The Sun’s Still Shining In The Valley (LifeLine CD-412696.11, 1996)
- Easter Brothers – Favorites (LifeLine CD-495698, 1998)
- If I Could Order Christmas (LifeLine C-2589, 1998)
- Heart And Soul (Thoroughbred THRB-2036 2000)
- By Request Their Greatest Hits (Thoroughbred THRB-2038, October 20, 2000)
- Gospel Favorites (LifeLine #unknown, 2003)
- They’re Holding Up The Ladder (Rebel REB-CD 7511, February 24, 2004). This consists of a selection from Rebel 1595 and Rebel 1605
- We Are Family (Daywind 1550, April 22, 2008). There is a DVD version of this also. (Jeff and Sheri Easter, Lewis Family, and Easter Brothers)
- It’s About Time (LIFELINE LL-1201 2008.
- There’s A Better Life (LIFELINE EF-1002, November 4, 2011)
- I’d Do It All Over Again (Pisgah Ridge PR 15212, February 18, 2014)
James & Jeff Easter
- Like Father Like Son (Sonlite Records SL31352, November 5, 2013)
This listing is based on a detailed session discography compiled by Dick Grant. We are very grateful for his assistance.