Jerry Sullivan of the famous traditional bluegrass Gospel group, the Sullivan Family, passed away at his home on Saturday May 31. He had been ill for some time.
A native of Wagarville, in rural southern Alabama, born on November 22, 1933, Gerald ‘Jerry’ Sullivan was attracted to Gospel music from childhood. He developed a liking for blues and rockabilly music also.
Another early influence was the old-time drop-thumb style banjo playing of his father J B Sullivan. Also Jerry’s older brother Arthur, when establishing a ministry based on Pentecostalism and encouraged his family to play music to accompany their worshiping.
He was an early recruit to the Sullivan Family, playing bass behind Margie, Enoch and Emmett. The family band launched its career at Radio WRJW Picayune, Mississippi.
From 1950 to 1956 the Sullivans were based in Jackson, Alabama, but they were soon touring, finding as much acceptance on the bluegrass and Gospel music circuits as they grew to favor a traditional sound.
Their first recordings were for the Revival label and the Loyal Records label, owned by fellow evangelist, revivalist and broadcast musician Walter Bailes. They stayed with Bailes between 1959 and the early 1970s. Walking My Lord Up Calvary’s Hill and Old Brush Arbor were among their most popular songs.
During his years with the Sullivan Family band Jerry Sullivan grew into a talented and well-respected songwriter, counting among his credits such classic titles as Sing Daddy a Song, The Last Mile and From the Manger to the Garden.
In 1978 Jerry Sullivan teamed up with his then 14 year old daughter Tammy. Jerry, a natural baritone, sang and played guitar while Tammy, a mezzo-soprano, sang lead and played upright bass. That year they made their first recordings together, but the duo did not go into music full time until after Tammy graduated from high school.
About 1988 Marty Stuart, who had worked with the Sullivan Family prior to joining Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass, joined the duo, playing mandolin and he took on the role of producer of their next album, A Joyful Noise.
As for their two subsequent CDs, Jerry Sullivan, assisted by Stuart, wrote most of the songs on A Joyful Noise. Excellent as they were, none surpassed the quality of Get up John, the tune composed by Bill Monroe that now had words by Sullivan and Stuart.
Their next album At the Feet of God was a 1996 Grammy nominee for best Southern Gospel, Country Gospel and bluegrass recording.
Tomorrow, their final CD, also displayed considerable versatility and, like its predecessors, earned much critical appraisal.
The duo has made personal appearances at small rural churches in the deep South, at bluegrass festivals, in concert in theatres and larger coliseums.
Their TV appearances have included ABC-TV’s In Concert and People’s 20th Anniversary, CBS-TV’s Roots of Country Music-The Ryman and Opryland Country Christmas and TNN’s Music City Tonight.
With Tammy Sullivan
- Country Voice Records presents Jerry & Tammy Sullivan (Country Voice Records NMS 1001, released in 1979)
- The Old Home Place (NMS 1002, 1981)
- A Joyful Noise (Country Music Foundation CMF 016D, 1991)
- At the Feet of God (New Haven 84418-7569-2, 1995)
- Tomorrow (Ceili 2005, 2000)
With the Sullivan Family
- Lonely Road to Calvary (Melrose Music 15509, 2000). This CD brings together recordings from 1966, 1967 and 1970.