Prolific songwriter, musician, performer, and man of strong faith, Russell Easter, 90, eldest of the Easter Brothers, died on Tuesday, September 29.
Easter passed away at Central Continuing Care in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. Born on April 22, 1930 to the late James Lincoln and Lillie Mae Tolbert Easter, he retired from Sears and was a faithful member of Miracle Waters Worship Center.
While a resident at the care facility, Russell continued to perform the music he loved, and share the faith he held so sincerely. His younger brother, James, would transport him to local churches so they could spread the Gospel through their songs.
Russell was a minister of music with the Easter Brothers for 64 years. He, along with two of his brothers, James and Edd, formed the bluegrass Gospel group in 1951. The siblings composed many songs that have become Gospel standards including Thank You Lord For Your Blessings On Me, The Darkest Hour, A Heart That Will Never Break Again, and They’re Holding Up the Ladder.
The trio made more than 150 recordings for several major record labels including King, Rebel, County, and their own Commandment label. They continued recording until their last album, I’d Do It All Over Again, was released in 2014. Winning numerous awards, the Easters appeared at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Sydney Opera House. They also hosted a regular radio show on WPAQ in their hometown of Mt. Airy.
Virginia Luthier and master fiddler, Jimmy Edmonds of Galax, started performing with the Easters in 1976 while still a student. He played with the band for 8 years, recorded 10 albums, and toured with them on weekends.
“I am sorry to hear,” said Edmonds, at a loss for words. “I really don’t know what to say.”
Another Virginia Luthier, Spencer Strickland, shared, “The bluegrass and Gospel community lost a pioneer with the passing of Russell Easter. I grew up listening to Easter brothers’ records my mom would play, especially before church on Sunday mornings. Prayers for the Easter family who I am proud to call my friends. RIP, Mr. Easter.”
Rick Allred and his Summer Wages alum, Kenneth Berrier, played with the Easter Brothers in the mid-’80s after their group disbanded.
“Russell was a good guy,” Allred recalled. “I played with them for about a year. Our biggest show was probably on PTL with Jim Bakker. It was on TV.”
Allred served as utility man in the band, playing bass, banjo, and mandolin on various songs. “I was privileged to stand behind Russell on stage. At the time, I never realized that they would become some of my favorite songwriters. Their songs were sent straight from God.”
Russell picked banjo when the brothers’ band initially formed. In the early days, Allen Mills of Lost and Found was their bassist.
“Russell told me that he put a light bulb inside his banjo. He’d plug it up to heat it to keep the head tight. He said that it made the banjo really loud,” Allred related.
In later years, Russell shifted to mandolin. He still played with a thumb pick and two finger picks.
“He’d roll it like a banjo. I’ve never seen another mandolin player do that,” Allred stated.
Nephew, Jeff Easter and his wife, Sheri, honored Russell during their set at the National Quartet Convention on Tuesday evening in Pigeon Forge, TN.
“Being raised with the Easter Brothers was like having three daddies,” Jeff shared in a phone interview. “Russell was always the leader of the group, and he always gave me good advice. He is going to be missed. I want to be more like the Easter Brothers when I grow up.”
Russell Easter, Sr., is survived by two sons and daughters-in-law, Russell Easter, Jr. and Barbara, Rodger Easter and Gail; eleven grandchildren; fifteen great-grandchildren; brother and sisters-in-law, James Easter and Denise, Ann Easter; and many nieces and nephews. Mr. Easter was preceded in death by his wife, Myrtle Bell Brummett Easter; a daughter, Linda Sue Easter Shew Thompson; and brothers, Simon Easter and Edward Easter.
A funeral service will be held Friday, October 2, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. at Miracle Waters Worship Center with his son, the Rev. Rodger Easter, officiating. Burial will follow in the church cemetery. The family will receive friends Thursday night from 6:00 until 8:00 p.m. at Miracle Waters Worship Center, 348 Triple R Drive, Mt Airy, NC.