I have always had the curiosity of a cat, so when we moved into our new home in Dogsboro in 1955, I quickly discovered that we were in an excellent TV reception area. Dogsboro is on the divide between the Oconee and Savannah river basins.
A good TV antenna there can pull in stations from three states, so as soon as I had extra money, I purchased and installed a big antenna with a rotor. I immediately discovered WJBF, Channel 6 in Augusta.
That was my introduction to the Lewis Family. They had a weekly Sunday morning TV program that featured the great gospel music of the family, and the antics of “Little Roy.” I immediately identified with them. They were of the same rural Southern culture that produced my own family. They were all about God, family and community, and having fun without being vulgar or insulting.
So it was with some sadness that I heard of the family’s retirement this year. But it was to be expected. Sixty years is a long time for any act to remain on the road.
The first time I saw them live was at the old Shoal Creek Bluegrass festivals. I had become acquainted with Billy Dilworth who worked for the Athens Banner Herald at that time, and he provided me with tickets in exchange for pictures and an article. The Lewis Family was one of the main acts at the festival. The audience enjoyed their sets on stage. But the most fun, in my opinion, was when Little Roy invaded the stage and raised havoc with some of the other groups. I remember a very pleasant conversation with Polly at their sales table where I bought my first Lewis Family album.
Then when they become regulars at the Comer fair, I always made sure I was free to enjoy their music. It was normal to see the grandstand full of people when they played. Little Roy was always happy to play “Dixie” when a request was sent up from the Sons of Confederate Veterans booth. We appreciated that.
The Lewis Family began performing on front porches in Lincolnton near Augusta. By the time they were finished this summer, they had toured the world, released some 60 albums, and were installed in the Georgia Hall of Fame, the Bluegrass Hall of fame, and received dozens of awards and honors.
Now declining health, and I suspect, fatigue have let to the end of the family act. But the greater family is not through. Little Roy is now touring with Lizzie Long, another Lincolnton native while Sheri Easter, daughter of Polly, and her husband Jeff have released a new project, “Expecting Good Things,” and are engaged in a project to restore the family home.
My first reaction to the news that the Lewis Family is retiring was one of concern. I cannot imagine rural Southern culture without them. But while they will no longer be on the road, their music will last forever, and younger members of the family are sure to carry on their traditions.
I salute the Lewis family with great affection and fond memories. I wish them all the best, and look forward to seeing Little Roy at the Comer fair next year.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be accessed at http://www.frankgillispie.com/gillispieonline.