Known around the world as the "First Family of Bluegrass Gospel Music," the Lewis Family of Lincolnton performs a type of music that blends the old-time string-band tradition and the time-honored "all-day-singing-and-dinner-on-the-ground" style of vocal harmony known as southern gospel. The Lewises have been entertaining at festivals and other gospel and bluegrass music venues since 1951. Their gospel harmony is sung to the accompaniment of banjo, guitar, autoharp, and upright bass.
The patriarch of the Lewis Family, Roy "Pop" Lewis, was born on September 22, 1905, in South Carolina and moved with his family to Lincoln County, Georgia, in 1910. He married Pauline Holloway in 1925. Having been brought up in musical families, Lewis and his wife, in turn, exposed their children to music from birth. As they matured, the children learned to sing and play various instruments. At first the family made music for their own enjoyment, but in response to the encouragement of their friends and neighbors, they soon organized a band and began performing in public. Between 1954 and 1992 the Lewis Family hosted their own weekly television program on Augusta's WJBF-TV, Channel 6.
Today the Lewis Family consists of three generations. In addition to Pop Lewis, the group includes his daughters, Miggie, Polly, and Janis; his son, "Little Roy"; and his grandsons, Travis and Lewis. With each member able to sing more than one part and play several instruments, the possibilities for program variety are vast when the Lewis Family goes on stage. A typical program includes vocal solos, duets, and trios, as well as instrumental numbers featuring guitar, banjo, and autoharp. Their repertoire includes gospel standards, spirituals, country gospel fare, and modern pieces penned by some of the top songwriters in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Lewis Family, traveling in a customized tour bus outfitted with all the conveniences of home, travels more than 100,000 miles a year to fulfill more than 200 festival and concert dates throughout the United States and Canada. They have performed at such places as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and New York's Lincoln Center and have appeared on national syndicated gospel television shows.
The Lewis Family's musical style has been preserved on hundreds of recordings that have sold millions of copies. Their music has received high marks from the critics for their upbeat approach to gospel music. John Roemer, in Bluegrass Unlimited, wrote, "The Lewises, unlike many gospel singers working in bluegrass, always bring the voice of spiritual optimism and religious joy to their music. In their hands, religion doesn't stop at somber reflection on man's suffering or misdeeds; it goes on to an affirmation of laughter and joy."
The Lewises have been honored with numerous awards, including membership in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (1992). In 2000 Pop Lewis was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, located at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and in 2006 the family was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association's Hall of Fame, located in Owensboro, Kentucky.