Oct 11, 2014

'Comin for to carry me home'

Margie and Enoch Sullivan and the Sullivan Family Band perform "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot":

The Sullivan Family was dubbed the "first family of bluegrass" by Bill Monroe, the man who also dubbed bluegrass, "bluegrass."

"You know we started before it was named bluegrass music," says Margie Sullivan, in a public television documentary.

Enoch and Emmett Sullivan started performing at children with their father, the pentecostal preacher Arthur Sullivan (not to be confused with Sir Arthur Sullivan, the British hymn writer). The elder Sullivan experienced a miraculous healing in 1939, after two oneness pentecostal ministers walked five miles to his house in Washington County, Alabama, to pray for him. Sullivan dedicated his life to ministry, and was ordained in a oneness pentecostal church, the Assemblies of the Lord Jesus. He formed several of his family members into a band to accompany his preaching, a fact celebrated in a song written by his youngest brother Jerry in "Sing Daddy a Song."

The lead singer of the band was Enoch's wife, Margie. Margie Sullivan, ne Brewster, was also the child of pentecostal evangelist. He died when she was 13, however, and she travelled with a female evangelist named Hazel Chain until she met Enoch at a revival in 1949 and married him. Margie was 16 at the time, Enoch 18. They then formed the Sullivan Family band  and preformed together, along with family, until Enoch's death in 2011 at the age of 79.

They were "huge regional stars," popular among white Southerners, according Marty Stuart, a country music star who got his start touring with the Sullivans in the early 1970s. "They played pentecostal churches, they played camp meeting revivals, bluegrass festivals and George Wallace campaign rallies. How's that?"

Several members of the family are still performing.