The 2015 Diamond Awards are swiftly approaching, and to re- acquaint you with 2014 winners, we are re-posting features from these artists. In 2014, James and Jeff Easter were the recipients of the Diamond Award for the Christian Country Album Of The Year for Like Father, Like Son. We hope you enjoy this feature on the Easters from the SGN Scoops issue of September 2014.
By Dixie Phillips
The bluegrass merger that changed gospel music forever happened in 1985 – the day Sheri Williamson from The Lewis Family married Jeff Easter from The Easter Brothers. The two met at the 1984 Albert E. Brumley Sundown to Sunup Gospel Singing in Springdale, Arkansas. They married 10 months later. After that, Jeff and Sheri traveled and performed as part of The Lewis Family, until they decided to pursue a career alone in 1988.
Sheri realized as a teenager that gospel music was a vehicle God used to usher people into His presence, and when He showed up, broken hearts would beat again. One night, when she was barely 15, she sensed something changing in the atmosphere of the auditorium while she was on stage singing. “I was deeply moved when I looked out into the audience and saw people’s eyes filling with tears. There is nothing like singing a message of hope to people and seeing their lives changed.”
There is a reason why the talented singer can minister to those whose hearts have been shattered. Sheri is no stranger to heartache. When she was 20, her father died of a sudden and unexpected heart attack. Not only did the songs she sang minister to her audience, but also the Lord used them to strengthen her. “As I ministered encouragement to others, I was receiving encouragement myself.”
From the very beginning of their relationship Jeff and Sheri realized God was orchestrating something very special and calling them to something bigger than themselves. Sheri explained, “The combining of our voices made a unique blend that still excites us today, 30 years later, and because of everything we’ve been through, the messages are deeper and even more meaningful to us.”
Their present group consists of Jeff, Sheri, their three children—Madison, Morgan, and Maura; their daughter-in-law Shannon, and their drummer, Landan Smith. This family sings from their heart and aims for the hearts of their listeners. And they hit the mark every time. When a pastor from Iowa, who was facing end stage renal failure, hosted The Easters in his church, he had this to say: “Jeff and Sheri are authentic! It’s evident they have been in the trenches of trials and have found the Lord faithful. God has given them an enormous gift of encouragement through songs of hope. I know they sure ministered to me!”
A few years ago the Easters faced the storm of their lives. Sheri was diagnosed with breast cancer. God knew their family needed someone to minister to them during that difficult time. He chose some precious folks in Jackson, Tennessee. One week after the devastating diagnosis, they walked on stage to sing and the audience erupted in applause. The family was deeply moved, especially Sheri. “It was incredible! They continued to applaud for several minutes and I’ve never before or since seen that kind of a public outpouring of love. I was so grateful that we were the recipients!”
Sheri has been an inspiration to others struggling with cancer. She celebrated her sixth year cancer-free “cancer-versary” this past July. “My songs are more important than ever before. I’ve always taken life very seriously, because of Daddy’s sudden death, but it’s easy to forget just how hard a trial’s been when it’s been awhile since you faced one. Walking through breast cancer reminded me of God’s faithfulness and His intimacy.”
Since her cancer diagnosis, Sheri has become even more sensitive to what other women are facing in their lives. She has a passion for women’s ministries and enjoys connecting with ladies of all ages and making new friends. “Women share their stories with me all the time, because of my willingness to openly speak about my battle with breast cancer. Some of them have even scheduled doctor’s appointments and discovered breast cancer early. This inspires me to keep sharing my story.”
Family is a top priority for the Easters. After Jeff’s mother passed away in August of 2011, he wanted to do a project with his dad; featuring many of the songs he had heard him sing. Jeff sat down and made a list of songs.
Sheri suggested they title the project Like Father, Like Son and mentioned he needed a song written especially for them with that same title. After a few days, she started writing the song, basing it on the relationship she’d been blessed to watch for 30 years. Sheri said, “The Easter Brothers are storytellers. They love to laugh and live their lives with a desire to share God’s love. I wanted the song to encompass the uniqueness of this relationship, yet be able to relate to all fathers and sons.
“Men aren’t as open with their emotions as women and I think sometimes it’s much harder for fathers and sons to communicate than it is for mothers and daughters. Jeff visited his hometown of Mt. Airy, shortly after the song was recorded and wanted to capture a video in the little church his daddy helped to build. I don’t think he even knew at the time what he would do with it. He just knew it was something he had to do.
“Our son, Madison, had experience behind the camera. From the ages of 14 through 20, he had been a camera operator for the Gaither Homecoming Tours. So we knew Madison was the perfect videographer to capture on video the special moments with Jeff and his dad as they sang Like Father, Like Son.”
The Easters do their best to balance family life and ministry. Sheri is deliberate in making sure they keep family a top priority. “We’re very blessed to travel as a family, but anyone will tell you that it’s work and not leisure. We try to eat together at least once a week while we’re at home. Madison and Shannon live next door. They visit us or we visit them. Although Morgan still lives at home, whenever we are not on the road she spends most of her evenings as a caregiver to my mama, who is bedridden and in her 13th year of battling Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia.”
Sheri’s loyal and loving heart shines through when she speaks of her mother, “Early on in the disease, it was a simple forgetfulness that we all learned to help her with. Later, she was unable to speak, but she could still sing songs with us because speaking and singing come from different parts of the brain. The songs were a huge part of our communication with her during those years.
“The disease has now progressed to the point where she is unable to communicate, except for a very short phrase every now and then, like ‘I love you, too.’ She smiles often and that helps us get through the day. I’m grateful that we’ve had such a close relationship. We were close before Daddy’s death and grew even closer afterwards. For eight years, Jeff and I ate almost every meal with her because she didn’t want to be alone. These days, we hold her hand, hug and kiss her, make sure she’s comfortable for the night and thank God for every moment.”
Jeff cherishes the last recorded DVD of Sheri’s mama before she became too sick to travel and sing. “Sheri and I had just recorded the CD, We Are Family, which featured both of our families. Soon after we scheduled a live concert DVD in my hometown of Mt. Airy, North Carolina, with all three families doing those songs together. It was an incredible evening captured on film that we always treasure.”
The Easters are real people facing real problems. Their faith is their anchor and keeps them steady through the storms of life. Their ministry hearts are evident in every song they sing and every testimony they give. “When we perform, we want people to leave a little different than when they came in,” Sheri explains. “We want them to have a great time smiling, laughing, crying, and healing. We want them to know God loves them and that He is in control.”
Not only are the Easters great singers, but also they are gifted songwriters. Sheri is a seasoned writer, cherishing quiet time and a chance to put her heart down on paper. She is quick to give Jeff credit for a number of great song ideas. “Jeff is creative with a hook and has given me several throughout the years, so we share the writing credits. He has given other writers some great ideas and hooks, too. They have come up with some amazing songs!”
Jeff and Sheri recognized their son’s above average writing talent when he was still in school. Sheri shares this story, “When Madison was 14, he gave me a line on one of our Christmas songs and I credited him with that and more recently, I had written ‘I Know How It Feels to Survive,’ but I wasn’t happy with my melody. Being a guitarist, Madison came to my rescue and within 10 minutes, we had completed the song.” Madison and his wife, Shannon, have written several songs together, separately and also with co-writers.
Morgan is following in her mother’s footsteps and honing her songwriting skills. She has grown and developed into a talented songwriter. Two of her original songs will be on her upcoming project.
Although Sheri has written most of their songs for the past 26 years, the family has a number of favorite songwriters they look to before heading back into the studio. Sheri shared, “Early on we recorded several songs by Marcia Henry, Joel Lindsey, The Easter Brothers, Jerry Salley, Aaron Wilburn, Paul Overstreet, and to this day we seek out their songs. More recently, we’ve loved Kenna Turner West, Wayne Haun, Wil Nance, The Isaacs, Jimmy Yeary, Rebecca Peck, Hillary Lindsay, Belinda Smith, Joseph Habedank and Sue Smith’s songs.”
Jeff’s all-time favorite Easter songs are “A Heart that Will Never Break Again,” “I Get To,” “Thank You, Lord, for Your Blessings on Me,” and “Like Father, Like Son.” Sheri’s favorite songs she penned are “I Need You,” “Hear My Heart,” and “I Know How It Feels to Survive.” She also has a special attachment to Marcia Henry’s timeless classic—“Roses Will Bloom Again.”
Years ago Jeff discovered just how powerful a song can be when he had sung at a concert with Sheri and her family. “A young man came up to me crying, explaining how he had lost his mother, his father, and his wife. The tragedies had all happened within a year. The song we sang that night was “A Heart That Will Never Break Again.” He shared how that song really encouraged him. I will never forget the gratitude I felt hearing his story.”
The Easters have just released a greatest hits project called Yesterday, A Decade of Favorites, featuring their number one songs, singles, and award winners over the past 10 years. In honor of their 30th anniversary, they have a very special project coming out that they’re already writing and selecting songs for.
Fans will be happy to know The Easters, winners of seven Dove Awards, recipients of multiple Grammy nominations, numerous accolades, and prestigious awards are going to keep singing for as long as they can. Sheri said, “I tell folks all the time, ‘I don’t know how long God will let me travel with my children, but like a mother hen, I’ll keep my bitties under my wings as long as God allows.’ I’m a wise enough woman to know that God may reach more people by sending us on different mission fields, but I can guarantee that if my genes are anything like my mama’s and my grandfather’s, I’ll probably be doing this until I can’t any longer.”
If you’d like to learn more about The Easters go to Jeffandsherieaster.com, Jeff and Sheri Easter band page/FaceBook, and JSEaster/Twitter .
For current issues of SGN Scoops magazine, visit the SGN Scoops homepage.
Vote for your favorites on the 2015 Diamond Awards!
Dr. Jeff Goff and Little Jan Buckner Goff will be the guest hosts for the 2015 Diamond Awards ceremony to be held on November 3, 2015 during the Creekside Gospel Music Convention at the Smoky Mountain Convention Center.
Creekside Gospel Music Convention is being held on November 2nd through 5th at Pigeon Forge, and fans are encouraged to reserve their tickets early. For ticket and lodging information, contact Rob Patz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-920-4057. For more information visit http://www.