The Lewis Family, “America’s First Family of Bluegrass Gospel Music”, musical story began with the Lewis Brothers who played string band music for local area shows and square dances from 1947 to 1951. Made up of brothers Wallace, Esley and Talmadge, they were sometimes joined by Little Roy who was so small he played sitting on a chair. In 1951 the names was changed to The Lewis Family and the all-gospel format was adopted. Esley left early-on to take a job in private life and Pop and Miggie began with the group, followed by Polly, with Janis joining a short time later. Talmadge remained until leaving in 1972 to devote full time to his automotive and bus sales business in Augusta. Wallace’s son Travis started with the group in 1974 and Janis’ son Lewis Phillips started in 1977 with each becoming a mainstay of the group.
The early career of The Lewis Family involved years of traveling in cars with a base fiddle strapped to the top, often on dirt roads. The family acquired its first bus in 1960 and continued to traverse the interstate highways in its custom appointed motor coaches with most of the comforts of home, routinely covering 1,000 miles or more overnight between show dates when necessary. The Lewis Family has made personal appearances in all 48 contiguous states and throughout Canada as well as having played a number of ocean cruises.
From a modest but proud beginning in the members’ hometown, Lincolnton, Georgia, the group continued for most of its career as it began; made up entirely of family members, a phenomenon in the entertainment field. Encompassing three generations, the show offered a broad appeal to all ages. Patriarch Roy “Pop” Lewis, born September 22, 1905, performed along with 5 of his children and two grandsons. “Mom” Lewis traveled with the family and looked after their product sales. Ill health forced Wallace to retire in 1995 and Pop in 2000. Working more than 200 dates each year, the enormous popularity of the group was evidenced by the fact that it received more repeat bookings than any other band on the bluegrass festival circuit, where most events are held annually or semi-annually. Other venues played each year included fairs, special events, and concerts in school auditoriums, civic centers and on college campuses. The Lewis Family made appearances at New York’s Lincoln Center, The Smithsonian and the Grand Ole Opry.
For 38 years, 1954 to 1992, The Lewis Family hosted its own weekly television show on WJBF-TV, Channel 6 in Augusta, Georgia. The telecast went into syndication for a time and held a national record for longevity when discontinued, a casualty of an increasingly heavy travel schedule. The group continued to videotape Christmas Specials for Channel 6 each year. Guest appearances on broadcast and cable network television were frequent and included video tapings on the ten-volume “Grassroots to Bluegrass” series and the popular Bill Gaither shows.
The Lewis Family has received numerous awards and accolades over their career. Induction of The Lewis Family into the prestigious Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1992 was a special highlight for the family members. The Lewis Family received its first of several coveted Dove Awards in 1999. In 2000, Pop Lewis was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Also, in 2000, each group member received the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion’s “Living Legend Award”. In 2003, The Lewis Family was honored by the dedication of The Lewis Family Pavilion in their hometown of Lincolnton, Georgia. The Lewis Family received the highest honor given in gospel music by begin inducted into GMA’s Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and in 2006 received bluegrass music’s highest honor by being inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. In 2007, The Lewis Family members were recognized as lifetime members of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). Pop Lewis was honored posthumously in 2008 as the Georgia General Assembly adopted a resolution dedicating a portion of Highway 378 where the family lives in Lincoln County, Georgia as the James Roy “Pop” Lewis Memorial Highway.
The Lewis Family retired in 2009 after 58 years as “America’s First Family of Bluegrass Gospel Music”. Their final concert was at The Lewis Family Pavilion in Lincolnton, Georgia in October 2009. In March 2010 the Georgia State Senate adopted a resolution recognizing and commending The Lewis Family, a distinguished Georgia family, for its extraordinary accomplishment and commended the group members for the exemplary musical career in The Lewis Family. Now in 2015, it gives The Lewis Family great honor to be inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame.