Sunday, May 21, 2017

I Grew Up with Music all Around Me

Recently I was watching GPB TV and a program on the Carter Family singers, A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and Mother May Belle. Their haunting melodies that likely came over from Ireland and England still appeal to my Irish roots. Music of the past played a big part in my life.

My mother, Lois Robison, sang in church as a child. She was an alto in the choir. She played piano by ear and felt she was not good because she didn’t read music. However, I believe that those who have a natural ear for music and learn to play instruments from hearing a tune, are as good musicians as those who only play from notes on paper.

Left to right: Rex Council, Hal Council, Max Council, Ray Council,
The Council Brothers Quartet

In 1948 – 1949, my four brothers, Ray, Max, Hal and Rex, made a name for themselves in southwest Georgia when they sang in all the little country churches for miles around. Ray sang bass, Max, tenor, and Hal sang the lead or baritone. Rex, very young at the time, sang alto or first tenor. Like most family singing groups their voices blended well into a harmony that was their own. They listened to the old time music of country singers like the Carters and Jimmy Davis, and more popular country singers of the day on the radio.

The brothers had been singing together most of their lives. They sang while they worked in the fields, while milking the cows and while riding together in the family car or truck. Max had an affinity for learning lyrics. His memory was impressive. It still is today at the age of 87. He can sing every verse of almost any song he and his brothers sang throughout the years.
He can recite long poems he learned when he was in high school. 

Ray did the same. They both loved the poems of Edgar Allan Poe because of the rhythm and rhyme. While Ray gained higher education later in life and was well-read, he continued to enjoy singing the old gospel songs with his brothers. He listened to classical music and drove up to Atlanta to attend the Met when it brought one of his favorites to that city. But he was a true lover of all kinds of music.

I remember watching him, when he was a kid, learn to play his Roy Acuff guitar he ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. As we all sat on the front porch on a summer evening, he sat on the steps cradling that guitar. He never became proficient on the instrument, but he learned to read music and taught his brothers what he learned.

In 1949 Ray and his brothers managed to earn money to attend the Stamps-Baxter music school in Dallas TexasThey rode the bus there and Ray rented one room in a boarding house for the four of them. With only 200 dollars for the trip, they walked wherever they had to go, and ate meals at the boarding house. They spent their evenings in their room singing, much to the dismay of other boarders who had to listen to them every night.

The brothers were handsome young men. Women liked them and even in Texas they had their share of dates. Max still remembers the girls they met. He was nineteen at the time.

While at the music school, the quartet was asked to sing one night on KRLD, a national radio station. This station had a strong signal and could be heard all over the country. Ray chose a song they knew well and it had a small solo for Rex. He was only fourteen years old. When he thought of all the people listening he developed stage fright. At the point in the song when he was to sing solo, there was no sound. Ray realized Rex was not going to sing that part, so when it came around again, he jumped in to take his little brother's place. 

When they returned home to Albany, Georgia, they continued to sing in churches and in concert at the Albany Auditorium and other venues in southwest Georgia. WGPC radio, the first radio station in Albany Georgia, asked them to hold a program on Sunday morning which they did for a year or two.
Council Brothers Quartet in late fifties singing at family reunion

Mother enjoyed her sons' singing and was usually present to hear all the praise bestowed upon them. My sister, Gay, and I were usually present as well. Although we were very young at the time, I understood the honor of being kin to these young men.

I don’t think there was ever any thought of making singing a career for them. In our family, art of any kind was just a hobby, not a sensible accepted way of making a living. My brothers sang on stage with the top gospel groups of their time, the Statesmen Quartet, and others of that era. Some of the Statesmen can be seen on the Gaither gospel music show on Television.

The brothers eventually moved to popular music of the day. I remember them singing, That Lucky Old Sun, My Happiness, and others I heard on the radio. They sang some of the great Sons of the Pioneers songs. Cool Water was a favorite of the audience. They chose songs that allowed for their family blend of voices.  

I don't remember when I didn’t hear them sing, and I always enjoyed their rehearsing at our house where we could hear them. Different men and women came out and accompanied them on Mother's upright piano. I was five years younger than the youngest brother, Rex, so when he was 19, I was fourteen, a teenager, the same age as he was when he went to Dallas to the singing school.

Over time, the brothers married, became fathers, worked hard to make a living in various businesses. They seldom sang together anymore. Two of the wives made a fuss, I think, about their husbands leaving them home while they met with their siblings to sing. But Max would not give up singing any time he had an audience. His wife, Salita, had a beautiful alto voice so husband and wife began singing at churches and nursing homes with a friend, Jerry, playing the guitar. They were in demand for several years. Although Salita suffers from dementia now, she can sing and remembers the words to the songs she and Max sang long ago.

Council Brothers and Barry Beall on guitar at the Council Reunion
in Crawfordville, Florida
After Ray retired he asked some of the family if we would be interested in gathering to sing with Barry singing and playing guitar for us. Barry was a voice major in college and sang beautifully. From the time we married and he entered our family in 1964, my brothers embraced him as a member of the Council Brothers Quartet. He often sang solos, usually folk songs, when they made appearances.

Our 1980s family singing group consisted of Ray, his wife Gail, Max and Salita, Gay and Stu, and Barry and me. We had such fun learning parts for all the old songs we had heard all our lives. After singing for an hour or more we ate dinner together. We laughed and told stories and bonded tighter than we had ever been. We missed Hal and Yvonne and Rex and Nancy, his second wife, but they evidently had no interest in singing with us. I never knew exactly why, but we respected that they had their own thing and we had ours.

Somewhere I have a video of our group singing. Max’s son, C.C. gave a humorous name to our group  - The Broken Spoke Gang. It was a takeoff on a group called the Chuck Wagon Gang. We were not ready for an audience, that is for sure.

I miss those evenings of family love and music, where we raised our voices in the old southern gospel songs. I miss my brother Ray, who spent hours copying music for us and helping us learn our parts. I miss his passion for music and family. Like Mother, Ray believed family was everything and he made many sacrifices for our family. He used our love of music to bring us together. 

When I hear the songs my brothers sang, I smile and feel a comfort inside. When I hear those old hymns we sang, tears come to my eyes as I remember when Ray and Barry were still with us. Good memories, all. 


Elephant's Child said...

Precious memories indeed.
I spoke to a woman whose husband had dementia a while ago and she told me that while he no longer spoke, or apparently recognised anyone, if a familiar tune came on the radio he sang. Music is a deep passion for many.
One which I missed out on.

DJan said...

Such a wonderful post, filled with nostalgia and love. I am so glad to have learned about these singers and how happy they made so many people. :-)

Abbie Taylor said...

Thank you, Glenda, for possibly inspiring a blog post of my own. I enjoyed reading about how music shaped your life, and I hope it continues to do so.

Leigh Hamilton said...

I remember Gertrude, Pa and Jerry practicing in the family room. They had the best time! Pa told me Gertrude can still play every song on the piano and sing them from memory.

I have printed this out to mail to Daddy and Pa. I think they would both enjoy the memories!

It does not surprise me that Pa remembers the GIRLS!!!!
Leigh Hamilton