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The Isaacs, a family group that has traveled for over 30 years, are based out of Lafollette, TN. Current group members are Lily Isaacs, Ben Isaacs, Sonya (Isaacs) Surrett, John and Rebecca (Isaacs) Bowman. They have a unique style that marries bluegrass harmonies and instrumentation with modern southern gospel lyrics. Their musical influences immerge from all genres of music including bluegrass, rhythm and blues, folk, contemporary acoustic and southern gospel. 

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Isaacs capture hearts of Gospel Music Fans; a story of an unbelievable journey from the horror of the Holocaust 
to a new musical era in Gospel
by Daniel Hines
America ’s Seniors/

 If given a chance to make a movie about a Jewish, German-born daughter of Holocaust survivors who moves to New York as a child, aspires to start in off-Broadway Jewish theater, but instead meets the Blue Grass-playing son of a Pentecostal preacher in a Greenwich Village bistro followed by Motherhood, conversion to Christianity, divorce and eventually the loving Matron of siblings that will create an entirely new sound in Christian music, it is almost certain that any logical producer would say…’no way, too unbelievable…”  


But that is just what happened to Lily Isaacs, whose Jewish parents were survivors of the Holocaust.  Lily was born after the war ended.  When she was still a little girl, the family came to  

But, Lily had other plans.  She loved theater, and even as a youngster had dreams of becoming a performer in Jewish theater.  It was a natural choice because, as she explains, she spoke Yiddish until she first went to school.  

She had voice lessons as she grew older and in an “only in America ” story, she was to record a folk album for Columbia in the era of the emergence of folk music. In this Bohemian setting the story takes a new twist.  

Enter Joe Isaacs, the handsome son of a Pentecostal preacher. Joe, one of 19 children, was playing with the Greenbrier Boys, a Blue Grass band that was playing in Greenwich Village .


Lily says that Joe was handsome and talented.  They dated for a couple of years before marrying and starting the family that was, unknown to both of them at the time, to become the trailblazers of today.  

“The children have sung ever since they were old enough to talk” Lily recalls. “And Joe believed that the best way to get children to play a musical instrument was to leave it out where they could pick it up and think they were doing something.”  

The  plan  worked.  By 7 years old, Sonya was not only harmonizing, she was even helping her father, who Lily describes as a ‘great songwriter’, with his work, matching words. Before long, siblings Becky and Ken joined in, each showing a great talent to carry a tune and adapting to the many musical instruments that ‘were left laying around.’  

It was during this period that Lily’s life underwent yet another almost unbelievable turn.  

While attending a memorial service at a church for a memorial service for a member of Joe’s family…a brother-in-law who was only 27 years old.  

Lily had never been in a church before.  And, this wasn’t really much of a church as far as structures go…it was a converted garage.  If that isn’t enough, she was bribed to go by her sister-in-law who promised her a steak dinner.  

But something miraculous happened.  The Jewish girl’s heart poured out and she became a Christian.  

“I don’t know what happened,” she muses. “It had to be the working of the Lord. I hadn’t planned it, but I just cried and cried, and then fell to my knees.” It was a decision that brought some consequences with it.  Her parents literally disowned her for a period of time, making her conversion a difficult period of separation.

But eventually, reconciliation occurred.  And, Lily says that before he died, her Father accepted Christ. Her Mother retains her Jewish faith, but Lilly is hopeful and confident that eventually she too will accept Christ.  

In any event, the deep bonds of affection, love and respect are restored.  Lily’s Mother even appeared on one of the Gaither telecasts, when Bill called her from the audience to express his respect and love for her.  

Unfortunately, things did not go so smoothly on the marital front.  Lily and Joe divorced in 1998.  Still, there is a mutual respect between Lilly and Joe, and his records are featured on a special section of the Isaac web site at .

The Isaacs might seem to some to be an ‘overnight’ success, who have leapfrogged into national attention when a new generation and audience discovered Bluegrass through the hit movie ‘O Brother, where art thou?’  

Actually, it’s been a long and arduous journey for the group.  From singing part-time in churches, where the youngsters were dubbed the ‘Kosher Hillbillies’, or the ‘Gospel Chipmunks’, the family finally decided to stake out full time performing.  By 1992, they had their first top Gospel hit.  

It was about 10 years ago that the Isaacs became a part of the Gaither family.  Lily describes the excitement of working with Gospel legends such as Jake Hess, Howard and Vestal Goodman and others as one of the most energizing things she has ever done.  

Her admiration and respect for Gloria and Bill Gaither is unbounded.   

“When you first meet Bill, it’s a bit intimidating,” she explains.  “He is so talented, and he has made so many important contributions, that it is overwhelming.  But Bill has a manner and sincerity about him, and an ability to look make you feel comfortable, that makes him special. He’ll cry at the drop of a hat.  

“Gloria has such depth.  She loves her family and friends.  And, it is special when you have the chance to sit down and talk with her…she’s a wonderful lady.”  

The relationship is such with the Gaithers that the Isaacs are now working under the Gaither label and are in the studio recording their first CD under the new arrangement.  

And, while it will retain the quality of the Bluegrass origins that has characterized the Isaacs in the past, it also marks a transition with additional instruments and a sound that reflects a new era for the Isaacs’ tremendous talent.  

And, for a Lily Isaacs, it marks yet another phase of her life story…a story so rich that it has to be real life, because otherwise no one could believe it if they only read it because it is just so varied and powerful.



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