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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
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
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
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.
had voice lessons as she grew older and in an “only in
” story, she was to record a
folk album for
in the era of the emergence of
folk music. In this Bohemian setting the story takes a new twist.
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
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.
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.”
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.’
was during this period that Lily’s life underwent yet another almost
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.
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.
something miraculous happened. The
Jewish girl’s heart poured out and she became a Christian.
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.
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
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
through the hit movie ‘O Brother, where art thou?’
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.
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
admiration and respect for Gloria and Bill Gaither is unbounded.
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.
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.”
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.
while it will retain the quality of the
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’
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