The Isaacs: Music, Mission, and Message

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The Isaacs: Music, Mission, and Message

by Kara M. Bachman

Grammy-nominated bluegrass, Americana, and gospel band The Isaacs is about as solid as they come. They bring a wealth of experience spanning 50 years…family tradition…a huge discography…a history of performing at venues such as the Grand Ole Opry…awards and recognitions, including being recognized by the Dove Awards…a European tour every two or three years…and a mission that brings joy to people whose stories should never be forgotten.

This family outfit from Hendersonville, Tennessee consists of vocalist Lily Isaacs; Ben Isaacs, who plays bass and offers vocals; Sonya Isaacs Yeary, with her mandolin and vocals; Becky Isaacs Bowman, who takes care of guitar and vocals; and newest member, Levi Bowman, who plays guitar and sings.

The band records a new album about every two years or so (do the math…that’s a LOT of music), starting with the first recording back in 1972. This year, they did something unique and allowed fans to witness their recording process as it happened in real-time.

“For five days, we were [broadcast] live from ten o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night. We took them [fans] through all the steps of a recording project,” said band matriarch, Lily Isaacs. “We finally released the album in July. It’s called “Songs of the Times.”

“For five days, we were [broadcast] live from ten o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night. We took them [fans] through all the steps of a recording project,” said band matriarch, Lily Isaacs. “We finally released the album in July. It’s called “Songs of the Times.”

Another album was also put together before the Covid-19 pandemic began, but its release has been held off a bit and is expected to happen this coming spring. Isaacs said it’s a bit different from what the band usually does; this time, it’ll be classic Americana.

“We picked songs that were not ordinary for a group like us,” Isaacs said. One example is a unique cover of the Beatles hit, “We Can Work It Out.” Some of the group’s music is already-familiar tunes, but much consists of originals.

“My daughters are amazing songwriters,” Isaacs said, “and a lot of the songs we play are songs they’ve written. Songs that are most gratifying are songs that we’ve lived.” One example is a recent number, “The Wilderness.” It’s fitting for this current world of uncertainty.

“Right now, it seems like we’re in a wilderness,” Isaacs observed.

This year has been difficult for the band, as it has for most everyone else. Some performances had to be canceled. A trip to Israel–a place that’s special to The Isaacs–would have marked the band’s 16th trip to the Holy Land. This time, it had to be canceled due to Covid-19.

“We do mission work there. We help support Holocaust survivors. We also helped an orphanage there. It’s kind of mission work that we do,” Isaacs explained. “My parents are Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors,” she said. Isaacs was born in Germany after World War II and grew up in New York City. 

“We love the country of Israel…it’s a place of belonging for all cultures,” Isaacs explained. “We thought…you know, we need to give back someday.”

This eventually happened in the creation of the nonprofit Fishman-Isaacs Israel Initiative (www.Fiii.org). “I’m proud that we started that,” Isaacs said.

“There are probably 135,000 Holocaust survivors still living today,” Isaacs said. “It was such a blessing to see the looks on their faces when we embraced them and let them know we cared.”

Isaacs said assuming things go well, and Covid-19 social distancing subsides, they will hopefully be back on track for heavier touring during 2021, along with a 2021 visit to Israel. There’s a lot to look forward to for this band that’s made a mark both on bluegrass and gospel as well as on remembering and caring for those who should never be forgotten.