By Susan Marquez
Lily Isaacs never dreamed that she’d one day tour the world singing Gospel music. “Why would I?’ she asks. “I was a Jewish girl born in Germany after World War II to Polish-born Jews who survived the German Holocaust.” The family moved to New York in 1949, when Lily was just two years old, and she spoke Yiddish until she was in grade school.
In 1969, she met Joe Isaacs, the son of a Pentecostal preacher who was one of 19 children. He was playing with the Greenbriar Boys, a bluegrass band, in Greenwich Village. The couple married, and Lily accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior in 1971 at Joe’s brother’s funeral in Ohio. “So, you can understand why, as a young person, I could never have imagined I’d be singing Gospel music!”
Lily says she always had show business in her blood. As a child, she studied theatre and performing in the Bronx, and as a teenager signed a contract with Capitol Records and recorded an album with a friend. But it was the birth of their three children that really set the course for Lily’s performing life. “God blessed me with three very talented children.” In time, she became the matriarch of one of the bluegrass world’s most endearing groups, The Isaacs.
The family group began singing together 35 years ago. Based out of Hendersonville, Tennessee, the family spends over half the year on the road, and untold hours in the studio, yet they still love spending time together. “We fight like any other family, but in the end, we all love each other, and we always have each other’s back.” Joining Lily in the group are son Ben, and daughters Rebecca Isaacs Bowman and Sonya Isaacs Yeary. They play their own acoustic instruments and are sometimes backed by other band members.
There is no doubt that being related contributes to the sweet harmonies The Isaacs produce when singing together. All have beautiful, rich voices that easily stand alone, but when they harmonize together, the sound is heavenly. Most of their songs are inspired by their strong faith. Their shows are relaxing, but never boring. Each song explores the human condition through the lens of a believer. The song “Why” asks the question we all ask after going through a trial in life, whether it be storms, terrorism, or illness. “He Understands My Fears” is a country-Gospel tune acknowledging that, as humans, we hurt, yet God is here and understands our fear and pain. Lily Isaac is a 30-year breast cancer survivor, and it’s from that experience that she wrote “I’m Gonna Love You Through It.” Recorded by Martina McBride, it has become an anthem of sorts to those going through cancer. And “A Little Bit of Heaven” is a peppy tune that declares a little bit of heaven is found in every Gospel song.
The Isaacs are frequent performers on The Grand Ole Opry and are often seen on the Gaither Homecoming Videos and Concert Series. They have performed in several countries on just about every continent, in venues that range from large arenas to country churches. Their travel schedule is mind-boggling, yet they all make time for family.
“We live pretty close to each other,” says Lily, who adds that the family enjoys spending time together even when they’re not on the road, especially during the holidays. “We have some pretty strong holiday traditions. We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, because I want to pass on the traditions of my family to my grandchildren. We light the Menorah together and say a prayer in Hebrew. On Christmas Eve, or whenever we can all get together, we have a 25-year tradition of having lasagna and apple pie. On Christmas morning, we all gather together, and before we open gifts, we say a family prayer and each of the grandchildren take a turn in reading part of the Christmas story. The youngest is six now, so he can read, and the oldest is 21. Then each person in the room says something they are thankful for since the last Christmas. It’s a special time. I feel especially blessed to do what I do, and to do it with my talented family.”