Representing Christian Music Ministry
in the New Millennium
When The Perry Sisters began their ministry 44 years ago, the Southern Gospel industry was dominated by male quartets, mixed trios and family groups. “We were told by our producer, Dave Wilcox, that we were pioneers in the industry, and when our first radio single was released by the Eddie Crook Company, we were informed that no one could assure us that it would be received well,” stated Diana (Perry) Gillette.
Being the first professional female trio in the Southern Gospel music industry was quite an undertaking, but it wasn’t long before their music was played on Southern Gospel radio stations and was being heard across the country.
Although there were some churches and promoters who were reluctant to embrace the all-female group, God has used The Perry Sisters to blaze a trail for many others over the years. Diana shared, “I remember one time when a gentleman approached the product table after a concert and told me that he had come to see what a female group could do. I asked him what he thought, and he replied, “You ladies can hold your own with the best. I’m a fan!”’ There are so many wonderful groups that span the ages in Southern Gospel music, and The Perry Sisters have stood the test of time.
The Perry Sisters began their journey when Diana, Bonnie, and Carol Perry, from Huntington, West Virginia, joined together to create an unmatched sound that only family harmony is capable of. Their first national television appearance was in the late 1980’s on the PTL network, and their career catapulted as a result of their growing popularity. When Bonnie and Carol retired from the road in 1990, Diana began the search for other family members to fill the vacant positions. Bonnie’s daughter took her place as soprano, allowing the group to maintain a familiar sound. “Tammy’s powerful voice allowed me to add some powerful arrangements to our repertoire without changing the sound we were known for,” stated Diana.
In 1992, Diana signed the group with Sonlight Records. The group has gone on to record 25 albums and have 34 top 40 hit songs, such as “God Save our Country,” “He’ll Deliver Me,” “I Don’t Want No Rocks,” “Imagine, If You Will,” “Resurrection Morn,” “There’ll Be a Payday,” and “They Can’t Start the Celebration,” each song written by lead singer, Diana (Perry) Gillette.
Diana’s mother inspired her to write at a very young age. One day, her mother gave her a poem titled “The Wedding in Mt. Zion” that she thought could become a song. Diana took that poem and arranged it as a song, matching a melody to the lyrics. In 1980, the foundation was laid, and the songs have poured out since then.
Rex Nelon was sitting on his bus listening to the radio when a DJ featured The Perry Sisters’ album with the song Diana had written. Diana could hardly believe her ears when she answered the phone, only to hear Rex Nelon’s deep bass voice on the other end of the line. He loved their harmony and their songs, comparing their sound to the Johnson Sisters and the secular artist The Andrews Sisters. “Rex told me he wanted to record and publish my songs,” Diana shared. “The Wedding in Mt. Zion was Karen Peck’s first featured song on The Nelons’ first album after bringing Karen on board as their soprano.
Early in her songwriting years, Diana recalls a backstage moment with Ronnie Hinson after opening for The Hinsons at a concert. Ronnie spent time critiquing her songwriting and giving her suggestions that have stayed with her even today. The encouragement and guidance from those who came before her is something she cherishes as she continues to write even now. Using the Bible as her best resource, Diana has written about many experiences relating to her walk with the Lord. It was so healing to be able to sing about her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, and when she passed away, the grieving process was eased as the group sang the words to “Only Sleeping,” a song that many have found comforting as they remember a loved one who has gone home to be with Jesus.
In 2000, the group recorded the song “Make Me More Like You.” It has been introduced as a testimony and is sung as a prayer from the heart. “Let the light of Your love come shining through. Teach me, Lord, to do the things You want me to. Even though they persecute me and the world may turn against me, it’s my desire to make me more like You.” “A Willing Vessel” is a powerful song that bring concert attendees out of their seats and down to the altar. God accepts us, even with all our faults and failures. He is always there, ready to pick us up and start over again, and is simply looking for a vessel that is willing to walk in obedience to His will.
Today, the ladies that carry on this legacy are Nicole Mathews (alto), April Carroll (soprano) and of course, Diana singing lead. In 2009, they were nominated for the Female Group of the Year award. Their music is Southern Gospel to the core but has a diverse sound that incorporates a blend of old style Southern Gospel with some of the more progressive music that is common today. Diana shared, “Southern Gospel music is timeless, but there is always room for new music that shares the message of the cross, the resurrection and the return of Christ. So many people are wounded and weary and it’s up to us to take the hope of Christ out to a hurting world through everything we say and do, and especially through the music we sing.”
The Perry Sisters’ newest project, “Tellin’ the Story” is comprised of five original songs, written by Diana and four of the group’s favorites from previous recordings. “As I began to gather material for our newest album, I realized there was a common thread to the songs I was choosing,” Diana shared. “Go Tell, “I Wonder How Mary Felt,” “The Price of One Crown,” and “He Could Have Saved Himself” all share the same story. “Come Drink of this Water” is a song I wrote fifteen years ago, but never recorded until now. There were many requests for “I Wonder How Mary Felt,” but the original version was out of circulation. All the songs on this album were recreated to preserve the originally recorded arrangements and authentic sound the trio has maintained right from the very beginning.
Diana’s favorite song on the album is “Go Tell.” There is excitement in the air when the audience hears a song about the resurrection. As believers, there isn’t anything more exciting than hearing about the day our Savior rose again. There is always an air of excitement when that song is performed, and the crowd response is really energizing to watch. Another favorite is “Tell it to the Man Upstairs,” which was written about a childhood memory. Diana’s uncle often referred to “The Man Upstairs” when sharing his testimony about an experience he had with God. The song is about the tests that we face and how God’s grace is greater than even the biggest test. He promised us a way out. Finally, “I Wonder How Mary Felt,” tugs on a mother’s heartstrings. “This song holds a special place in my heart,” shares Diana. “I can’t even begin to comprehend Mary’s pain, watching what her Son endured, but I am so grateful that Jesus paid the price for our sins.”
Recorded at Chapel Valley, this album is currently in the top 3 selling albums at Springside. “We are honored that The Perry Sisters are part of the Chapel Valley Family of artists,” said Richard Hyssong, Vice President. “It’s wonderful to see a new album received so well, especially when we’ve had the privilege of watching it come to life from the birth of a new song, tracking instrumentals and vocals and finally, distribution to radio and retailers. The Perry Sisters sing from their hearts, and people love the message behind the music!”
Ministry is filled with challenges, and The Perry Sisters have faced their share of difficulties during the 44 years they’ve traveled together. Learning to trust God to provide when the bus breaks down and you’re sitting on the side of the road with no one stopping to help you isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes faith to carry on when you can’t see how God is going to work things out. “I have learned through the good times and the bad, to just praise His name. He has never once let me down,” said Diana.
We all face challenges in this life, and this journey is filled with circumstances beyond our control. The Perry Sisters’ desire is to take the message of grace, hope and forgiveness to their audience wherever they go. Diana shared, “I have faced circumstances that made me wonder if I could ever forgive the person who wounded me so deeply. I see family members and church members that have been hurt over and over and are not willing to forgive. But Jesus has given us strict instructions that we are to forgive so that our Father in Heaven may also forgive our sins. Only God can give us the grace and strength to love one another as He has loved us. Our calling is to sing the message of truth that God has equipped us with and to be used as vessels for healing wherever we go."
The Perry Sisters have kept their ministry consistent and their faithful message will continue to stand the test of time.