by Mark Fuller
Mae LeFevre was born in McCall, South
Carolina on August 7, 1917 to the home
of Reverend and Mrs. H.L. Whittington.
At the age of five, Eva Mae began singing
at her father's street-corner services.
At the age of six, Eva Mae was playing
the pump organ at her father's church.
She would have to sit on her father's
lap to reach the keys while her father
would pump the pedals on the organ.
Mae was eight years old when she met Urias
and Alphus LeFevre. Urias, age 16, and
Alphus had come to her father's church
to put on a concert. Urias, speaking of
Eva Mae, said, "I have just met my wife".
Eight years later, 1934, Urias and Eva
Mae married in Greenville, South Carolina
at the Tremont Avenue Church of God. Eva
Mae then joined Urias and Alphus to form
the LeFevre Trio.
1939, the LeFevres moved to Atlanta, Georgia
and began holding concerts. The admission
was a whopping ten cents! They quickly
attracted a following and in 1940 were
signed by NuGrape and Orange Crush to
do a regular radio show on WGST. They
were each paid $50 a week. The show drew
more than 1,000 fan letters a day and
continued on the air for 10 years. During
World War II, the LeFevre men went off
to proudly serve their country. During
this time, Eva Mae sang with the Homeland
Harmony Quartet, while also managing the
household, and caring for children Pierce,
Meurice, and Andrea. When the war was
over, the LeFevre Trio was reunited and
began traveling throughout the South,
performing weekend concerts. It was during
this time that Mylon was born to Eva Mae
and Urias. It was also during this time
that such notables as Jim Waites and Hovie
Lister performed with the LeFevres.
the 1950's, the LeFevres were continuing
to gain popularity. In 1954, Eva Mae was
named the first Queen of Gospel Music.
It was during this time that little Monteia
was born to Eva Mae and Urias. Because
of her special needs, the LeFevres moved
to Philadelphia to seek special medical
assistance for her. During these two years,
Eva Mae and Urias found employment a church
in Philadelphia and had to sell most of
their earthly possessions to provide for
Monteia's medical treatments. The LeFevres
returned to Atlanta in the late 1950's
and were joined by such men as Jimmy Jones
and Rex Nelon.
1960's ushered in a golden era for the
LeFevres. Son Pierce joined the group
in the early 1960's. Their weekly television
program, The Gospel Singing Caravan, made
the LeFevres a household name nationwide,
as well as other groups such as the Johnson
Sisters, the Blue Ridge Quartet and the
Prophets. As MC, Eva Mae charmed audiences
from coast to coast with her graciousness,
her keen wit, her trademark laugh, and
her unique and unmistakable piano style.
And who can forget Eva Mae convincing
audiences the many benefits of using Martha
White Flour and S.S.S. Tonic? Later in
the 1960's, son Mylon LeFevre began to
perform with the group. The New Gospel
Singing Caravan, which featured the LeFevres
and the Speer Family, was also a huge
was a special year for the LeFevres. In
recognition of their golden anniversary,
the album Fifty Golden Years was released.
The 1970's would also bring many changes
to the LeFevres. Urias announced his retirement
in 1974, turning over the management of
the group to Rex Nelon, and stating he
needed to take some time off for hunting
and fishing. Some of the individuals who
performed with the group in the 1970's
included Ron Hutchins, Teresa McNeil,
Janet Paschal and Kelly Nelon. In 1976,
Alphus LeFevre retired. In May 1977, Eva
Mae retired from full time traveling stating
she was going to stay home "to see what
Urias was hunting and fishing for". It
was at that time the LeFevres became the
Rex Nelon Singers. In 1978, Eva Mae was
given the unique honor as the first living
woman ever inducted into the Gospel Music
Hall of Fame, followed by induction in
1988 into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame
- the very first inductee from the Gospel
first years for retirement for Eva Mae
were not pleasant years for her. Both
her mother and Urias passed away in 1979,
son Pierce in 1985, grandson Monty in
1987 and Alphus LeFevre shortly thereafter.
But through all the sorrow and tears,
Eva has demonstrated that through her
faith, she has the ability to overcome.
Through good times and much sadness, Eva
Mae continued to sing and touch the hearts
February 1991, Eva Mae and other Gospel
Music legends were contacted by Bill Gaither
to join him and the Vocal Band on a recording
of "Where Could I Go". After lunch, Eva
Mae went to piano and began to play. The
other singers soon joined in for a "jam"
session. This "jam" session was caught
on tape and became the first "Homecoming"
video. Bill has stated that Eva Mae's
actions on that day sparked the beginning
of the Homecoming series.
the past few years, Eva Mae had undergone
more personal suffering. First in the
passing of her daughter Andrea, and then
her beloved father, H.L. Whittington,
who passed away at the age of 103. At
the age of 84, Eva Mae underwent triple
coronary artery bypass surgery. Amazingly,
she came back stronger than ever, traveling
the Southeast, and bringing hope and cheer
late J. D. Sumner once said, "The first
lady to change the world of Gospel Music
was Eva Mae LeFevre . . . Eva Mae was
the pioneer and set the standard . . ."
didn't get in the way of Eva Mae LeFevre!
The sparkle in her eye was still there,
the determination was still in her step,
and her outlook on life encouraged us
all. We can all say that we are better
people, and the world a better place,
because of Eva Mae LeFevre. She continued
to spread hope and cheer along life's
pathway, with a hope of better things
to come.! Eva Mae was a true "steel magnolia"
and certainly without a doubt The First
Lady of Gospel Music.
Mae LeFevre died at 7:25 a.m. on Monday,
May 18, 2009, at age 91.