The Glorifying Vines Sisters are a thriving musical institution. Based in Eastern North Carolina, they’ve been tearing up the road for decades and tearing up every church they visit. But they don’t confine themselves to churches; they’re comfortable playing secular venues, too. “If we’re going to do like Jesus did,” says singer and manager Alice Vines, “then we’re going to go wherever we’re called to go.” She adds, “And we’re going to enjoy ourselves when we get there.”
Four sisters—Dorothy, Alice, Mattie, and Audrey—along with Johnny Ray Daniels form the vocal core of the group. Johnny Ray also plays lead guitar. Other family members and close associates fill in on drums, bass, and keyboards. Their music is steeped in the traditions of quartet gospel—a style that came into its own in the 1930s with groups like the Soul Stirrers and the Dixie Hummingbirds. They have shared the stage with many of the biggest names in the genre, including the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the Swanee Quintet. But while the Vines Sisters can wreck the house with the best of them, they also bring a distinctive sweetness and a mellow funkiness to their music.
The group made their first recordings in the mid-1970s, and these 45s sound fresh even today. One of these early songs, “Jesus Never Fails,” is built on a rock-solid 6/8 groove with the accompanying voices falling perfectly in the pocket. This musical foundation helps push lead singer Dorothy to a performance that rivals those of other famous gospel Dorothys (like Dorothy Love Coates and Dorothy Norwood). It’s thrilling. Another early recording, their version of the classic hymn “He’ll Understand and Say, Well Done,” is deeply moving, easily at home among the very best versions of this often-recorded standard.
Once they had records out, the Sisters hit the road. Alice says of their experiences traveling, “Some of it was good, and some of it won’t good.” Money was rarely guaranteed. Sometimes they crossed several state lines to get to a program, only to discover upon arrival that the event had been canceled. “You drove all that far,” says Alice, “and now you got to turn around and drive all the way back home.” But when they did sing, it was something. “Many people came to the Lord through our singing,” Alice proclaims. And that’s really what it is about for the Vines Sisters—ministering through music.
With over four decades of experience, the Vines Sisters continue to record and perform. Alice uses the words of one of her favorite songs to explain how the Vines Sisters understand their musical ministry—“It’s like that song ‘It is No Secret (What God Can Do);’ no matter what you’re going through, it is no secret what God can do. What he’s done for others, he’ll do for you. If you’re going through a problem in your life—just like me, see, God fixed a lot of things in my life. So I can tell you, ‘if he did it for me, he’ll do it for you.’ We all fall down, but we can get back up again.”
And if you hear them—whether at a church in Farmville, a bar in Durham, or one of their stops along the road—the Glorifying Vines Sisters will definitely have you up, in both body and spirit.
— Will Boone PhD