I grew up in North Carolina, so bluegrass music feels like home to me. Its acoustic strings (strummed, picked, and bowed), its stacked vocal harmonies—this “mountain music” from the southern US sounds sweet to my ears.
Lately I’ve been enjoying some video-archived bluegrass performances by the Franz Family from Berryville, Arkansas, a family of seven—Mom, Dad, three sons,* and two daughters—who toured together as a bluegrass gospel band continuously from 1991 to 2011, performing at churches, camps, prisons, and parties. (*The second oldest son, Hadley, left the group in 2004 when he got married and moved to Kansas.) Click here to watch a short documentary on the Franz Family, produced in 2010.
Everyone in the group sings and plays multiple instruments, but here are the instruments you’ll most commonly see them on:
Randy Franz: Guitar
Ruth Ann Franz: Guitar, double bass
Caleb Franz: Guitar, mandolin, banjo
Audra (Franz) Mohnkern: Double bass
Emmett Franz: Dobro
Olivia (Franz) Jahnke: Fiddle
So many songs from the traditional bluegrass repertoire were written as Christian testimony. Most celebrate the personal redemption from sin wrought through Christ and eagerly anticipate heaven, inviting others onto that glory train. They also proclaim the loving aid God provides through the storms of life, which the family experienced when Ruth Ann passed away from cancer in 2016. Her death renders even truer the lyrics she sang again and again:
I’m just a pilgrim here
Soon I’ll be gone
Nothing can hold me here
I’m headed home
Somewhere in glory you’ll find me
Singing and shouting in eternity
Here are three studio recordings of the Franz Family from December 2009 in Denver, Colorado: “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand,” “Somewhere in Glory,” and “Getting Ready to Go.”
I’ve compiled some other video recordings below; for more, see Randy Franz’s YouTube channel.
Gospel Temple, Moline, Illinois, 2001
“I Saw the Miracle”
“The Dearest Friend”
“God Moves in a Windstorm” (about Jonah)
“Hallelujah, Our Lord Is Risen”
“I Wonder What They’re Doing in Heaven Today”
“Nothing Can Hold Me Here”
Sebring, Florida, 2007
Good Hope Baptist Church, Alabama, 2007
“Shadow of Your Wings”
“Chasing After the Wind” (in the voice of Solomon)
Though they still loving playing music when they’re together, the Franz Family stopped touring in 2011 because of new marriages and other musical pursuits. Since then, the Franz siblings have released albums with other artists, like Colin Elmore (This Side of the Sun), Kevin Cott (Every Highway), and Chelsea Moon (Hymn Project, Vol. 2). In 2015 Emmett released a solo EP, Wanderers and Whims, and in 2017 Olivia released Dark and Light under the stage name Olive.
Here’s a video of Emmett from last year performing “Wayfaring Stranger” on Dobro (resonator guitar):
In the hands and mouths of these super-talented musicians, these songs of the faith build up and bless.