Section 1:The Legacy

Section 3: The Isaacs

Section 4: Sonya Isaacs

Section 5: Levi Bowman

Section 2: Joe Isaacs & Sacred Bluegrass

 

Joe Isaacs and his banjo


When he was seventeen, Joe left home, traveling across the state line to Ohio in search of a job.  After he had worked long enough to save some money, he bought an old guitar and started to learn to play chords on it.  Soon, however, he traded it for a banjo on which he learned to play bluegrass music.  When he had mastered enough technique, he joined a bluegrass band led by Larry Sparks.  When Larry left to play with Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys, Joe migrated from one group to another, finally joining the Greenbriar Boys in New York City.  The Greenbriar Boys were a legendary bluegrass group that played an important role in bringing bluegrass music to the mainstream during the folk movement of the early- and mid-1960s.

One of the places where the Greenbriar Boys played was Gerdes Folk City in New York City, the folk music club where Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, and Peter Paul and Mary were discovered.  It was there that Joe met his future wife Lily Fishman, who was also performing at Gerdes.  Lily was a Jewish girl the same age as Joe who had been born in Germany several years after her parents were released from five years of imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps.  As almost all of their relatives had been killed during the holocaust, Lily and her parents soon immigrated to the United States to settle in New York City.  Lily, being interested in show business, majored in theatre arts at Queens College where she and a school friend had formed a folk music duo and recorded an album for Columbia Records called Lily and Maria.

In 1969, after living a year and a half in New York City, Joe moved back to Ohio.  The following year Lily moved to Ohio and she and Joe were married.  In 1970, while attending the funeral of one of Joe's brothers who had died in a car accident, Lily and Joe had a powerful spiritual experience while attending a little Pentecostal church and they both turned their lives over to Christ.

Joe had been singing lead with Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys, but in 1970 he joined a group called Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers  and he stayed with them for two years.  Joe played on a number of albums, including two with Larry Sparks.  However, in 1972 he began recording with his own group, Joe Isaacs and the Calvary Mountain Boys.  Joe wanted to devote himself completely to singing and playing gospel music with his wife Lily, and this began with his first gospel album Live It Everyday.  In 1974, Joe and Vernon Bowing formed a group called The Sacred Bluegrass.  When Vernon later quit the group, Joe changed the name to Joe Isaacs and The Sacred Bluegrass.  At first Lily was the only family member in this group, but soon their three very young children, Ben, Sonya, and Rebecca ("Becky") joined them.  The group's name was then changed to The Joe Isaacs Family. When the children finally became a major part of the group, the name was shorted to just The Isaacs.

Joe sang with his family until the mid-1990s when he began branching back out on his own.  He started singing frequently with Ralph Stanley, then after over thirty years on the road, he was divorced from his wife Lily and moved back to the original Kentucky homeland that he had carried in his heart all of his life.  He is currently an honorary member of Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys, a member of the Cumberland Highlanders Band that broadcast a weekly show on the Outdoor cable channel, and he has also formed his own bluegrass band called the Red Lick Mountain Band. Joe received special recognition from President George Bush for his song "Proud of the American Flag" during the Desert Storm operations.  Joe has performed with most of the great bluegrass musicians over the years and has written many heartfelt songs that have been recorded by him as well as others and are frequently played on bluegrass radio in both the United States and abroad.

Joe Isaacs is an embodiment of the Southern Appalachian culture. We'll interview some of Joe's peers Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs, and Porter Wagoner, and will record live events of Joe playing with the Cumberland Highlanders Band and his own Red Lick Mountain Band.

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