Talking about “pilgrims and wise men” in this issue of Homecoming Magazine brings us music lovers the perfect opportunity to reflect on all the early founders of gospel music who traveled so many miles to bring the Good News to our world through music.
Lily Fern Weatherford is one such musical pilgrim, who is among gospel music’s precious living legends. Earlier in 2013, the ever-classy Lily Fern retired from her multi-decade career singing with the Weatherfords, a family singing group her husband, Earl, founded in the 1940s. That’s seven decades this talented alto singer has been making music!
Lily and Earl were married in 1945 and began singing together in Long Beach, Calif., where they lived at the time, after Lily filled in for a male tenor singer in Earl’s quartet. Replacing that tenor singer with Lily forever changed the group’s sound, and became a turning point for the Weatherfords.
The span of the Weatherfords’ music increased rapidly and always at the center of their group’s unique sound was Lily Fern’s velvety rich alto voice. The Weatherfords became industry leaders, singing on radio, television, recordings and live performances throughout North America. There are certain gospel songs that you haven’t properly heard unless you’ve heard Lily Fern sing them, including her trademark renditions of the songs “What a Precious Friend Is He” and “Tell My Friends.”
According to Bill Gaither, “Lily Fern Weatherford’s voice is one of the most rich, pure, velvety voices in the entire field of gospel music.”
While group members over the years always included Lily Fern and Earl, the Weatherfords had many members come and go since they traveled for so many years. Former Weatherfords members include such gospel music veterans as Glen Payne, Armond Morales, Henry Slaughter, Dallas Holm, Jim Hammel, and their son, Steve Weatherford, who is still carrying on the Weatherford legacy, singing approximately 150 dates per year.
When Earl passed away in 1992, Lily kept singing. She carried on the Weatherfords’ tradition with Steve for 20 more years before she decided it was time to retire. While in some ways her retirement signifies the end of an era, there is a far-reaching and unfading permanence that comes with singing about eternal things for so many years.
Lily Fern received a number of awards and honors over the course of her career, including Female Entertainer of the Year in 1993 and 1994, from the Great Plains Gospel Music Association. The Women’s International Center presented her with the Living Legacy Award in 1998, which honors women who have left a spiritual legacy, and she was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
Lily announced her pending retirement in January of 2013, and took her final tour in May of this year. She is now living in Broken Arrow, Okla., where her daughter, Susan, and son-in-law, Tim, reside.
There are so many reasons Lily Fern Weatherford will be remembered for generations to come: her heart for people, her lifelong investment in singing about the Good News, her one-of-a-kind vocal interpretations, and her deeply respected resolve to keep making great music for 70 incredible years.