Country Music Mourns Loss of Deborah McCrary of The McCrary Sisters

The McCrary Sisters (Deborah McCrary, 3rd from right)

The McCrary Sisters will always be known first and foremost as a Nashville-based Gospel group. They sing, perform, and record Gospel songs, and toured as a Gospel quartet. But their litany of contributions to country music are only fair to characterize as imperative over the last 12 years. In the modern era, there may not be another collection of voices more commonly featured via the recordings and live performances of country and roots artists than The McCrary Sisters—from the very top reaches of mainstream commercial country, to the most revered Americana performers and even down to the more obscure.

The McCrary sisters are today’s unequivocal backup choir to country music. That is why country music is mourning so heavily today with the host of other genres the McCrary Sisters have touched at the word that the second oldest sister of the group, Deborah McCrary, has passed away.

It’s hard to know just where to begin enumerating the contributions of the McCrary Sisters to country music. You can start with numerous songs by Carrie Underwood, including on her 2020 Christmas album My Gift, and her 2015 album Storyteller. Miranda Lambert utilized the McCrary Sisters on her 2019 album Wildcard. Whiskey Myers, Gregg Allman, Stoney LaRue, Mary Gauthier, Allison Russell, Sean McConnell, Paul Thorn, Paul Cauthen, and Margo Price are other names with a McCrary presence in their music, sometimes constituting a focal point of a song, or even the lion’s share of an album.

The presence of The McCrary Sisters in the live context of country music is perhaps where they have been the most recognizable. Multiple ACM and CMA Awards shows have been graced by a McCrary Sisters appearance, and over the last many years, they’ve been a integral part of the American Music Awards’ house band. Eric Church, Martina McBride, Steve Earle, and many more have performed with the participation of the McCrary Sisters. They make regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry stage as well.

The father of the four McCrary Sisters was founding member of The Fairfield Four and Baptist preacher Reverend Samuel H. “Sam” McCrary. Oldest sister Ann worked as a session musician for many years, while the 3rd sister Regina toured with Bob Dylan from the late 70s in the the mid 80s. 2nd sister Deborah born on June 17th, 1954 sang her entire life, but decided to pursue a career in nursing.

It was Deborah being willing to do more than moonlight with her fellow sisters that allowed The McCrary Sisters to become an active singing ensemble in 2010, codified by the release of their debut album Our Journey. It was also a severe stroke Deborah suffered in 2013 around the release of their second album All the Way that almost knocked them off the stage. But it took Deborah only six months to recover, and she was taking the stage with her sisters once again.

The McCrary Sisters released additional albums Let’s Go in 2015, and the Holiday album A Very McCrary Christmas for Rounder Records in 2019. And throughout this time, if you needed a Gospel accompaniment in Nashville, The McCrary Sisters were who you called. The only question is if they were available.

On May 12th, The McCrary Sisters asked for prayers for Deborah, but did not disclose what ailment she was suffering from. Sister Alfreda first announced the news late on Wednesday, June 1st that Deborah had gotten her wings, and The McCrary Sisters confirmed on Thursday that Deborah passed away at the age of 67.

We can only hope Ann, Regina, and Alfreda continue on. Because without The McCrary Sisters, country music would have a lot less soul.

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