Why aren’t Sisters more popular?

I refer, of course, to the group about which we’ve been having a discussion below. A reader offers a compelling answer to the question:

The Ruppe girls are not conceited in that high school definition of the word that means “stuck up.” However, they do not possess that effusive personality (individually or as a group) that makes audiences immediately feel as though they’re best buddies or well, sisters. They are, in my at-a-distant opinion, very sincere in their faith and yet, they don’t always appear totally comfortable on stage in leadership roles (because they grew up with a drama-queen mama who was.) So, while they may possess truckloads of talent more than anyone else out there, it’s still the awkwardness between songs and the uncertainty of their roles as performers that, in my opinion, may keep fans at arms length. Because everyone knows that southern gospel fans want to feel like they’ve been sitting in your living room for an hour and a half when they leave your concert.

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  1. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

    When I’ve met the members of Sisters over the years, they’ve always seemed very down to earth and honest. I don’t remember noticing any particularly awkward moments between songs when they sang at my church last year.

    Their program isn’t a well rehearsed spectacle like EH&SS, and it doesn’t have any “aw shucks” moments like you’ll get from Claude Hopper…nothing wrong with either of those, by the way…

    Their program is just very solid and professional. They have a good mix of serious and funny moments between songs, and the songs themselves feature some of the best three-part female vocal moments I’ve ever heard.

  2. Soli Deo Gloria wrote:

    Let me throw this out there for consideration: Is the average southern gospel fan too unsophisticated to appreciate innovative, muscially challenging performances and acts?

    The question isn’t “What is Sisters doing wrong?” so much as it is “Why do southern gospel fans prefer untalented groups trotting out the same old tired stuff over more talented, more innovative groups?”

    The average southern gospel fan seems perfectly satisfied with awful singing, awful production and awful arrangments. Why is that? Are they just comfortable with it? Does innovation make them nervous?

    This seems to be a regional issue. Take country music, for example. Once upon a time country music was a regional genre located primarily in the southeastern United States (which is what southern gospel is today). Country music realized the need to expand its fan base beyond the tried and true who were satisfied by three chords and a cloud of dust. And that’s what it did. Better songs, better arrangments, better performers, more talent…now country is thriving all over the country and the world.

    There is a similar example in NASCAR, which used to be a regional affair only. The traditional fan base, primarily in the southeast, hates the innovations and changes that made NASCAR (a little) more sophisticated; however, those innovations have attracted a much larger, much more sophisticated fan base. As a result, NASCAR is regional no more.

    So, back to the question of why southern gospel fans consistently choose mediocrity over innovation. Could it be that, like country music and NASCAR before it, southern gospel’s tried and true are simply too unsophisticated to appreciate innovation? Is it a regional thing?

    How many people hated Garth Brooks when he hit it big? Only the “traditional” country music fans. How many people hated Jeff Gordon when he began to dominate NASCAR? Only the “traditional” fans.

    How many people would rather see a sucky performance by a third tier quartet over Sisters? Only the “traditional” fans. The only problem is southern gospel only has “traditional” fans.

    So…is the average southern gospel fan too unsophisticated to appreciate a group like Sisters? Or is the problem really as simple as they don’t make audiences feel like buddies?

  3. Hector Luna wrote:

    I think you’re on to something Soli.

  4. joe wrote:

    Soli: Sadly, you hit that nail on the head.

  5. Alan wrote:

    Soli, yes, you nailed it. Hate to say that, but you did. I have to say that when I’ve been around the Ruppes and Sisters, not a lot, but enough, I’ve never known them to be anything but down-to-earth, very nice ladies. I understood the way Doug used the word “conceit” in his first post, but in the colloquial way it’s become used today, I’ve never seen the first sign of that with fans. I was around LordSong a lot more, and even helped to sell their product and Stan Whitmire’s when they were all touring with Mark Lowry. Kim, Michael, and (then) Amber were among the nicest, sweetest people I’ve ever been privileged to be with in music.

    I also cannot see the comments about awkwardness on stage. There may be the occasional times when Kim - the eldest of the sisters, the best-known, and the most experienced of them - wants to defer in her emceeing to her other sisters, and in those moments, there may be the tiniest bit of hesitation; but their programs are a great mix of fun and serious, with what to me is a genuine desire to minister. And, it should go without saying, some of the very sweetest arrangements and singing that one may ever hear at a sgm concert.

  6. quartet-man wrote:

    “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. ”

    And there is no shortage of beauty in them both appearance -wise or singing-wise. :D

  7. Wade wrote:

    I saw the Sisters in May and did not notice any awkwardness!!!

  8. Randy wrote:

    Many of Southern Gospel’s most popular (and a few of its most successful) groups have been non-traditional: The Hinsons, The Goodmans, The Crabbs, The Martins, Karen Peck, etc.. By that aspect, I wouldn’t say that SG fans have consistently been traditional fans, but it seems as of late, the “typical” SG music is the only music that is being pushed to fans, thus weeding out the more progressive fans (migrating them towards modern worship, etc.), while maintaining its blue-haired fan base. Proof is the NQC crowd. So, honestly, someone thinks they are going to throw a group like Sisters at the NQC crowd and expect them to go over well? They’re too country for CCM, and too CCM for the one-foot-in-the-grave SG crowd. Talent, stage presence, etc. IMO has absolutely nothing to do with why they aren’t more popular in SG. It’s like questioning why Springsteen wouldn’t be popular at Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival. I mean, he’s SPRINGSTEEN! His program is incredible compared to The Chuck Wagon Gang…

  9. cdguy wrote:

    I will say, yes, there is a segment of the population who hate change, and are content with mediocrity. I’m not convinced they are in the majority.

    I think Sisters will catch on. Like a lot of other new artists, it just takes a while for some fans to get it. But they will.

    Soli, I would say SG is not as regional as we seem to act. There is a large following from PA, OH, MI, IN, IL, WI, and IA. And look at the success artists have when they tour the west coast and Canada. There may be a dry gulch across the mountain states (less populated areas?), but there’s a good audience elsewhere.

    The midwest has been a good area for as long as I’ve been listening. I grew up in northern Indiana, and I know the Orells used to promote in OH, IN, MI, IL (maybe more) fairly successfully in the 70’s, at least, maybe the 60’s? Look at how often the Blue Gate sells out in Shipshewana, IN.

    New England may not be a hotbed of sgm, but sgm is NOT limited to the southeast, by any stretch of the imagination.

    Check the tour schedules of the top 10-15 artists. It may be an eye-opener.

  10. irishlad wrote:

    9 And hey,look how popular it is in the UK and other markets in Europe.

  11. Kevin T. wrote:

    The New England area for Gospel music is really strange, somewhat new to the genre or like it had gotten lost, and now, they’re reintroduced to it. The people are really receptive and want to hear more of it. I really noticed when a promoter had had the Lesters up in the Boston area. Crowd was great, the Lesters were AMAZING. (Most underrated group) I bet a group like this would do well up in that area or any area.

  12. Bones wrote:

    Drama Queen Mama may be the problem.

  13. Andrew S. wrote:

    #12- The family’s patriarch, Leo Ruppe, handled the group’s “dirty work.” Since they & I are from the same region, I’ve heard accounts of his dealings with concert promoters & radio djs. Sadly, he passed away in 2006 or 2007 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Interestingly, the Ruppes stopped singing around that time. And now, they’ve revamped as Sisters with no real tough guy like their dad to push them. That, my friend, is mostly why they’re not more popular.

  14. Extra Ink wrote:

    It’s all about great material, folks.

  15. wanderer wrote:

    #13 So I am wondering, does Gaither have someone to do the dirty work. Did the Cathedrals? Do you need someone to do the dirty work to make it big? Some would say Vestal had someone to do the dirty work. Elvis certainly had someone to do the dirty work.

  16. Blackstone wrote:

    Soli: you may be right about quality, but there is more to SG music than being the best singers. We all can find groups that are popular who might have only B+ singers. However these groups have some magic that sets them apart. Having good material, appearing a bit folksy, and above all appearing to be “real” however you define it. Those of you who are trying to figure the Sister’s problem are only looking at the quality/difficulty of a song and its singers. Popularity goes way beyond that. Think about Elvis for a moment.

  17. Bones wrote:

    #15 some could probably name those who did Elvis dirty work. Go figure who did the others.

  18. Wade wrote:

    EVERY good/sucessful artist HAS to have some1 to do the dirty work… They just need the separation from the BS… they don’t need to worry with stuff like that… They also need that person to BUST THEIR ASS from time to time too!!

    Bill has a Son in Law that is an attorney. Ernie did the dirty work for the Cats towards the end… but by then most of their dates were annuals so there wasn’t much to do, but believe me George & Glenn were tough business people, NOTHING WRONG with that!!… most artist are terrible business ppl & often TERRIBLE promoters of THEMSELVES!!

    I would love to do the Sisters dirty work!!! ;-) & as I smile I am serious. They are SOOO talented & I love the greenville/ spartanburg area of SC!!!

    Offered many times to do Gold City’s, which was an obvious issue for them for some time. May still be… they been laying a little low lately!!

    Without The Coronal Elvis MIGHT have been a lounge singer or maybe sang in a quartet!!

  19. Kyle wrote:

    Here’s the problem with the “dirty work,” so to speak….

    A truly musically-talented artist needs to be able to focus on their craft. Artists who also have to deal with day-to-day operations of running a business (i.e. running a musical act) often get stuck having to deal with record labels, promoters, booking agents, and legal issues, not to mention any drama between group/band members.

    It’s often a Godsend to have someone “outside” the artist area who can run the business aspect, such as promoting, booking, negotiating, etc. Not only does that take the stress off the singer, but it also makes negotiations a bit less stressful (it’s easier to talk about a particular group when you’re not part of that group!!).

  20. quartet-man wrote:

    #19 Kyle, another issue is a lot of creative people get bored to tears with business things and some are pretty poor with it if they do. However, they should have some involvement in it or situations like Wilie Nelson with his unpaid taxes and other times the artist got took. Also, the artist (in particular in Christian music) needs to choose the right people because the artist’s reputation is affected by their representatives.

    Now there are some savvy SG businessmen and representatives can be successful businessmen without being men or dishonest.

    I do agree that it can be tough to be a businessman and be in the group (unless maybe you are the solo owner) and it is awkward to promote the group while you are in it without. It is funny to see the websites sometimes where it is obvious the artist did their own press (when they accidentally speak in first person during part of it). :)

  21. cdguy wrote:

    Gaither DOES have people handling the ugly business side of things. Part of what he tells about the early years (late 60’s-early 70’s) is that he had bad experience with promoters — not promoting their concert. So he vowed that would never happen again. He set up his own promotion company, and that enabled him to limit the dates they did.

    Obviously he isn’t able to do all the things that need to be done, but he’s always surrounded himself with smart people he trusted.

    I read in a business book several years ago that every company needs a front man and an inside man. The front man is the face of the organization — a salesman in some instances. The inside man was the accountant or business mind — someone to look after the financial interests. Sounds smart, to me.

  22. Ode wrote:

    Sisters aren’t awkward on stage - they project class,humility and gentleness, which might appear as insecurity in comparison to all the kitsch and overconfident attitude ( bad legacy of revivals?) of some old traditional SG bands, that outside of the region would sound almost like a parody.Always gives me an uneasy feeling they are praising themselves first, God second…

    What exuberant costumes and overproduced theatricals are for the gay audience, the overbearing display of religious fervor is for traditionalist SG audience.

    If I was a southerner, I wouldn’t give a darn what the rest of the country thinks, “I do it my way”. But if the objective is to get SG recognized elsewhere, then the whole “pushy salesman” shtick got to go.Dynamics that underpin this music are a handicap -religious exclusivism, intolerance and pretentiousness just won’t work in mainstream culture.

  23. Ode wrote:

    #2 Nice review,Soli, to me its quite an eyeopener..
    As Avery’s SbloGo proves there are a few very sophisticated fans :)

    Cynical, I agree, it’s popular - by indie genre’s standards. Shipshewana, IN got population of 658.Even if all those Amish self-appointed holy men drag all their livestock, kids and wives to DinnerTheater its incomparable to arenas that Cont Christ. musicians can sell. Most SG shows don’t go beyond churches, some fests or youth camps.

    Soli rather talks about more ambitious task of making SG recognizable as a peer in mainstream music culture.

  24. cynical one wrote:

    Maybe Sisters is a popular as they’re supposed to be, at this stage of their career. Maybe they’re right where they want to be.

    Has anyone asked them?

  25. William wrote:

    #24 You beat me to it. I was thinking that maybe they are right where they, or more importantly, God wants them to be.

    The bigger you get, the more that “money” begins to “control” (kind of like becoming a slave to it). No matter how much your heart wants to, it is kind of hard to “go anywhere the Lord leads” when the majority of opportunities you get have crowds of 25 - 50 (small churches), but you have to pay a booking agent, someone to do the “dirty work”, a bus payment, hotels , salaries, etc.

    When you “get bigger” it limits your opportunities to primarily those places that can “pay your bills”. So anyone who lives in a small town, goes to a small church, etc. can just about forget ever having a “big group” minister to them live.

    Bottom line, don’t let outsiders tell you what you shold or shouldn’t do. There are advantages to being big and small. Make your goal the center of God’s will and you will be able to rest a lot better at night.

  26. lovelife wrote:

    We are a “small-part time group” that is BIG in God’s eyes..That’s good enough for me. HE is bigger than anything, anyway…..

  27. Casual Observer wrote:

    Sisters is, arguably, the most talented group in Christian music today. Their acappela performances at The Dove Awards Pre-Show 2 years ago floored everyone in the industry. I think the problem is…they are simply not easily categorized. They tend to straddle too many genres (SG, Country Gospel, CCM, Worship) and that creates confusion for radio, and we all know that radio drives retail and, eventually, bookings. I also think they are probably too slick for tradition SG fans - musically and in their appearance. Look around the convention floor at NQC and you will behold a sea of stretch pants and “mom jeans”…BIG “mom jeans!” Need I say more? I’m just not sure SG fans relate to 3 gorgeous and FIT ladies who also sing like angels - I mean really…what’s not to hate? So I suggest Sisters give up their gym memberships and download the Krispy Kreme app for their iPhones ASAP. This will eventually lead to new wardrobes (and maybe an endorsement deal) from Lane Bryant. They should also start writing all their own songs (or at least cowrite them with Rick Hendrix) and launch their own custom label - Ruppe Records. If all goes as planned they’ll be Artist of the Year at the 2012 NQC.

  28. observor wrote:

    I think you hit on something Casual Observer (even though you are trying to steal my name - lol). Straddling too many genres is a problem.

    Since the Inspirations seem to be everyone’s favorite example we will use them. They knew what they were good at early on and have remained true to who they were. That along with a few monster songs early on paved the way for them. This is true for most big artist across the music field. Artist that know who they are and remain true to that usually end up with long, successful careers (and again big songs help).

    The most talk i have heard about the Sisters is that they can sing one song in several different genres and it is “awesome”. Unfortunately that is a novelty worthy of a variety show in Pigeon Forge or Branson or a utube posting. That is not something you can built a long successful career around.

    They have to find what they are good at, make it their own (originality) and add a few really good, unique songs and then they will do well…

    Also they need a live band, but that is for another discussion….

  29. blackstone wrote:

    I assumb Sisters thought out which type of music they wanted to sing and if they wanted to “push the envelope” Then they must be willing to accept the following they have or don’t have. Many of the posters want to make fun of the “older people” who follow SG music. If it weren’t for these people buying tickets, there would be very little “SG’ music promoted. The younger people don’t support much at all other than with their comments.–They will however pay $60.00 for a ticket to Willie or Taylor.

  30. William wrote:

    The Martins are another group that could be labelled as “stradling too many genres”. I love them too, but I am just one. I thought they were pretty “big”, but could be wrong.

    Seems to me that SG music has plenty of artists that are making it and they sing a variety of styles. The McKammeys (country), Isaacs (bluegrass), Inspirations (traditional - mountain), Dove Brothers (country quartet), Brian Free and Assurance (progressive quartet), etc. are a few examples.

    The common thread is that you know what you are going to get when you hear their name. I don’t expect to see the Inspirations with drums or Brian Free and Assurance with fiddles and dobros. They each have their on following and have found their niche that works for them.

    I guess the Martins came as close as anyone to being successful with a variety of styles. Bill Gaither on their side didn’t hurt either :-)

  31. Wade wrote:

    CO… do not be wishing them to blow up those beautiful little bodies they have!!! :-)

  32. CVH wrote:

    Casual Observer - that’s the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time! But good points too…one of the trends I’ve observed in the last few years is that many styles of music are getting more genre-specific. The crossover (a little SG, a little pop, a little whatever) isn’t working - with radio, with promoters, with audiences. I think they’re one of the most talented (and good looking) groups out there but I think they’d be more successful if they more clearly defined what kind of group they want to be.


  33. Ode wrote:

    29, ;) If you are an elderly person you still prefer they laugh at you then cry over you, right?

    Re: young people not buying SG you made a good point.If a product or service (like southern gospel music) isnt selling to particular market segment ( young audience), then the product has to be adjusted, improved, better promoted to aquire that demographic.

    In show business marketability is flexible,unlike for “Depend” or GM’s Buick… Do you think its not being done? I have no idea, just curious.

  34. Wade wrote:

    Well dadgum CVH… if somebody wished Suzan Speer to blow up you would have thought the SAME!! ;-)) & HEY Suzan still looks pretty hot!!!

  35. Alan wrote:

    Hey Wade - Gotten any phone calls yet from the 803 area code? You’re working it, man, and hard, trying to be their manager! Let us know if this new gig works out. ;-) Personally, I say leave the girls alone, musically. Let them keep doing what they do so incredibly well.They’re a real bright spot in this business, and as “Sisters”, they haven’t been around forever. I honestly think that the sg fans will embrace them more fully as time goes on, but that’s just one opinion. Great music makes its own way, after all. A couple of comments have been about them singing great songs, and while that’s so true, Sisters has already given us some really fine songs. They seem to be able to perform complex arrangements effortlessly, and their voices soar. Maybe it’ll only take one huge song to put them over the top, but they sure have it in them. And with ole Wade managing them, the sky’s the limit. lol

  36. Wade wrote:

    Alan… no calls yet but several ppl involved in the ministry plus sme fanz added me recently on Facebook!!! ;-))

    Oh I’d leave them alone for the most part but maybe try to talk them in to singing a few more covers on their shows and maybe HICK IT UP JUST A LITTLE on a few songs!! But not to worry, would not be encouraging them to what blow up like Causal O suggested tongue in cheek I am sure!!!

    But hey they are the bomb. I had heard, Ruppes Several times, Lordsong with Mark L… and then the Mother’s Day Church Service & they did more with 25 minutes than I have seem most groups do in a hour!!

    Alan, peace to ya Bro!!!

  37. Extra Ink wrote:

    It’s very difficult for most artists, especially your most talented ones, to stick with one style. A lot of groups would prefer to put some progressive SG, old quartet style, a little bluegrass, a little accapella, and even a CCM-styled song on a record. It’s just more interesting to them & stretches & satisfies them more to be diverse. But you guys have a point; a group like the Inspos or McKameys have stuck to one style & it works for them. Fans like to know what to expect from an artist, so an artist that can put a harness on their longing to stretch artistically will find more success with the folks. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and confounds a lot of singers that what they like isn’t necessary what the fans like or expect from them….

  38. Auke wrote:

    Sister’s are amazing singers, but i think they should cut their teeth on something different…they sound too controlled..too good…they would do awesome in a unplugged kind of setting. Really unplugged..not the Oak Tree studio deal…still too polished…just Stan Whitmire,an acoustic guitar, snare drum, and a bass (maybe a B3)…and just sing! They are simply amazing. They need a daring producer like Gary Paxton…..they are playing it too safe.

  39. CVH wrote:

    Don’t know if you’ll see this or not as the thread has moved on but you’re right - Suzan is still HOT.

  40. Wade wrote:

    CVH… heck yeah she is… There are a bunch of picz on line… and while I am too young to remember her singing with the FAM… I appreciate you turning me on to her… I think I am gonna send her company a voice reel!! CVH… unlike some pl who post here try to let on… I AM NEVER FAR AWAY!!! ;-)

  41. William wrote:

    #38 You may be on to something. I haven’t heard/seen the Oak Tree studio thing. But, I did come across this song on youtube that I just can’t seemto get enough of. I’ve been able to pass it on to quite a few people via Facebook and the response has been huge as to the encouragement they have received:


  42. TNRed wrote:

    I am just discovering Sisters today and haven’t seen them in concert. Found them through a posting on Facebook. I have feeling they have increased their following in the last few years since this was originally posted. I plan to spread the word! I’ve been in and around SG all my life (almost 50 years), but appreciate ALL genres of christian music. I think it is one of the reasons I like these ladies and their music so much - they are diverse. That and I have a sophisticated pallet and tend to lean more to the quality of musicianship and harmony. Why aren’t they more popular? I don’t know and don’t think it matters as long as they keep God and His kingdom first!
    Extra Ink: You underestimate the fans!

  43. Lonnie from Texas wrote:

    I did not read many comment’s. I feel I have been blessed by seeing the Sister’s and mom on YouTube for the first time this week. The beautiful harmonies remind me of the Rambo’s of the 60’s. They have been given beauty and fantastic voice’s to praise our Lord and singing voice’s to entertain million’s of people on this earth. I ordered 2 of their CD’s today and will be singing with them at my church in the near future. I have been singing many year’s and I feel our voice’s blend very well. To God Be The Glory!!!

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