Feature: Finding Harmony at Home

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Despite huge success, the Forester Sisters bid farewell to the road to focus on family and second careers.

By RANDY GRIDER

The Forester Sisters burst onto the country music scene in the mid-1980s with almost unprecedented success. The first single from the group’s self-titled album went to No. 10 on the charts. They followed with three consecutive No. 1 hits and a string of Top 10 singles. In less than a decade, their portfolio totaled 15 top 10 singles, five No. 1 hits, Top Vocal Group award and a touring schedule that spanned the United States and 35 countries.

Then almost as quickly as it started, they walked away.

I recently sat down with the Forester Sisters – Kathy, June, Kim and Christy – at the home of June near the rural New Salem, Ga., community atop Lookout Mountain where they grew up, and where they all still live within a 10-mile radius of each other.

They had completed a three-night, three-city (Chattanooga, Tenn., Fort Payne, Ala., and South Pittsburg, Tenn.) Christmas family tour just the month before. Their Landmarks of Dekalb-sponsored show at the historic Fort Payne Opera House, like the other two dates, was well received and well attended – proving the Forester Sisters’ fans haven’t gone away despite the fact their appearances are few and far between these days.

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]“That was such a pleasant experience from start to finish,” says Kim of the Christmas shows, which also featured family members.

If you want the short answer to why the four sisters, for all intents and purposes, shelved their public musical career, it’s family. Of course, there were some other variables that included the changing music industry and the waning focus on traditional country, but family was too important to try to keep up the hectic pace that had dominated their early career.

“We did 12 albums with Warner Brothers in 12 years,” Kim says. “We had four, three-album options with Warner Brothers, and we would re-up each time for three albums. By the time we got to the last albums, Kathy had three children, June had two children and Christy had two children who were all on the road with us. In one sense, it was a great thing because they loved it and it was their life and they were comfortable with it, but it’s not real fair to them to try to live that life.”
June’s role as a mother on the road was especially difficult after the birth of her daughter Canaan, who was premature and blind. “Canaan just couldn’t take it,” June says.

“She was really, really premature and just the stimulation of the bus, the movement, the smells, the sounds – it was just too much for her.”

When that last album was done, the decision was made to return home for good. “We didn’t drag it out,” Kim says. “We finished the dates that we had on the books and that was it.”

Fans and people in the music industry were a little confused. “We told them not to book us for any more shows,” Kim says. “They were kind of like, ‘people just don’t walk away.’ We said, ‘thanks, this has been great, but we are done.’”

 Church and the Creek

The roots of the Forester Sisters’ early singing career run through the New Salem Methodist Church. Kathy and June first start singing at the church when they were 10 and 8, respectively.

“We got a piano for Christmas, and the first song we sang at church was ‘Silent Night,’” June says.

“Oh, I wanted to sing bad, so when they went up in front of the church, I would sing, too, only from the pew,” Kim adds. “I finally started singing with them when I was 5.”

Christy, who was the youngest, was the odd girl out. “Normally with singing there are three parts in a group and they wouldn’t let me sing for a long time. They would be like, ‘what part are you going to sing? No, don’t sing my part.’ Just hateful,” Christy jokes.

And then their mother intervened.

“Mother kind of threatened them,” Christy says. “If they didn’t let me sing, then they couldn’t go swimming. And swimming at the creek was a big social thing.”

“We had to let her in or we couldn’t go to the creek,” June says.

“The thing was, I had studied them singing the different parts,” Christy says. “I could fill in anywhere. I was kind of like a switch-hitter. I had to jump in and do something.”

Growing up in the New Salem community, the sisters worked on their family’s small farm, tending crops, hauling hay and living a normal rural mountain life.

“We played sports, did cheerleading, but pretty much our social life was the church and the community center,” Christy says. “We had square dances every other Saturday night and we had the creek where we hung out and went swimming. That’s what all our friends did together.”

Education was important to the girls and their parents. Kathy and June both graduated from Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga., and started careers in education. Kim also followed her older sisters’ footsteps and spent a couple of years at Wesleyan, while Christy began her studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

All the while, Kathy and June were dabbling in music, playing clubs in Chattanooga in various combinations of bands as well as a four-girl group. While they were liked for their talent, Kathy says they never really had a large following.

“We played the clubs in Chattanooga, but we were rarely asked back,” Kathy says. “We played songs we liked that we found on albums, but we really didn’t do cover songs. People didn’t really know the songs we played.”

Still, the sisters got some encouragement that they should try to make an album and make a go of it at singing for a career. In late 1983, the sisters recorded a studio demo in Muscle Shoals, Ala. When the demo landed on the desk of an executive at Warner Bros. Records, their musical career took a gigantic leap forward.

Unheralded to Fame

The Forester Sisters signed a contract with Warner Bros. Records in 1984 and started to work on a debut album under the label shortly afterwards.

Kim says executives at the recording company told them when the first single – “(That’s What You Do) When You’re in Love” – was released that it would probably chart in the Top 100 and then drop out. That’s common for new unknown artists on their first release.

“They thought it would chart and get into the [Top] 50s and drop out,” Kim says. “It charted at No. 76, and we were like ‘woo-hoo!’”

But the single didn’t fade as expected. The song climbed to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It was quickly followed by “I Fell in Love Again Last Night,” “Just in Case” and “Mama’s Never Seen Those Eyes” – all No. 1 hits. The album itself went to No. 4 on the charts.

Kim says if the record company had released singles from that album she believes there would have been more hits.

Still, the sisters from New Salem shot right out of the gates into instant fame. They went from playing clubs and art shows to major venues almost overnight. They also captured the 1986 Top Vocal Group by the Academy of Country Music.

“It was very overwhelming,” Kathy says.

“In that first year, we were on the road doing 321 shows,” Kim chimes in. “In those first few years, we were not out on the road weeks at a time, we were on the road months at a time.”

The next album, “Perfume, Ribbons & Pearls,” produced the No. 2 hit, “Lonely Alone.” They soared back to No. 1 with a collaborative effort with the Bellamy Brothers, titled “Too Much Is Not Enough.”

Then in 1987, the title cut from “You Again” went to No. 1. It also contained two Top 5 singles, “Too Many Rivers” and “Lyin’ in His Arms Again.” The next two albums, “Sincerely” and “Sincerely/All I Need,” resulted in three more Top 10 singles. Two more in the Top 10 charted on the “Greatest Hits” album.

In 1991, they had a No. 8 hit with “Men” from the “Talkin’ About Men” album. They continued to tour, doing no less than 250 shows in most years until they came off the road for good. They have released several gospel albums during their years on the road and since, as well as a collection of Christmas songs.

Looking back, the four sisters say they loved their time on the road despite the sacrifices, hectic schedules and being away from home.

“It was a blast. It was like a 12-year family vacation,” Kathy says. “In the early years, we were all on the same bus, and we were the best tourists.”

“If we wanted to go somewhere or see something, we just went,” Kim adds. “We loved it.”

Today

Coming home for good meant deciding what do with the rest of their lives.

“It was hard in the beginning going from where we were to doing something new,” Kathy says. “Some people thought we were rich and didn’t take us serious.”

But the people of their community and family members were very supportive and always treated them like their own, making the transition a little easier.

“Even when we were on the road all the time, we could come back home and fall back into a normal life,” Kim says. “The people here helped keep us grounded.”

The sisters continued their education and degrees and began picking up where they left off before their years of fame. All have successful careers in areas outside of the music industry.

Kathy (Adkins) teaches music at Northeast Community College near Rainsville, Ala. June (McCormick) teaches visually impaired students in the Dade County school system in Trenton, Ga., after spending several years on the faculty with the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon. Kim is a kitchen designer in Nashville and regularly commutes between Music City and her home on Lookout Mountain. Christy is an interior designer in the Chattanooga area.

Asked if the recent mini-tour means anything for a future in terms of a comeback, they all quickly shake their heads.

“Our dad is in great shape, but our mom is getting frail. We all take turns taking care of our parents,” June says.

“We have always done a few special events over the years,” Kim adds. “It’s possible we might do something similar to what we did at Christmas, but it has to be close enough to home before we will do it.”

In the end, it all comes back to family.[/s2If]