|From left, RCCF Executive Director Amy Streator with recipients Geralyn Litzinger, Southeast IN Health Center; Anne Baran (Food Pantry), Stacey Schmaltz (Tyson Activity Center); back, Todd Schutte, Brian Hardebeck (Batesville Fire Dept.), Randy Merkel, David Higham (Morris Fire Dept.), Sue Siefert (Batesville Area Resource Center), Aimee Cornett (Tyson Activity Center) and RCCF’s Jane Deiwert. MARY MATTINGLY PHOTO|
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Certain talents can be genetic, such as in the case of the singing Branson Sisters! Sue (Ketchum), Vicky (Hensley), and Linda (Quicksall) aka ‘The Branson Sisters’ have been performing together since they were little girls and their talent and unique harmony is praised for miles around. Having been asked to sing at their grandfather’s funeral in their early teens, the girls began performing as The Branson Sisters. Even though they all have different last names now, the group kept their original name. The girls primarily sing gospel and Christian contemporary music and have recorded two CDs over the years. Their second CD consisted mostly of original music written by the three.
Pictured right are he “original” Branson Sisters, Jean and Betty in front of WKIC radio station, in the 1940s.
These three girls aren’t the only singing Bransons, however. Their aunts, Betty and Jean were singing together when they were young girls and were quite famous throughout Kentucky in the 1940s. James Branson, brother of the original Branson Sisters and father of the newer version, remembers that time during his childhood.
“I was 14 years old when my sisters were singing in Hazard, Ky. I remember The Stanley Brothers wanted them to go on tour with them, but my dad wouldn’t let them go on the road. So, the girls did shows with them when they performed locally,” he recalled. “The girls had a sponsor who managed their show. I remember when the radio station opened in Hazard. It was WKIC. The girls landed their own 15 minute show. They never did do any recording of their music, though.”
The two girls not only performed with The Stanley Brothers, but also toured later on with the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys. Jean died in 1950 of childbirth complications. Sue, Vicky, and Linda didn’t realize until years later that their aunts had actually been the original Branson Sisters or just how famous they were! A few years ago, Jim says, Jean’s son went back to Hazard to the old radio station to see if they had any recordings of the sisters from their days ‘on the air’. Unfortunately, most of the station’s old music and recordings had been destroyed in a fire years before.
At left are Linda Quicksall, Vicky Hensley and Sue Ketchum of The Branson Sisters. The photo was taken for the CD.
The more modern version of The Branson Sisters have done some touring as well. The Christian and southern gospel trio has performed at many local events and fairs, and are a popular group for local revivals and church functions in the southeastern Indiana area. They have also opened for The Smith Family, a well known gospel group.
“Our mom and dad always wanted their girls to learn music and sing with them,” Vicky said. “I remember standing on a chair in the kitchen because I wasn’t tall enough to reach mom or dad. Our parents would teach me and my sisters how to sing different harmonies. We spent a good part of our ‘growing up years’ traveling around on Sunday nights, singing at local churches as The Branson Family.” Vicky said they began singing together from the time they were little girls.
James and June Branson have five daughters in all, each gifted vocally and can play musical instruments. Mary Norman, daughter number 4 plays the mandolin and you will find her singing together with her dad on occasion. Tracy, the youngest of the 5, was a former Young Confederate at South Ripley when she was in high school. June plays the piano and sings and performs at times with her husband, who plays guitar and writes much of his own music. Jim has also recorded a CD with various musical groups and, most recently, with the Hoosier Hills Bluegrass Band. The whole family performed at church together, singing and praising God. As the 3 older girls grew older, they began singing as a trio, with Sue playing the 12 string guitar. They soon found their niche in a cappella and southern gospel music. The girls remember their Aunt Betty singing at ‘music parties’ their family would have sometimes on Friday or Saturday nights. Vicky recalls those times fondly, “Sometimes Aunt Betty would be there, playing the guitar and singing, but as kids, we didn’t know just how famous she and Aunt Jean had been.” “Everyone there could sing and harmonize,” Vicky said.
The Branson Sisters no longer tour and now just sing together at their own church functions and sometimes at a surprise nursing home concert or family gathering. Linda looks back on the years singing together with her friends like this: “Every performance was memorable because we were doing it for the Lord, not for people. Anytime it brought a smile to a face or a tear down someone’s cheek, we knew we were touching someone’s heart with the love of God.”