McKameys still giving God the Glory for His goodness as retirement nears
By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com
The question posed to Peg McKamey Bean was simple. The answer, however, was far more complex than expected.
Yet, that answer explained why her legendary family is one of the most beloved in gospel music history.
“Are there any songs you recorded that really stand out in your mind,” we asked Mrs. Bean during a phone interview on Oct. 7. She thought for a moment, then started talking about “Who put the Tears in the Eyes of the Lamb” from September, 1984 and didn’t stop for several minutes.
By the time she finished answering the question, Mrs. Bean had listed the titles and dates of numerous songs — more than we could accurately take down — that had reached No. 1 on the various gospel music charts. It was a fitting summary of what The McKameys have meant to gospel music for over 60 years: The big moments and great moments are too many to list.
And, most importantly, the lives touched by McKamey music are too numerous to count. That number is known only to the God they have proclaimed in more than 150 concerts a year and will continue to serve after their final concert in Knoxville, Tenn., on Nov. 23 at 6 p.m.
The farewell concert is promoted by Paul Belcher Concerts with a limited number of tickets still available at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium box office or at Ticketmaster.com.
The McKameys will be appearing at Sand Spring Baptist Church, near Lawrenceburg, on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m., their final concert in the Bluegrass State. The concert at Sand Spring is free but a love offering will be received. An overflow crowd is expected.
Since The McKameys announced their retirement from full-time traveling more than a year ago, the accolades have flowed and concert venues have been full as gospel music fans have clamored for one more chance to hear the unforgettable family.
The obvious question is if they ever get tired of hearing questions about the upcoming retirement. “Oh, no. People are curious,” Peg says in her distinctive east Tennessee accent. “Different people have different questions. We are just delighted to answer them the best way we can.”
It’s been an emotion-filled year as The McKameys’ retirement draws closer. In June, their latest album, “Crown,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Southern Gospel charts and in September, Ruben Bean was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame at the National Quartet Convention, joining Peg, who had been bestowed the honor three years earlier.
“That thrilled my heart,” Peg said. “I thought he was more worthy than I. The whole family was honored and thrilled that he was inducted into the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame.”
While Peg noted that The McKameys “didn’t realize the impact (the retirement) was going to have on the industry,” the outpouring of love has been heartfelt and deserved. For over 60 years, the McKameys have brought a worshipful style of music to churches, fairgrounds and auditoriums across the nation. Even as their traveling career draws to a close, there is still a sense of amazement in Peg Bean’s voice as she describes the leap of faith the family took to sing full time in 1980.
McKamey fans can recite the group’s history without hesitation. The group had started in 1954 when Peg’s older sister, Dora, told her she and younger sister Carol would be singing with her the following night at a revival service in their hometown of Clinton, Tennessee.
Eventually the sisters asked Ruben Bean to play guitar and sing bass with them. He and Peg struck up a romance, got married and had two daughters. Dora pursued a career in nursing. When Carol left the group to spend time with her own family, Ruben and Peg’s daughters, Sheryl and Connie came aboard in 1972, according to a documentary appearing on The McKameys’ Facebook page.
Ruben and Peg also adopted and raised two sons.
When Sheryl married a pastor and wanted to stay home with her young family, Carol returned to fill in, a stint that lasted 26 years.
“It was me, and Ruben and Connie and Carol that sang during that period of time,” Peg says. “Then Carol retired. I called Sheryl to ask her to pray for us because I didn’t know what the Lord wanted us to do. We didn’t want to advertise that we needed someone to sing with us. We just went on and prayed about it. Then one day, she called and said, ‘I’m ready to sing the part and I’m ready to come back.
“I said, ‘Praise the Lord!’” The excitement sounds like something that just happened, but it was in 2009 and Ruben, Peg, Sheryl, Connie and Connie’s husband, Roger Fortner, and son, Eli, have been traveling together ever since.
The concerts are still packed with favorites, including the song that is often referred to as The McKameys’ signature, “God on the Mountain,” which was chosen as gospel music’s Song of the Year in 1989. Peg says the message is still powerful today. “It has reminded me on a daily basis that God is God and that’s all I need,” she says. “He’s God in the mountain. He’s God in the valley. He’s all anyone would need. God is God! He’s God wherever He is!”
The passion and wonder coming through Peg Bean’s voice is what has brought millions to their concerts over 65 years. And it’s what led her to start carrying what is now a trademark handkerchief while onstage.
“I really don’t know when that started. I have a tendency to cry because of the goodness of the Lord. And when I go to talking about it, I go to crying. I have learned to carry a handkerchief with me instead of using my sleeve,” she says with a laugh.
The timeless message is serious business for The McKameys even as they wind down their traveling career. We asked how gospel music has changed since 1954.
“Style has changed,” Mrs. Bean says. “The McKameys have always leaned to the worshiping side because my father and Ruben’s father were both pastors. We were raised in that atmosphere so our type of music has been worship to our wonderful Lord and his goodness. We have never tried to entertain anybody with jokes or anything. It is serious singing. That has been our lifestyle.
“He did it all. We have done nothing. We brag on him, our whole family does. We sing songs that bring honor and glory to Him and that will minister to the hearts of Christian people and will be a witness to the lost.”
In the final months of touring, fans have been wishing The McKameys well. “Lots of people say they hope we enjoy our retirement,” Peg says. “A lot of people say I hate you’re quitting. I say we are not quitting. We are retiring.”
At one concert, a fan said the Bible does not teach retiring, but Peg disagreed. “I said if you study carefully, you see the priests in the Old Testament retired when they were 50 years old (Numbers 8:25). They had a reason for retiring at 50. It took a lot of strength to put the animals on the altar. I do believe there is a place for retirement. The Bible teaches that to me. I think it’s our time to retire.
“Our health is fairly well. Ruben had one open heart bypass surgery in 2001. In 2017, I had a triple bypass and heart disease runs in both of our families. But we are able to do whatever people our age do. I’m 76 years old and Ruben is 78 and I think we’ve got enough years in,” Peg laughs.
Recently, some children or grandchildren of legendary groups, such as the Goodman Family and the Speer Family, have continued the family music, but Peg says that would be left to the children or grandchildren. She says Connie and her family do some trio work but Roger and Eli are happy working in the studio with other groups. “I think they can stay busy doing that,” she says.
Regardless, McKamey music will still be available. “We will be working out of the office (in Clinton, Tenn.) for a while until things die down. Then we will probably transfer things to our home and work from our home,” she says, adding that music will be available at www.mckameysonline.com “as long as it’s needed or wanted.”
And the McKameys could show up at the National Quartet Convention in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. “You know, I don’t know,” Peg chuckled. “We could. We are just about an hour from Pigeon Forge. We could go over there and have lunch and stay for the singing and be back home that night.”
But one thing is sure: The McKamey legacy will live on for decades to come.
What they are saying about The McKameys
“It’s always refreshing and encouraging when a gospel group proves over the course of time to be just who you felt they were and who they portrayed themselves to be. I have found, always, that The McKameys are true in all senses of the word. I love them, as a group and individually.”
— Ann Downing, Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, Class of 2018
“I remember meeting the McKameys when they recorded at my recording studio. They just brightened up the entire building when they came in. I have never met a more humble group of people. But when Peg got that hanky going and started moving around, one could see and feel the presence of God. They have made their place in Gospel Music, but more importantly, they have stacked up treasures in Heaven. Thank you, McKameys. Your Earthly job has been well done!”
— Duane Allen, lead singer of The Oak Ridge Boys, members of Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2000) and Country Music Hall of Fame (2015).
“I first met the McKameys in the Chicago area in the late 70s. They’ve been a blessing to me from that moment on. I have been blessed to interview them dozens of times, I have presented awards to them throughout the years (one, I gave to them at a Cracker Barrel), I have been to their office and traveled to hear them sing in probably 30 states. I have often said, when the McKameys and Primitive Quartet retire, I’m going to hang it up as well. I still feel that way. Southern Gospel music will never be the same!”
— Les Butler, Old Time Preachers Quartet, soloist, instrumentalist and radio personality
“‘Mama Doris’ Sellers was a huge Peg fan and long before I got into professional gospel music, I was able to carry her to a McKameys concert and she got to meet her. Mrs. Peg was so sweet and visited with her for a long time. I know she doesn’t remember my grandmother, but I always appreciated Mrs. Peg for that. She’s a classy lady whose regular presence in this industry will be sorely missed!”
— Bob Sellers, Bob Sellers Ministries and Old Time Preachers Quartet, formerly of The Kingsmen.
“I can remember when the McKameys were traveling circuits just like me. Wow! Long time ago! But then, ‘God On The Mountain’ hit the airwaves and the McKameys became the group everyone wanted to see and book. We were both part of the Eddie Crook company at the time, so it was easy for me to keep up with all the news of what Peg and the gang we’re doing. The one thing that always stood out to me was the sincere, anointing that has been constant with that group. The McKameys not only sang it, but it was obvious that God’s hand and leadership was all over their ministry…. They never take, nor took, credit for the things they’ve accomplished or seen, but have always given God the glory! I am honored to have been able to work with, and known these fine folks.”
— Bill Sowder, owner of His Heart Quartet, Mt. Vernon, Kentucky