At the 2017 National Quartet Convention, I had the privilege of talking with sisters, Connie Fortner and Sheryl Farris, of the legendary McKameys. Join as we catch up with the McKameys through the second generation of sisters in this popular singing family!
Andrew Stephens: For starters, some readers may be a bit unfamiliar with the McKameys. Share who each member is and role(s) in the group.
Connie Fortner: The McKameys are our parents, Ruben (bass) & Peg McKamey Bean (alto/lead), myself, Connie Fortner (soprano), my sister, Sheryl Farris(alto/lead). My husband, Roger Fortner, and son, Eli Fortner, play the electric guitar and rhythm guitar. Both Roger & Eli sing special songs during our concerts. Roger is featured on our latest radio single, “For the Record.”
AS: Through the years, Southern Gospel has experienced a wide variety of family names & styles. First, let’s rewind back to the early 1980’s. A new group, the McKameys, had just signed with Eddie Crook for his brand new MorningStar Records label. How was that experience – being new, yet finding your own place in the industry?
CF: We’d already determined we were unique and determined to stay the same. We were just excited to be singing among people we’d followed. There were times we just thought to ourselves, “We’re really doing this?!” Back then, there weren’t as many groups, so it wasn’t as hard to get your music out there.
AS: Now, fast forward to 2017, and it seems everyone has heard at least 1 or 2 McKameys songs at some point in their listening experience. How does it feel to be listed among the “greats” of Southern Gospel families?
Sheryl Farris: To be honest, we’re shocked. We’ve had people introduce us as “legendary,” and that still doesn’t sound “real” to us. We’re happy to be doing what works best for us and encouraging people along the way. Awards are nice, but encouraging people is where we feel our place is.
AS: The McKameys legacy is founded with the three original sisters, Dora, Peg, and Carol. Since you’ve been touring together, how does it feel to be the second generation of sisters to travel in the McKameys?
Connie Fortner: It’s great for me. I get to travel & sing with my sister, and I really enjoy getting to do this. For many years, Sheryl didn’t travel with the group. So, it’s nice in this season to get to travel with my sister. Back when my aunt Carol traveled with the group, she and my mom were real close. So, now I get to experience that with my sister.
AS: 2017 has been a whirlwind type of year for the McKameys. Eli experienced his second kidney transplant. First, how is Eli currently, and how has this journey been for you all?
CF: Eli is doing great. The doctors cleared him at his 3-month checkup. In fact, there are so many “God moments” in this experience. From finding out that his kidney wasn’t working to finding the right donor to having the transplant go so successful, everything was God-directed. The doctors on the transplant team were amazed at how successful the transplant was AND how quickly it took.
**Quick note** For those unfamiliar with Eli’s journey, Eli Fortner was diagnosed as an infant with kidney disease. After his first transplant 10 years ago, he began to experience complications in January/February 2017. He underwent a second kidney transplant in June 2017 with great success, and he is back to full-time travel with the McKameys.
AS: Back in June, the McKameys released their 53rd album, Be Brave. What are some of the highlights listeners can experience with this new release?
CF: We have some more versatile songs on this project. One unique tune was “Since When.” It has some different chords and is unlike anything we’ve done before. Also, we recorded a new song written in a traditional quartet-style called, “So Good to Me.”
SF: We wanted to pick songs that spoke of where we are right now – not even knowing what 2017 would hold for the group. We’d already decided to title the album, Be Brave, before we knew Eli had any health issues. These songs spoke more to us as we started this journey, and that’s how we knew they’d touch the hearts of the listeners. Also, I wrote more songs for this project than any other album as well, so this was nice to experience.
AS: What has been the most rewarding experience while sharing this message in song?
CF: For me, it was when our dad was awarded the Marvin Norcross Award at the National Quartet Convention. Many people see our mom out front, and that’s great. But, our dad handles a lot of the business side of the group. With him behind the scenes and to be selected by his peers for this award, this was more special to see him recognized for his hard work.
SF: As a songwriter, it was encouraging to hear the stories from fans in concert. For many years, I didn’t travel with the group and get to hear how the songs touched people’s lives. I’d also never gotten the chance to sing on mainstage at the National Quartet Convention until 2009 when I returned to the group. Singing on mainstage had been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, so this was special. Another great moment for me was when I had my first #1 song as a songwriter. It was NQC 1987, and the group had a special party to celebrate and recognize me as the songwriter.
AS: Finally, what is the best way to contact the McKameys?
CF: You can contact us via our website, www.mckameysonline.com. We also have a Facebook page, just search The McKameys.