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Nashville’s Musical Family Loses Sister Deborah McCrary at 67

The McCrary Sisters perform at WMOT's December 16, 2019 Wired In at Analog in the Hutton Hotel in Nashville, TN
Val Hoeppner
Deborah McCrary, second from left, performing with The McCrary Sisters at WMOT's December 16, 2019 Wired In at Analog in the Hutton Hotel in Nashville, TN

Deborah McCrary, the second oldest of Nashville's renowned McCrary Sisters, died on Wednesday at the age of 67 following a stroke. While she didn’t have the longest musical resume of the four, her sisters would sometimes say she had the finest voice among them. It was low and lustrous, often anchoring the group's bass line the way Isaac “Dickey” Freeman’s did in their father’s iconic gospel quartet, the Fairfield Four.

Deborah’s loss silences a key voice in a group that’s sung together informally their whole lives and who’ve helped anchor the soul of Music City in the 21st century. Before the 2000s, they were sisters McCrary who pursued individual careers, daughters of Rev. Sam McCrary, the longest-serving leader of the Fairfield Four. After supporting several key roots music albums with their swelling, heart-filled harmonies, they formally became The McCrary Sisters in 2009. Since 2010, they’ve recorded five albums and performed gospel and secular music with a hard-hitting R&B band on leading stages, including the White House and the Ryman Auditorium through their long-running role in the house band for the Americana Music Association’s Honors and Awards.

In a statement, the family said, “Beautiful, strong, loving and caring, Deborah was a light in the McCrary family and the world. We were all blessed by her gifts, including singing and songwriting.”

Buddy Miller, who produced the group and whose passion for their music helped coax them into forming the formal quartet, told WMOT that Deborah "was just so kind and had her own shining smile and sense of humor different from everybody else’s. Deborah just added a real depth in the low end. And just her spirit on stage - an overcoming spirit. You knew she had been through things. I’m going to miss her, and there’s going to be a hole, you know, on stage.”

Deborah Person McCrary was born June 17, 1954. Her family reports that while she spent most of her professional life as a nurse, she performed as a young woman with Elvis and with Isaac Hayes. She was part of the Grammy-nominated BCM Mass Choir and performed with Ray Stevens at Madison Square Garden. Deborah suffered a stroke in 2013 that set her back, but she’s been an indispensable contributor to the McCrarys’ busy career in the years since. Shaped by that trial, she wrote "Let It Go," one of the McCrary Sisters' most powerful original songs.

Buddy Miller and singer Mike Farris helped bring singing sisters Regina and Ann McCrary to wider public attention in the late 2010s with appearances on recordings and on stage. Soon Debora and youngest sister Alfreda joined forces to create a rocking gospel band like nothing else in American music. On recordings, they’ve supported Carrie Underwood, Margo Price, Miranda Lambert, Allison Russel and many others. In live performance, they’ve been regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. They’ve backed up Maren Morris on the CMA Awards and numerous legends on the nationally televised Americana Honors & Awards.

Their most recent release is a slow, seven-minute version of the gospel standard “Amazing Grace.”

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org