Alabama Folkways Articles

 May, 1993


by Erin Kellen

Twelve year old Margie Brewster worked hard in the cotton fields that her family sharecropped, so after her daddy sold the season's cottonseed at the gin, he bought her a guitar and taught her to play. Her father's death later that year grieved her so that her mother gave her permission to leave home to go on the road with a lady evangelist named Hazel Chain. So she left Winnsboro, Louisiana, and began traveling the Pentecostal revival circuit that stretched from east Texas through Louisiana and Mississippi to Alabama. They traveled by Greyhound bus and scheduled their engagements by mail.

It was dark and deserted at the crossroads where the Greyhound left them in Sunflower, Alabama, the town where they were supposed to conduct the revival. The loss of their luggage had delayed them for hours at the bus station in Mobile. Then a little boy came riding up on a bicycle and said, "You must be Sister Margie and Sister Chain." They said, "Yes." And he said, "Well, follow me," and guided them to the little church. She was tired, but she sang because, she says, "Wild horses couldn't keep me from singing back in those days!" That was the night she met Enoch, who played the fiddle and sang gospel music with his father, the Reverend Arthur Sullivan.

Three years later, in 1949, Margie and Enoch were married. That same month, they had their first radio performance on WRJW radio out of Picayune, Mississippi. They hadn't thought about what to call themselves, so they just told the radio announcer to say that they were "The Sullivan Family."

Over forty years later, Enoch and Margie Sullivan are still the core of the Sullivan Family--more than ever since banjo player Emmett, Enoch's brother, recently passed away. They call their music "Bluegrass Gospel" (No More Dying RealAudio format) and they have journeyed all over to play it--at hundreds of country churches, at festivals in Europe and at Bill Monroe's Bean Blossom Festival. Nowadays they travel in their very own bus, emblazoned with the words "The Famous Sullivan Family" on its sides.

In the early days, there were few women traveling the back roads playing bluegrass music, and most of them stayed in the background. But Margie has stayed right up front with Enoch--playing guitar, singing lead and harmony in her husky alto, writing songs, and preaching the gospel. On the home front, in St. Stephens, Alabama, there were five children to raise. From the beginning, the Sullivans kept a little farm, raising and putting by much of their own food. Now that the kids are all grown and gone, Enoch still likes to keep a few cows and Margie still cans and freezes from the garden. They like to stay grounded in the unpretentious rural dailiness of their lives in little St. Stephens.