Stories and songs from a childhood spent in a vanished world of revivals and road shows
Anita Faye Garner grew up in the South—just about every corner of it. She and her musical family lived in Texarkana, Bossier City, Hot Springs, Jackson, Vicksburg, Hattiesburg, Pascagoula, Bogalusa, Biloxi, Gulfport, New Orleans, and points between, picking up sticks every time her father, a Pentecostal preacher known as “Brother Ray,” took over a new congregation.
In between jump-starting churches, Brother Ray took his wife and kids out on the gospel revival circuit as the Jones Family Singers. Ray could sing and play, and “Sister Fern” (Mama) was a celebrated singer and songwriter, possessed of both talent and beauty. Rounding out the band were the young Garner (known as Nita Faye then) and her big brother Leslie Ray. At all-day singings and tent revivals across the South, the Joneses made a joyful noise for the faithful and loaded into the car for the next stage of their tour.
But growing up gospel wasn’t always joyous. The kids practically raised and fended for themselves, bonding over a shared dislike of their rootless life and strict religious upbringing. Sister Fern dreamed of crossing over from gospel to popular music and recording a hit record. An unlikely combination of preacher’s wife and glamorous performer, she had the talent and presence to make a splash, and her remarkable voice brought Saturday night rock and roll to Sunday morning music. Always singing, performing, and recording at the margins of commercial success, Sister Fern shared a backing band with Elvis Presley and wrote songs recorded by Johnny Cash and many other artists.
In her touching memoir The Glory Road, Anita Faye Garner re-creates her remarkable upbringing. The story begins with Ray’s attempts to settle down and the family’s inevitable return to the gospel circuit and concludes with Sister Fern’s brushes with stardom and the family’s journey west to California where they finally landed—with some unexpected detours along the way. The Glory Road carries readers back to the 1950s South and the intersections of faith and family at the very roots of American popular music.
For more information about the book and Anita Garner, visit www.thegloryroad.com or www.anitagarner.com
About the Author
Anita Faye Garner enjoyed a long career in radio, on the air in San Francisco and Los Angeles and as host of nationally syndicated shows, The Great Starship and Something Special. She was an announcer for decades for KCET-TV in Hollywood, PBS for Southern California. She won the 2009 John Steinbeck Short Story Award, and her work appears in Saturday Evening Post’s 2015 Great American Fiction anthology.
“This is a story so central to the origins of country music: the marriage of Saturday night and Sunday morning, and the literal marriage of two musicians, sometimes at odds with each other creatively and personally. The song written by Fern Jones ‘I Was There When It Happened’ was performed around the world by my dad and the Tennessee Three, became the title of the memoir of Marshall Grant (the bass player in the Tennessee Three), and was revived yet again when I performed it every night on a recent tour I did with Ry Cooder. Anita Garner was ‘there when it happened,’ and her book tells us what we ought to know.”
“The Glory Road takes us to an important cultural crossroad of America––where gospel met rockabilly, and Saturday night collided with Sunday morning in the late 1950s in the Deep South. It’s also a very personal family story of a deeply religious preacher, Raymond Jones, whose wife, Fern, had a big voice and even bigger musical ambitions. Anita Garner’s recounting of her parents’ lives––their tensions and travails on the ‘gypsy road’ of tent revivals and recording studios––echoes one of her mother’s most famous songs: ‘I Was There When It Happened.’”
—Dayton Duncan, writer/producer of Ken Burns’ Country Music
“The Glory Road touches several bases: southern culture, family life, the evangelical ethos, commercial music, migration, and spousal relations. It will appeal to both a general and specialized audience.”
—Michael T. Bertrand, author of Race, Rock, and Elvis
“I’ll admit I didn’t know the music of Sister Fern and The Joneses until now. So, The Glory Road has introduced me to some exciting and important music. But, even more than that, the story itself will stick with me. I don’t expect to forget these characters.”
—Burgin Mathews, coauthor of Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man