Lee Roy Abernathy (August 13, 1913 - May 25, 1993)
Sometimes credited as Leroy Abernathy
Lee Roy Abernathy was born in Cartersville, Georgia. His sharecropping parents, Dee and Clara Belle Abernathy, relocated frequently during his formative years. His first experience as a singer came at the age of five when he sang with his father’s group, the Atco Quartet. By the time Abernathy was 14, he had learned to play piano. Abernathy only completed seven grades in traditional school, but he had more than 30 private music instructors. One school where he studied was the Conservatory of Music in Atlanta, GA. He studied with shape note instructors including James D Vaughan and Adger M Pace.
Abernathy wrote many popular gospel songs. Some of these include He’s A Personal Savior and A Newborn Feeling. Along with Dwight Brock, Abernathy was one of the first to play “turnaround” type introductions on songs. He was responsible for printing the first gospel sheet music and boasted of thousands of piano students taught with his Modern Gospel Piano Course by Mail. He also served as a vocal coach to numerous singers including London Parris, who went on to have great success in the industry.
Abernathy wrote a book in 1948 simply titled IT. The book is a collection of Abernathy's songs and his commentaries about quartet life. It was designed to be a handbook for gospel musicians. It is a highly sought collector's item today.
Abernathy was also well known as a performer. He pulled stints with the Rangers Quartet, Jubilee Quartet, and the Homeland Harmony Quartet. Abernathy and Carroll “Shorty” Bradford also performed together as the Happy Two, billed as a “two man quartet.” The Happy Two were an unusual group. Their program focused on corny humor and drew from songs that had interesting, intertwining parts. When they sang, they sounded almost like a quartet. Both singers had extensive vocal ranges, and this added to their appeal. At one time, a $500 diamond ring was offered to anyone who could sing as high and as low as Bradford. They excelled at novelty tunes. One of their recordings, Shorty's Banjo, features Bradford playing "Cripple Creek" on the piano. He makes the piano sound like a 5-string banjo.
The expertise of these two gentlemen led them to form a new quartet in the early 1950s called the Miracle Men. A former comrade from the Homeland Harmony Quartet, Aycel Soward, joined the pair to sing bass. Earl Terry was the first tenor and Idus Spivey filled out the quartet at baritone. When the Miracle Men were on a program, you could be assured they would sing songs no other group on the program would sing. This was because Abernathy was a prolific songwriter. Often, the group would sing five-part music with Abernathy providing the fifth vocal part. Abernathy and Bradford only kept the Miracle Men together for about a year before returning to their popular two-man format.
Mr. Abernathy also founded the Abernathy All Star Quartet.
In addition to gospel music, politics also had an attraction for Abernathy. He composed songs for Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign and was a candidate for governor of Georgia in 1958.
Abernathy continued to teach piano and voice lessons to many famous gospel musicians until his death in 1993. The SGMA Hall Of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame have inducted him into their respective halls. In later years, he continued to travel on a part time basis with various quartets as a vocal coach and pianist. In 1983, a recording titled Command Performance paid tribute to the songs of Abernathy, with cuts by the Rex Nelon Singers, Gold City, the Singing Americans, the Hemphills and others. He also owned his own music publishing company.
GMA Hall Of Fame (1973)
SGMA Hall Of Fame (1997)
A Newborn Feeling
A Wonderful Time Up There (AKA "Gospel Boogie")
Everybody's Gonna Have A Terrible Time Down There
He'll Take Me Through
He's A Personal Savior
I Thank My Savior For It All
I Want To Know More About My Lord
I'll Live A Million Years
I'm Building A Bridge
Listen To The Bells
Mansions Can't Be Bought
Movin Up To Gloryland
My Labors Will Be O'er
On That Judgement Day
Take A Moment And Live
The Master Locksmith
Way Up In Glory Land
Won't It Be Glory There
You Can't Believe Everything You Hear