SINGING SISTERS stay true to their Christian roots in secular music.
The first time you hear The Secret Sisters, you’re likely to think you’ve heard them before.
The haunting melodies of Alabama natives Laura and Lydia Rogers call to mind old hymns such as “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” Their tight sibling harmonies evoke memories of the Everly Brothers. And the vocal twangs and acoustic guitar recall the sounds of bluegrass and old country.
The sound of the Rogers sisters — who grew up at the North Carolina Church of Christ in Killen, just south of the Tennessee border — is as refreshing and nostalgic as a chilled glass bottle of Coke.
In their music, “you hear the history of rural American music from the 1920s and a reverence for every musical genre this country has produced,” said T. Bone Burnett, a Grammy winner and executive producer of the sisters’ self-titled debut album.
So what’s their secret?
“We’d never performed together” before auditioning for Burnett, says Lydia. “We would sing in church or in the living room with our daddy.”
Now the two young singers — Lydia is 23 and Laura is 26 — have been launched into the thick of the music industry, a trip as unexpected as it has been overwhelming.
Their father, Ricky Rogers, a salesman for General Electric and weekend bassist for a bluegrass band called Iron Horse, says that, although the girls have diverse musical influences, “their heart, like mine, is with simple country music.” TRAGEDY AND ‘HUNGER GAMES’
In October 2010, the sisters released their first album. It featured mostly cover songs, including “Somethin’ Stupid” by Frank Sinatra and two songs written by Laura.
Since then, they have earned honors for which many artists wait decades. They have toured nationally and internationally, recorded a track with platinum-selling artist Jack White and performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
Arguably their biggest break came earlier this year when their song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” was selected for the soundtrack of “The Hunger Games,” a film adaptation of the young-adult bestseller by Suzanne Collins. The film tells the story of a post-apocalyptic empire that forces teenagers to battle to the death in an outdoor arena — and broadcasts the battle as a reality show.
When The Christian Chronicle reported the news
on its blog, the post sparked discussion among readers.
Some expressed disappointment that Christians would be part of a film that some believe glorifies killing, while others were pleased to see a Christian group reaching such a wide audience and reinforcing the film’s themes of strength from survival and hope for the future.
The song itself was inspired by real-life tragedy — the 2011 tornadoes in northern Alabama that killed nearly 250 people and destroyed countless buildings, including the meeting place of the Central Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa.
The sisters were on tour in Australia when the storms hit their home state. The song is “about God making tomorrow better than today,” Laura says.
After Burnett got them the spot on the soundtrack, the sisters read the book. They both believe the book and film have an overall positive message, despite the violence, and they consider the soundtrack an opportunity to introduce a younger audience to their music. A YouTube version of the song has more than a quarter-million views.
“I hope (the song) leads people into our music and they hear our gospel songs and hear us testify about our faith,” Laura says.
And they do, every chance they get.
In the music industry, “there are people who roll their eyes when you mention your faith or gospel songs,” Laura says. “I have had label people tell me not to talk about Jesus so much when I’m in New York and L.A.
“I tell them, ‘My faith has gotten me to where I am, and I’m not going to hide it.’”
‘IF I DIDN’T BELIEVE IN GOD, I WOULD NOW’
After all, the sisters see their success — from playing for small crowds in Muscle Shoals, Ala., population 13,000, to walking the red carpet at a film premiere — as nothing short of providential.
“If I didn’t believe in God before, I would now,” Laura says. “Everything was too natural, nothing was forced, nothing was contrived. It was just us being ourselves, and that was enough. I truly believe it was a part of a big plan. It’s inspiring.”
For Laura, the first step was the hardest. She traveled to Nashville on her own to audition for a record deal. The thought of singing in front of strangers as they judged her seemed terrifying.
Lydia, who enjoyed singing at family reunions and with her dad’s band, was the “real” singer in the family, as Laura saw it. She went to the audition without any expectations of recording or touring. She only wanted to overcome her stage fright.
“I just thought it would make me a better person,” she recalls.
She was shocked when, not only was she able to sing, but she wowed the music business reps at the audition.
Laura quickly called her sister, who was in the middle of a ceramics class at Middle Tennessee State University where she was studying graphic design, and her dad, who was in a business meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
Lydia drove the two hours up to Nashville, sang for the reps, and then, almost as an afterthought, with Laura.
The rest of the story is the stuff of Nashville dreams — an album, a record label contract and a whirlwind 15 months of performances, media interviews and almost constant travel.
The grind of touring presented a new challenge to the sisters’ routine of Sunday worship. When they couldn’t find a church, they would take communion together on their tour bus or in a hotel room, watch sermons on YouTube, read their Bibles, pray and, of course, sing hymns together.
“We just did the best we could being away from our home congregation,” Laura says. “It’s changed our faith and made us more mature and not confined our faith to the walls of the building.”
Right now, the sisters are enjoying some time back in their hometown, worshiping with the congregation where they were raised. They’re writing music for their new album, which they hope to record this summer and release in the fall.
One song, “River Jordan,” is about baptism, Laura says. It contemplates the yearning people feel to have their sins washed away.
“Every time we play that song, people love it, even people who aren’t religious at all,” Laura says.
A song about baptism playing alongside songs by Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts?
Stay tuned — stranger things have happened.