Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The McCravy Brothers: "Rugged Presbyterians" from Scotland to Ulster to Pennsylvania to South Carolina... whose music came back to Ulster and then to New Zealand

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Some months ago, I was researching the McCravy Brothers (Frank and James McCravy) of Laurens, South Carolina. The reason was that our aunt Rhoda had a few of their 78s which she had somehow bought here in Ulster in the 1940s. In the late 1970s when Graeme and I were wee, and were members of her Sunday School class at Carrowdore Mission Hall, she taught us their songs "Does This Train Go To Heaven" and "The Glorious Gospel Train", both of which they had recorded in 1931. I remember singing these at the Christmas social with the rest of the class. The McCravy Brothers must have had quite a fan base in their heyday, because from the wee bit of information that I had already posted here, I was contacted last Autumn by a few people, including a man called Edmund Sheridan from New Zealand, who was trying to find these two songs - so I sent them to him on a CD.

Thanks to Google, I managed to get in touch with Paul McCravy, a cousin of Frank and James. We emailed back and forth, and he sent me some great material, which I've posted excerpts from below:

1) Family History and Ulster-Scots Origins
• "...Frank and James McCravy's ancestors ( McCreary was the original spelling ) were run out of Scotland during the John Knox Movement. Before they emigrated to America they lived in County Antrim... my family is very proud of it's Scotch-Irish heritage." There are of course McCrearys still in Ulster today. David McCreery played football for Northern Ireland back when we had a good team!

• "...When they learned that William Penn was giving land to new settlers in America, these rugged Presbyterians came to Pennsylvania to live. As time went by the McCravys, along with many Scotch-Irish families, moved south along the Appalachian Trail to the foot hills of what is today North and South Carolina..."

2) Musical careers
• "...The brothers were extremely close to their mother (you can hear it in the songs they chose to record) who faithfully made them practice their music every day. They played several instruments including guitar, violin, and piano but when they hired a studio musician they got the best (a banjo player on one record comes to mind). There is one old recording where one brother plays a Jew's harp..."

• "...The brothers had contracts with all the major labels but unlike today made little money during their career. They had other jobs to make ends meet..."

• An article by Paul's father, John R McCravy, says that the brothers were "well known evangelist singers during the 1920s and 1930s. They conducted song services for many revivals in this area and were known for their lovely singing voices. They made sixty or more recordings for Brunswick, Okey, Victor, Bluebird and Decca record companies".

• From another clipping Paul sent me it says that the brothers' three-times-a-week radio shows on WFBC were sponsored by Coca-Cola!

3) A Talented Family
• Their younger sister Margaret was also a singer, her stage name was Margaret McCrae and she sang with the world-famous Benny Goodman band in 1937 and 1938

• She had been well known as "Pretty Peggy Pepper" on the Dr Pepper radio programme, which featured Joe E Brown.

• Margaret married Harry Simeone, who wrote the song "The Little Drummer Boy"

• Frank McCravy Jr. lives in Greenville in South Carolina, and Paul describes him as "a fine percussionist".

• Paul's father "...John McCravy, was a fine musician and played banjo and musical saw with them in some local appearances..."

4) Personal Inspiration
• "...Their brother Jack McCravy lived in Columbia, SC, until his death in the 1970s and he had all their records but he would get so emotional when they were played no one would dare play them. My brother Ed and I once sang "Hello Central, Give Me Heaven" in their same harmony for Jack and the tears streamed down his face..."

• "...I am sending you a song my father, John McCravy wrote in memory of Frank and James McCravy. It's entitled "Life Forever" and if you like it, feel free to use it any way you wish..." John had a dream in which Frank and James sang this song - he jumped up out of bed and wrote it down.

In closing, Paul encouraged me to "...Feel free to share any info I send you as it's an honor that folks are still interested in their music after all these years..." - hence this lengthy post.

Below I'll post a selection of the clippings, photographs and videos of the McCravy Brothers, most of which Paul sent to me.

McCravy Brothers - The Glorious Gospel Train (October 1931)

McCravy Brothers - Does This Train Go To Heaven? (Oct 1931)

Margaret McCravy (McCrae) with Benny Goodman circa 1936:


Unknown said...

Thank you for the fine article.
I got to your article from a Google search - I'm trying to find info about John McCravy, the musical saw player. Your article was the only result in my Google search...
I would very much appreciate it if you happen to know of a place on-line with info about him, if you could let me know, please. (You could contact me through

Thank you very much,

Saw Lady