For Person County’s Torains, singing is a family affair

The Torain Family is presently comprised of third and fourth generation relatives. Victor (far left) is the group’s longest active member.

Sponsored by the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex – Fifty-four years ago, 30-ish year-old Frances Torain formed a singing group with her family that would go on to delight audiences throughout northern Piedmont North Carolina and South-Central Virginia. Now with its fourth generation and a new single on deck, the quartet-styled ensemble known simply as The Torain Family is next up to be featured in concert as part of the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex’s “Gospel In Person” series.

“Gospel In Person” is a multipart celebration of the rich Black gospel music history found in North Carolina’s rural Person County, located in the Piedmont region along Virginia’s border. The schedule of events includes live concert performances and a documentary feature film to round out the series.

A Five-Plus-Decade Family Affair

The Torain Family’s beginnings as a singing aggregation date back to 1968, with its earliest members being Frances Torain and her twin brother Frank, along with their siblings Thomas (also a founding member of the St. Luke Gospel Singers the year before), Catherine, Becky, Barbara, and nephew Victor. The family’s matriarch Myrtle also joined in and remained a part of the singing group for 15 years or so. The early years progressed, bringing in another sibling, Ponzell, and eventually yet another, Nathaniel. 

Presently, The Torain Family lineup is comprised of its third and fourth generation of singers and musicians. With the passing of their beloved founding member and lead singer Frances in 2016, Victor became the group’s longest active member and is also the primary lead singer. Alongside him to spread the gospel message in song are several other relatives including Michelle Torain, Kizzy Torain, Sterling Torain, Antonio Torain, Makiyh Allen, and Franklin Torain, who serves as the music director. Their current single is titled “Over There,” with Kizzy on the lead mic. Before that, they released “The Train,” a single in memory of Frances, whose interpretation of the Meditation Singers’ “Don’t You Want to Go” was an audience favorite (see GMF’s music review).

Known for their rustic, churchy singing style, The Torain Family’s concert performance is sure to be a celebration of gospel as well as a homage to Frances and other family on whose shoulders they stand. The event, presented by the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex in partnership with Just Love In Person community service organization and Gentry Visuals production company, takes place at the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC, on Saturday, December 3, 2022, at 6 PM. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/19211/kirby-cultural-arts-complex/.

The Torain Family at their 41st anniversary, pictured with their founder, Frances Torain
The Torain Family is pictured at their 41st singing anniversary in 2012. Frances Torain, founding member, is seated second from left. | From the Torain Family Singers Facebook Group

Appearance in Gospel In Person Documentary

In addition to their upcoming concert, The Torain Family’s contributions to Person County’s gospel music landscape are highlighted in the documentary, Gospel In Person, set to premiere in June 2023. According to Michael Gentry, the film’s creator and producer, Gospel In Person “will tell the history of the great musical anointing that has rested upon Person County.”

“I admire all of the groups and individuals I have interviewed for this documentary,” says Gentry, “but the Torain family has a special place in my heart because they are indeed a family. The late Frances Torain started the group with her siblings and her mother. By the names that were mentioned throughout the interview, I count at least eight siblings who were members at some point in time, which by itself is incredible.”

He continues, “The current lineup is made of third- and fourth-generation Torains. But I could not tell who were siblings and who were first or second cousins because they all seemed like brothers and sisters, which was just beautiful to me. Some family members who were not part of the interview were sitting in the kitchen lobbing additional facts over to us in the living room and sharing in the laughter of the many humorous memories. And Aunt Lee, who is married to original lead singer Thomas Torain, was working the stove inside and the grill outside. It felt like Christmas on a Sunday afternoon in September.”

(Video courtesy of Gentry Visuals)

MG Music Group to kick off ‘Gospel In Person’ concert series

MG Music Group photo
MG Music Group

Sponsored by the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex – MG Music Group is gearing up to perform the first concert in the “Gospel In Person” series, presented by the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex in partnership with Just Love In Person community service organization and Gentry Visuals production company. The concert takes place at the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC, on Saturday, November 12, 2022, at 6 PM. “Gospel In Person” is a multipart celebration of the rich Black gospel music history found in North Carolina’s rural Person County, located in the Piedmont region along Virginia’s border. The schedule of events includes live concert performances and a documentary feature film to round out the series.

MG (Mighty God) Music Group is a Christian-based record label in Person County’s city of Roxboro. Its roster of artists, also collectively known as the MG Music Group, consists of eight Christian rappers, all of whom have ties to the area. The collective has performed in multiple cities across the US and in the UK. Label founder and CEO Cedric Hester, aka Deacon Authority, is himself a Person County native who writes, produces, and performs. The upcoming concert is set to feature the international award-winning artist/producer along with labelmates George Pettiford, Curtis Clay, Bryant Lofton, Effram Winstead, Roderick Shepard, and Eli Cope, better known by their stage names, Judea, Soundman, Shoe Man, CLASS, Sim’Plea Rock, and Lil Lij, respectively. Some of MG Music Group’s most popular songs to date are “Mighty God,” “La La La,” and “Yahweh.”

The “Gospel In Person” series features several live concerts between November 2022 and April 2023 and culminates with the premiere of Gospel In Person, a documentary, in June 2023. Michael Gentry, the film’s creator and producer, hopes the documentary will duly honor some of the community’s legends whose impact has created ripple effects throughout the broader gospel music scene.

“Gospel In Person will tell the history of the great musical anointing that has rested upon Person County,” says Gentry. “You will hear the stories of legends such as Roosevelt and Michael Whitfield, Martha Pettiford, Leroy Cash, Victor Hester, Willie Carrington, and many more. And you will learn more about the living legends who walk among us and tirelessly minister to us all.”

Deacon Authority’s late grandfather is named among the legends. Victor Hester was a noted bass singer and member of an area group whose inception is believed by some to date back to the 1930s, the now defunct Traveling Sextet. Deacon Authority and his grandfather had a special relationship.

“He took me with him and taught me so many things,” he remembers.

As far as he knows, the elder Hester never got to perform overseas like him. Nevertheless, Deacon Authority says his granddad’s influence is always present with him and present wherever the music goes around the world.

“My grandfather is in all my songs. He’s the reason why I like bass so much.”

From generation to generation and in song after song shared at home and abroad, it seems likely Mr. Victor Hester’s influence is traveling farther than the Traveling Sextet singer ever dreamed was possible.

Tickets for MG Music Group’s concert are available now at https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/19211/kirby-cultural-arts-complex/.

MG Music Group reflects on humble beginnings. (Video courtesy of Gentry Visuals)

Gentry describes the entire series as “historic and monumental.”