A recent Google search for “Forbes Family” yielded the following result at the top of the list: “A wealthy extended American family originating in Boston.” At first glance, this didn’t sound like the gospel singing group from southern Pennsylvania. But if wealth can be measured in means other than money… as talent, beauty, excellence, joy, exuberance, and determination, then this other Forbes Family has wealth beyond measure.
Their story started in childhood. Raised in a home where bluegrass instruments abounded, band leader Homer was picking guitar at age four and his sister Lisa was singing as soon as she could talk. Siblings Jay and Lori joined in, singing bass and alto respectively. When Homer was 11 or 12, the family formed a group. Their daily regimen consisted of school, homework, and practicing their music from 5 o’clock in the evening until 2 in the morning – every day! When they migrated to Mt. Airy, North Carolina, to launch their career – at the ages of 18 to 23 – they sounded like pros. Indeed, they were professionals!
In 1984, they came to the attention of Rebel Records and had their first nationally distributed album with the release of Gleams of that Golden Morning (Reb-1631). The disc was praised for its polished and imaginative arrangements, the sweet harmonies, and the soaring lead vocals of Lisa Forbes. Some noted the “something extra” that the group seemed to possess and a keen knack for selecting outstanding material. Standouts by the group included “In My Robe of White,” “The Other Side of Life,” “Come Unto Me,” and “Gloryland.”
The group followed up their debut the following year with I’m Just a Pilgrim (Reb-1641). Accolades in reviews that read “every cut here is a beauty” and “exquisite singing” might have seemed effusive, but they were true! With the song “I Need Jesus,” comparisons were made between the Forbes and Marshall families. In retrospect, it came as no surprise that David Marshall teamed up with the Forbes to produce the 1986 LP Outside the Gate (Reb-1648). An active participant, he wrote four of the songs, sang lead on three, and played banjo, guitar, and mandolin.
In 1988, the album Farewell (Reb-1667) hinted that the Forbes Family felt the time was right take a hiatus from music. The group tackled a number of songs that were made popular by other bluegrass artists. But, they weren’t mere covers… the Forbes Family made songs like “Lord, Don’t Leave Me Here” (Country Gentlemen), “My Rock” (Doyle Lawson), and “Children Go Where I Send Thee” (Marshall Family and Ralph Stanley) their own.
Music can exert a powerful pull on people and it drew the Forbes Family from their retirement for two more recordings. I’ll Look to Him (Reb-1717) showcased Forbes originals, a few contemporary pieces, several traditional numbers, and some lovely a cappella songs. One critic noted, “Gospel doesn’t get much better than this.” Perhaps their most carefully produced recording was In the Shadow of Your Wings (Reb-1733). It was produced by Ron Block, the versatile banjoist/guitarist with Alison Krauss’ Union Station. Members of Union Station, along with award-winning fiddler Stuart Duncan, provided the instrumental backing… thus allowing the Forbes Family the opportunity to do what they do best: sing! Ron even contributed four songs to the project, as did Homer and Lori Forbes.
In 2015, Rebel Records released a compilation of the Forbes Family, A Forbes Family Treasury Volume I (Reb-7525) and A Forbes Family Treasury Volume II (Reb-7526). Not only do these volumes include the best of the Forbes Family previously released music but also they include three previously unreleased songs.