The Martins — Joyce, Jonathan and Judy — have been singing together for more than 35 years and recording since 1994.
They took a break for almost a decade to raise families, recharge batteries and learn to be more independent.
“We have had our moments,” Joyce Martin Sanders says with a laugh. “Every Monday it was, ‘I’m quitting, I can’t stand you this week.’ But we are at a place right now where through maturity, we have learned to respect one another. We’ve never gotten along better than we do now. We’re focused more than ever.”
The trio is headlining the Pennsylvania Gospel Music Festival, coming to Hershey Theatre Sept. 11-13.
The Martins will perform at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13.
Other performers include The Blackwood Brothers, comedian Aaron Wilburn, the bluegrass gospel duo Dailey & Vincent and another talented family, The Browns.
Also appearing will be The Booth Brothers, Guy Penrod, The Erwins, Greater Vision, TaRanda Greene, Legacy Five, Jubilee, The Taylors, Mark Trammell Quartet, The Nelons and Dr. Phil Hoskins.
For more information about the festival, visit imcconcerts.com/alldates.php.
The Martins grew up on a farm in Arkansas, where their mother taught them to harmonize from an early age.
“They raised us on next to nothing,” says Sanders, the oldest of the three. “Our mom sang around the house, and when I was 10, we were harmonizing and singing. We always loved to sing.”
They sang at churches in the area.
“By the time we were in our teens, we’d surrendered to a full-time ministry,” she says.
As they got older, the harmonies got more intricate, more interesting, Sanders says.
“We recorded several albums with our style of harmony,” she says.
Then they met producers Michael English and Mark Lowry and they found “Martin music.”
“They told us we didn’t have to follow the rules and that gave us confidence,” Sanders says.
The trio has a wide range of influences. As Billboard magazine explained, the Martins are “breaking down walls and blurring the lines that separate Southern gospel from inspirational adult contemporary and other popular Christian music formats.”
“We lean toward good story songs,” Sanders says. “Especially at this point in our lives. The stuff we have been through — how has God gotten you through? We are always careful to sing about things we have walked through.”
The challenges of working together so closely for so many years began to affect the siblings. Jonathan left the group in 2002.
No records were recorded between 2003 and 2010, in what Sanders calls an estrangement.
“We have made decisions that harmed us, and it came to a head right before we took that break,” she explains. “It was unable to be resolved — there was a very personal battle one of us was having. We took a break. It was open-ended. We didn’t know if we would ever be able to reconcile.”
They recorded solo works and spent time with their growing families. (Sanders has two children, her brother has six and her sister has four.)
“God began working on us individually,” Sanders says. “We became independently creative people, and we grew spiritually.”
Because they didn’t need each other so much, because they could stand on their own, they could come together.
It was great to get back with her brother and sister, but Sanders notes that it was tough professionally.
“We hadn’t been around. The business is constantly changing, the economy changes, styles changed. It was like starting over,” she says.
“What did people want from us? We started with baby steps and came in slowly, building back up and recording new music,” Sanders says. “We had to be current, but it had to be us.”
They recorded “A New Day,” in 2011 but it didn’t sell well.
“We made up our minds that we would let the chips fall where they may,” Sanders says. “You’ve got to be authentic. The fans will see that it’s forced.”
In 2014, they released “A Cappella,” an album of hymns sung a cappella. It was a huge hit and won them Grammy and Dove award nominations. It felt good.
“We thought, OK, we haven’t lost it, people still want to hear us.”
The Martins remain close to both their parents.
“They are our biggest cheerleaders,” Sanders says. “The estrangement was tough on them.”
But the siblings live far apart from each other. Sanders lives in Nashville, her brother lives in West Des Moines, Iowa, and her sister lives in Columbus, Georgia .
“We joke that’s why we still love each other,” Sanders says laughing. “We see each other on the road, and then we say goodbye.”¶
If you go
• Pennsylvania Gospel Music Festival, Fri.-Sun., Sept. 11-13; 6 p.m. Friday, 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday.
• Packages (includes seating for all five sessions) cost $79, $99 and $129.00; individual sessions cost $28, $35
• For tickets call 877-392-9710 or visit IMCconcerts.com.