In 1934 Urias married Eva Mae Whittington, the daughter of a well-known Church Of God evangelistic preacher, and the group’s musical destiny changed forever. Eva Mae was a talented, gregarious, seventeen-year-old piano-playing alto who became the third member of the trio. For the next several decades, absent periodic off-the-road lapses for maternity leave, Eva Mae was the group’s most engaging public personality and driving energy force. Urias’ gave the trio a strong lead voice and stellar business management, Alphus provided the tenor voice and creative music direction, and Eva Mae the perfect alto complement, not to mention her exceptional flair on the piano.
The depression years were tough on all gospel singing groups including The LeFevre Trio. At one point Urias and Eva Mae had to sell their furniture to keep the trio on the road but they were one of the few groups that did not breakup. During the deepest part of the depression, the LeFevres became one of many traveling, songbook–selling, performing representatives of the long-established James D. Vaughan Music Company. Money was so scarce in those days that even the valued link serving as Vaughan music selling ambassadors sometimes failed to resolve their financial challenges. When the group accepted an offer by Vaughan to go on salary, they moved to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, working in the printing office during the week and going-out-to-sing publicly on weekends. As the depression dragged on into 1937 the LeFevres moved to Charleston, South Carolina where they landed on a radio show and would sing locally.
Having survived the depression, the LeFevre families moved to Atlanta and their prospects immediately changed for the better. The group landed an early morning spot on WGST radio, a ten-thousand-watt station that reached several states. In 1940 they made several transcription recordings that were distributed to various radio stations in the region and one particular song, Beautiful Flowers, sold fifty-thousand copies in ten days in the Atlanta market alone. With the exception of a few years in the early 1950s when they relocated to Philadelphia, Atlanta served as the group’s home base.
The world changed on December 7, 1941 and so did life for the LeFevres. The group was literally singing live on WGST radio when the announcer broke into the program and announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Like millions of young men and women, Urias and Alphus were called into military service but somehow the resolute Eve Mae managed to hold the group together with various personnel filling in while the brothers were overseas.
With Urias back at the helm managing the business side of things, The LeFevre’s flourished in the post WWII years, releasing a string of recordings and keeping up a healthy concert schedule. After the war Eva Mae and Urias began a family and Eva Mae had periods of time “off the road.” While Eva Mae was absent raising their five children, the group had a variety of individuals filling in, just as during the war years. With the changes in the musical styles of the times, The LeFevres became one of the first Southern Gospel groups to add a full band and feature more instrumentation than just piano.
In 1957 when the group returned to their original base in Atlanta, Rex Nelon joined the group to sing bass and play guitar as the trio era segued to an expanded group. For a number of years, the core members of The LeFevres included Eva Mae, Urias, Alphus, oldest-son Pierce, Jimmy Jones, and Rex Nelon.
Firmly settled in Atlanta, several career related business enterprises were established during the 1960s including the syndicated, highly popular Gospel Singing Caravan television show which aired coast to coast on 65 stations. After the Caravan show ended, they aired The LeFevre Family Show, owned a state-of-the-art recording and TV production studio, LeFevre Sound, published gospel sheet music, ran a booking agency and owned their own building.
As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, the talented children of Urias and Eva Mae became old enough to join the group. When oldest son Pierce joined as a singer and trumpet player, instrumental numbers began to be a prominent feature in their live concerts. Since children Maurice, Andrea, and Mylon were no longer kids, they began performing as well, resulting in an even wider variety of instruments being used in the group’s concert performances.
Although the three original members, Urias, Alphus and Eva Mae remained together for 40 years (absent during the war), The LeFevres experienced a lot of turnover in the early 1970s. Ultimately, Alphus and Urias retired and management duties were transferred to Rex Nelon. By 1977 The LeFevres consisted of Eva Mae (the only LeFevre still traveling with the group) Rex Nelon, Janet Paschal, Kelly Nelon, and Rodney Swain. When Eva Mae retired that year, the LeFevre name was retired and the group became known as the Rex Nelon Singers since Nelon had purchased the group’s name.
The LeFevres were part of Southern Gospel music’s upper echelon for decades. In 1965, Billboard magazine referred to The LeFevres as “jacks of all Gospel trades” and reported that they were “the center of a vast gospel music operation in Atlanta.” Another media outlet billed them as “the First Family of Gospel Music.”
Additional notes of interest:
On December 7 when the radio announcer broke-in to announce Pearl Harbor’s bombing, the group was on the air singing Just A Closer Walk With Thee.
See additional GMA Hall of Fame entries for: Urias LeFevre, Alphus LeFevre, Eva Mae LeFevre, and Mylon LeFevre.
Content written/edited by GMA Hall of Fame staff member Jon Robberson Sr. with excerpts from The Music Men by Bob Terrell and source contributions by SGHistory.com (March 2021).