The Church Brothers
The Church Brothers and their Blue Ridge Ramblers were a bluegrass band from Wilkes County, made up of three brothers and other community friends. Inspired by the first generation of bluegrass bands, such as Flatt and Scruggs and Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, the Church Brothers were one of the first bluegrass bands in Wilkes County, performing on the radio in the 1940s and making several recordings for Blue Ridge and Rich-R-Tone Records in the early 1950s.
Brothers Bill, Edwin, and Ralph grew up in the Mount Pleasant community, with a musical father. Bill was the oldest and learned to play guitar. He played on the Farm and Fun Time radio show in Asheville, sharing the bill with the Morris Brothers and Carl Story. Bill later joined Roy Hall and the Blue Ridge Entertainers, playing in Roanoke, Virginia, before enlisting in the US Army in 1941.
Edwin and Ralph played music with local friend Drake Walsh, son of 1920s recording artist Dock Walsh. In 1946, Bill, Edwin, Ralph, Drake, and a cousin, Ward Eller, formed the Wilkes County Entertainers, playing on WILX in North Wilkesboro. By 1948, the group was performing as the Church Brothers and their Blue Ridge Ramblers, with Gar Bowers on banjo.
The group performed regularly at local and regional schoolhouses and radio stations. They also formed a relationship with songwriter Drusilla Adams and recorded several of her songs. In 1950, the group signed a contract with Rich-R-Tone Records, and released a handful of recordings through 1952.
A car accident in January of 1953 ended the life of the group’s banjo player Johnny Nelson, and the group gradually disbanded and stopped performing. Individually, all of the members of the band continued to play music, and several were mainstays at local VFW Saturday night dances for decades.