With a Song in Their Hearts

The Martins: from left to right are Joyce, Judy, and Jonathan

Mothers intuitively sense potential in their children that may be oblivious to practically everyone else on the planet. When their offspring’s musical talent is validated by Bill Gaither, however, the world quickly falls in line.

Such marks the lives of the Martins, a trio of siblings who had little choice but to harmonize, initially from the farthest corners of their 800-square foot home near Hamburg, Arkansas. Joyce, eight, Jonathan, six and Judy, five, drew in closer, and soon their mother, Wylma, pronounced them ready to sing for others.

The “Martin kids” became well known in the area, vocalizing at churches, homecomings and numerous other events before two of ‘em had started to school.

By the end of the 1980s, the Martins had performed thousands of times throughout the nation, getting “from here to there” in cars, vans and buses. They logged more than 1.5 million miles, the kids singing and mom in tow to provide “road schooling” between engagements. (Dad J. W., a crop duster, accompanied them when he could.)

In 1991, some Bill Gaither “regulars,” Mark Lowery and Michael English, prevailed on Gloria Gaither to prevail on hubby Bill, the world’s gospel music icon, to give the Martins a shot. He did, and they’ve skyrocketed to prominence and now are themselves “regulars” on the videos. They’ve also sung in Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, the Grand Ole Opry, the White House and at Billy Graham Crusades.

Life was good, but it also became complicated. They chose to go solo in 2002, but half a dozen years later, they were reunited – picking up where they left off.

A trio again, they no longer reside in “LA,” Jonathan’s initials for “lower Arkansas.” He lives in Iowa, Joyce in Tennessee and Judy in Georgia. They maintain rigorous concert schedules, and likewise try to keep family life as normal as possible in their respective homes, where spouses and an even dozen children reside.

Included among Jonathan’s half-dozen are twins Michael and Taylor. Now 16, the boys were born prematurely at 30 weeks on New Year’s Eve, 1995. Michael was born with only one eye fully developed, and Taylor with cerebral palsy.

By age two, Michael was fitted with a prosthetic eye. “He’s had a terrible time keeping up with it, and we’ve made a game of innumerable searches for his eye in the early years,” Jonathan said….

The family well remembers a delayed departure for church one Sunday morning when Michael was four. His prosthesis was nowhere to be found, and the search was on.

Halea, then six, found it in her room – one “off limits” to Michael and Taylor. It was in her Barbie doll house – even further “off limits.”

All eyes turned to Michael, who meekly explained he thought it was important to “keep an eye on the Barbie dolls.”

Taylor is a piece of work, too, refusing to surrender to cerebral palsy. Since his earliest memory, he’s wanted to become a fireman. No one in the family dared to dash his dream.

Some years ago, he was spending hours perusing the phone book. His folks couldn’t imagine why.

Quizzed about it, Taylor answered, “I’m memorizing names, phone numbers and addresses.” That should really help me out if I decide to be a fire dispatcher.

On balance, the talented Martins lead remarkably normal lives. They are determined to do so. They remain unaffected by their fame, possessing that rare ability to “walk with kings” and doggedly retain the common touch.

They’ve won multiple Dove awards, received several Grammy nominations and tons of other recognitions. Humility still reigns.

Still, they understand “smallness.” Jonathan swears their church was so tiny, there wasn’t even room for an unspoken request.

Now, they live in a vast world, masterfully singing praises to the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.” They’ve traveled most of life’s roads—some with unforeseen bumps and some that rise up to meet them.

But the Martins show up singing, each of them exemplifying as well as any folks I’ve ever met a firm belief that the ground at the foot of the cross is exceedingly level. I’m mighty glad Bill Gaither quickly recognizes talent when it’s beyond exceptional, and that Wylma made sure her kids learned to harmonize.

   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

Humorist Don Newbury is author of When The Porch Light’s On. Click here to read more about the book or purchase a copy direct from Amazon.

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