The deep soulfulness within a gospel song is unlike other genres; it's a historic source of inspiration, motivation and liberation for many. For Lena Mae Perry, affectionately known as Mother Perry, gospel is all she needs.
A founding member of the North Carolina gospel group The Branchettes, Mother Perry has been singing gospel music since her childhood. Known throughout the South for their mighty spirit, the trio had sung for over five decades with the mission of "lifting weary hearts." In the new documentary Stay Prayed Up, Mother Perry, the sole surviving member of the group, retells the origins of The Branchettes and keeping gospel music alive through their legacy as they record their first live album.
EBONY spoke with the living gospel legend, now in her 80s, about her memories of The Branchettes and the deep personal meaning of the music that has encompassed her life.
EBONY: How has gospel music been integral to your life?
Mother Perry: I grew up with my parents taking us to church. It was a main priority—so going to church all those years has become my life. There's not anything else I would rather do because church has helped me through all of the days that I can remember.
A Gospel hymn, to me, is just like medication. If you get down, I dare you to hit one of those old hymns. Sometimes, I'm here at home and just sing as loud as I want. I get to singing those old songs— "Amazing Grace," "Precious Lord," "When The Saints Go Marching In"—and just feel good all over.
What is your earliest memory of singing with The Branchettes?
I've been singing since I was in first grade and did a lot of performances in different places. As I got older and married, it was the idea to start The Branchettes came about. We had already been singing together for years. In the group was Ethel Mae, Lena Mae and Mae Ellen and with all those "Maes," we decided we needed a name for our group. Someone suggested to us that since our church was surrounded by so many trees and woods and named Long Branch Disciple Church, it would make sense to call us Branchettes. We kept that name and it fit so nicely for us. I often tell people that I'm the only branch left on the long branch as the other members are now deceased.
How does it feel to have a documentary highlighting and detailing your experience singing?
You know, I've been really surprised but it has been wonderful. I always ask questions and explain to folks different stories behind the places we travel through. I was willing to do what I needed to do to make things work for this film. We are all in this little circle together and I just try to talk to folks and help them out to the best of my ability. So, when I watch the film, all of my memories just come back to me and I'm just as happy as can be.
Stay Prayed Up is now in theaters and will be released on Amazon and Apple TV on July 5th. Check out the trailer below: