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Sisters of the Silver Sage lasso national attention at Western Music Association event in Las Vegas
By Steve Wildsmith
of The Daily Times
You may have seen Sisters of the
Silver Sage perform before -- after all, the trio played at the Foothills Fall Festival and entertains diners every Saturday night at Deadbeat Pete's in Townsend -- but you haven't seen them like this.
On stage, at The Palace Theater, lilting voices and soft guitars lifting in sweet harmony to the rafters of that old, acoustic-friendly venue. Singing as part of the Good Samaritan Christmas Fund Raiser. And touching fans with a medley of Christmas classics and their traditional cowboy songs.
Folks around these parts may take the Whiting sisters -- Donna Whiting Guffey, Rhonda Whiting McDowell and Janet Whiting Giles -- for granted, but the Western Music Association sure doesn't. On the strength of those cowboy songs, the organization brought the trio to Las Vegas in November for a performance.
"We joined in March and just sent them our CD on a whim, and they sent us a letter in July asking us to consider performing," Guffey said this week. "We were out there Nov. 12 through Nov. 17, and it was fabulous. It's just an unheard of thing, from what I understand, for unknowns like us to be asked. They gave us prestigious time slots and the whole red-carpet treatment."
classic cowboy group, Riders in the Sky, headlined the annual WMA event,
and celebrities included Ray Benson, founder of the Western swing band
Asleep at the Wheel. The sisters performed at least twice a day, and got
to emcee a three-hour segment of the lineup on one of the stages, Guffey
The group also received a prestigious review from the New York critic O. J. Sikes, famous for his love of Western and cowboy music, who reviewed the girls in the trade magazine Rope Burns.
"We were busy from 7 in the morning until way into the night," Guffey said. "We stayed in a huge hotel, the Samstown Hotel and Casino, and we were selected as one of 15 performers to perform on a live radio broadcast with the Riders in the Sky, which was broadcast all over the West. All the performers had won awards from the WMA except for us."
For those unfamiliar of the Sisters of the Silver Sage, the trio is a mainstay at Deadbeat Pete's, where, clad in cowboy hats, fringed dresses, vests and jeans, they make music that rollicking and melancholy, funny and fast, high and lonesome and sweet and all of the sounds of the range rolled into a three-hour span.
The girls inherited a musical legacy from their father, John Whiting, still known well throughout East Tennessee as Smoky White, a performer on the popular Midday Merry-Go round, a variety show broadcast by WNOX-AM from the old Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville back in the 1940s. The girls performed in various lineups, along with sister Doris Ann Whiting, until the latter sister's death in 1989, when grief silenced the girls for 10 years.
1998, however, a former student of John Whiting, Jon Scott, recruited the
girls to perform on Marshal Andy's Knoxville-based "Riders of the Silver
Screen" television show. The girls stuck with the Western music that
entertained and inspired them from their childhoods, drawing on Bob Wills'
Western swing, the Riders of the Purple Sage and the Sons of the Pioneers
for cover songs and inspiration for their own original music.
From that point, the girls were re-energized, and the Sisters of the Silver Sage has become a passion for each of them as much as a hobby. The sisters know 300 songs easily, and if they didn't take a break during their three-hour sets at Pete's, they could run through 100 different songs without playing the same one twice, backed up on guitar by Scott and rhythm guitarist "Cactus" Bob Davidson.
At Thursday night's fund-raiser on The Palace Theater stage, the band will perform its usual array of Western standard, Guffey said, along with a lot of Christmas songs, including several originals the girls have written.
"We'll do some novelty songs and several holiday favorites, and intermingle them between our Western favorites," Guffey said. "We're just very, very fortunate and happy they asked us to do it.
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