Amidst the many bluegrass subgenres, gospel stands out due to its long trajectory, beautiful melodies, and powerful lyrical messages.
The melodious instrumentalization and powerful harmonies that define the genre can make it easy to recognize, but each bluegrass gospel band and group has a unique touch—a characteristic sound that can make them stand out, whether they are performing centuries-old Christian music or brand-new material.
To give you a glimpse of the rich variety bluegrass gospel has to offer, take a look at the ten best bands and groups and some of their most emblematic songs.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
After departing from The Country Gentlemen in 1979—which I’ll discuss further down in the list—Bluegrass Gospel legend and Hall of Fame member Doyle Lawson founded Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, an ensemble with a succinct mastery of instruments and beautiful harmonies.
Sadly, Lawson announced his retirement in 2021, which effectively put an end to the group. However, the band’s performances live on—their repertoire includes fun high-tempo songs that make you smile and thoughtful stories that you cannot seem to forget.
Highlight Song: God Can.
The Del McCoury Band
What began as a music project ended as a family business. The Del McCoury Band is an award-winning bluegrass gospel band centered around the eponymous Del McCoury on the guitar and his brother, Jerry McCoury, playing bass.
After continuous lineup changes, Del’s sons Robbie and Ronnie joined the group playing the banjo and mandolin, solidifying the band’s lineup and sound style. The band’s talent received recognition by the Grammy Awards twice—in 2004 and 2006—in the Best Bluegrass Album category.
Highlight Song: Gone But Not Forgotten.
The Stanley Brothers
Bluegrass wouldn’t be what it is today without the exceptional contribution of Carter and Ralph Stanley, as part of The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys.
Active from 1946 until Carter’s death in 1966, The Stanley Brothers were amongst the first bands performing the music style created by Bill Monroe, eventually known as bluegrass. As such, The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys are considered one of the pillars that solidified the genre within the country.
Their music carries a distinct Appalachian folk essence alongside their gospel sound, making them an everlasting classic for fans of the genre.
Highlight Song: Angel Band.
The Seldom Scene
Formed in 1971, The Seldom Scene remains active 50 years after its initial formation. This long trajectory is nothing short of a blessing for bluegrass enthusiasts, as the band is partially responsible for helping shape the progressive bluegrass scene.
Their sound was decisively innovative in the era since, as they incorporated pop, jazz, and rock elements into traditional bluegrass instrumentalization. The result was a distinctive profile that changed the genre forever and allowed experimentation for other artists.
Recognizing their contributions to the genre, they were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
Highlight Song: City of New Orleans.
Dailey & Vincent
Currently one of the most popular contemporary bluegrass acts, Dailey & Vincent have taken over the Billboard charts with each new album released since their formation in 2007. Their music is the perfect blend of bluegrass, country, and gospel, and their performances are highly sought-after.
Many group members have come and gone, but the core lineup remains: Jamie Dailey—who previously performed for the aforementioned Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver—and Darrin Vincent, currently accompanied by seven other instrumentalists.
Highlight Song: By The Mark.
IIIrd Tyme Out
Also known as Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out after its frontman, vocalist, and guitar player, the band has had an extensive trajectory in the bluegrass gospel scene since 1994 and are recognized figures within the genre.
The band is made of prolific performers with thirteen albums under their belt and multiple accolades by the International Bluegrass Music Awards, acknowledging their contributions to the genre.
Their discography features original content and bluegrass covers of beloved hits from the past. However, their exceptional instrumentalization and Moore’s heartfelt vocals make their music valuable and incomparable.
Highlight Song: I Want to Stroll over Heaven.
Blue Highway is a bluegrass superband composed of experimented musicians and performers. The group’s original lineup features instrumentalists with previous experience in bands such as Alison Krauss & Union Station or Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.
Their combined expertise is to blame for the fantastic results—bluegrass compositions that ooze classic southern gospel charm and Americana, yet deviate from classic sounds just enough to remain memorable. Their acapella performances are simply brilliant.
Highlight Song: Someday.
Hot Rize started performing in 1978 and officially disbanded in 1990—or at least so they claim. Since then, the band regularly performs reunion concerts and regroups, released a studio album in 2014, and went on tour.
However, the most surprising aspect of Hot Rize is the continuity of its lineup—it has barely changed members in its entire run, with the most significant loss being that of Charles Sawtelle to leukemia in 1999. This means its sound remains distinctive and its evolution is cohesive, and the closeness between the members reflects in the music and performances.
Highlight Song: Prayer Bells of Heaven.
The Country Gentlemen
A couple of paragraphs are not enough to describe the impact of The Country Gentlemen, the unambiguous pioneers of progressive bluegrass.
Founded in 1957 and active until 2004, The Country Gentlemen’s half-century journey naturally has seen numerous lineup changes. However, enthusiasts of the band divide the group into three eras—“the classic” era with the original members until 1965, the “second classic” lineup defined by Doyle Lawson and Bill Emerson’s time in the group, and the “contemporary” period that remained until Charlie Waller’s death in 2004.
Regardless of era, The Country Gentlemen’s discography remains emblematic, and its existence ushered in a new era for gospel bluegrass.
Highlight Song: Lord Don’t Leave Me Here.
The Osborne Brothers
Although they are remembered due to their 1967 hit Rocky Top, Bobby and Sonny Osborne offered the bluegrass scene much more than that.
Upon forming in 1953, their distinctive sound expanded the public’s conception of what the genre could do. Including twin harmony banjos or changing the standard trio harmony default in bluegrass were novelties for the era and opened doors for the genre’s mainstream success.
Highlight Song: Banjo Gospel Medley.
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