Lily Fern Weatherford announces May 2013 Retirement

In a statement posted on Singing News this afternoon, Lily Fern Weatherford announced that her sixty-five-year run with the Weatherfords will come to a close with her retirement this spring:

After much prayer and thought, my years of traveling with the Weatherfords will be coming to a close at the end of May, 2013. I turned 84 this past November, and have just celebrated my 70th year in full time ministry. I will be making our annual Florida tour that will last through February as well as one more tour to California and once that is completed at the end of May, I will be retiring.

In a parting word of warning to churches and groups alike, her announcement was surprisingly frank as to the economic challenges of staying on the road:

Over the past several years, there have been so many changes in the economy and and state of the country that it has become financially unfeasible for me to continue on in the same manner of ministry. Churches and pastors have changed their way of ministry and are not supporting the Southern Gospel groups as they have in the past. The Weatherfords have always depended on the church and free will love offerings to keep us going. Fuel prices are outrageous as well as other costs of keeping on the road. All these things have caused me to come to this decision.

Her son Steve intends to continue the Weatherfords’ musical legacy, and will announce what that will look like soon.

Many if not most Weatherfords fans consider their golden era to be the vocal lineup of Earl and Lily Weatherford on baritone and alto, Glen Payne on lead, and Armond Morales on bass. Here is a video from that era, showing Lily in her prime:

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15 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Sis Lily Fern Weatherford Is Going To Be Missed But I Can Not Wait For Her Son To Countine The Legacy.

  2. That was beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like Lily Weatherford has had a wonderful career and will certainly be missed. Wonderful bass singing too!!

    • She has had a wonderful career, and yes, she will certainly be missed!

  3. Thanks so much for posting that. Please share it and spread the word. You will be able to get updates at as well as the official Facebook page of Lily Fern Weatherford.

  4. Lily Fern in my opinion is the greatest female voice in the history of southern gospel music. If you listen to her vocals on her signature song “Tell My Friends” and the Henry Slaughter classic “What A Precious Friend Is He” the quality and smoothness of her voice is second to none. I have had a couple of conversations with her, and she was always very cordial and was interested in what I had to say. A very classy lady.

  5. Lily Fern and The Weatherfords in Broken Arrrow, OK a few months ago:!/photo.php?v=4443912695136&set=vb.188990590953&type=2&theater

  6. As a music director, my problem isn’t SG, I support it. The problems come down to a few things. Firstly, we just don’t have a lot of concerts a year and even when we do there will be some who won’t show unless there is a sermon. Even then, typically we don’t get many if any people outside of our congregation to show up. So, with the pastor not wanting many a year and there not seeming to be an interest outside of people who were coming anyhow, it can be tough.

    However, I think an even bigger issue is the money. It is easy for groups to say that they need the love offering dates (and understandably so), but I think most churches are hurting for money ourselves. With the economy as it is, people concerned about where things are going, loss of jobs, moving away to green pastures etc. (let alone those who leave and get their rewards) we can’t afford to pay flats and if we do do love offering dates the concern is that they will just take money they were going to give to church and give there leaving the church even more short. Not all do, but I do think some have a set amount they are going to give to church / charity etc. and just shuffle things around within that set amount (instead of giving more). So, since churches are hurting and trying to survive ourselves we have to make decisions and cuts as well. My church still supports missions and the like at this time, but just can’t take on concerts a lot.
    Then if you do have a love offering date and not much money is collected everyone is probably disappointed.

    *Daniel, I just redid it under the proper name, so if you will just delete the two preceding posts here. Thanks. 🙂

    The reality too is that there are a lot of extra curricular and entertainment things out there. Some people aren’t as faithful to churches as they used to be. Churches themselves have transformed and there is a market for those, but many have pushed SG and hymnbooks out totally. So, I really do feel bad for the groups. I love them and want to hear them. I do have concerns it is a dying genre and that is sad.

    • I think Southern Gospel is shrinking – not dying.

  7. In the high tech, pre-praise and worship era, we saw the barnstorming from church to church by all the groups with all night sings in between.
    Remember one night long time ago, in Dillsburg, PA, where Ed O’Neal & DMB roll in 2 AM on a Sunday morning from Ohio. They sang and Ed stated we have to put the rubber to the road to go a little farther south on the interstate for a early Sunday Morning Service.

    The are two levels in SGM today with the regional and national known artists and group. What group is at what level is not the focus of this comment.

    There are many regional groups who still doing barnstorming from church to church plus working a a job during the week.
    Some other regional groups do it full time but needs at least 200-250 dates a year to stay afloat.
    The closely knit or family regional group does it well traveling coast to coast.
    Alot of groups do not need everything on the market to make it.
    Some do it well just as long if they stay focus on the points in the comments to question Daniel asked in 2008 in the blogspot titled “What is the Purpose of a Gospel Concert?” Replies are excellent points relative to the focus of gospel music.

    A regional group have to be wary of living out their dream by buying a bus.
    One well known artist once said that buying a bus means you are working for the bus.

    National groups will do well if they focus on the same points in Daniel’s article.
    An article written by the editor of The Singing News on Page 32 in the December issue of the SN is an excellent instance of getting it right in spreading word about the message of Jesus Christ through southern gospel music on a national level.

    Using some of these “outside the box” tools to a small or greater degree would allow more exposure for southern gospel music.

    Everyone does not have to be a “big box” southern gospel music group.
    Instead of beating our heads against the wall, it would be worth our efforts to find what is really works for us at our level.
    Doing what you do best according to their calling is all God desires.

  8. SG groups depend on Sunday night concerts as a great source of income and events. How many churches have cut them out completely?

    Lily Fern – you know I’ll miss you.

  9. Lily Fern Weatherford is appearing in concert at our church, Faith Fellowship in Brooksville, Fl tonight and it is an honor to have her. She is a gospel legend and ministers through her music. We have a small church but we know God will bless us many times over when we support these ministries. If we listen to what God would have us do and follow his directions, he would bless everyone. Lily Fern Weatherford will be greatly missed but we will be supporting her son, Steve, as he continues. We love you Lily and wish you much happiness in your retirement and many blessings! Dot & Frank Bibber

  10. Comment

  11. I played piano for the Weatherfords in the early 1970’s. Earl & Lily were great Christians and they knew how to sing correctly. Lily is my favorite female singer of all time. She has really been good for Southern Gospel music. She will be missed. I don’t blame her for retiring; we all have to do it at some time. Lily, JoLee and I love you.
    Haskell Cooley

  12. Hey, you people act like she kicked the bucket! She ain’t dead yet. By the way, I’m her granddaughter, Megan and I look for her to continue, in some manner, her ministry. A person like Lily Fern doesn’t just ‘quit.’
    She will retire, however those that know Lily Fern, know she is going to be well taken care of and looked after, and safe. But, she will be independent, and have the opportunity to travel to see old friends and possibly make new friends along the way. We love grandma and we all feel that this is necessary, not only for her financial well being, but also her health, too. It will add years to her life; I am thankful that I have been given the opportunity to rebuild my relationship with her. The big dude upstairs has a plan in mind for everyone, and this is her’s.
    She’s a strong lady, she’s been through a lot. But, don’t you think just because she’s retiring, you won’t see her, cause you will. I have a feeling there are plans for that, too.

    • Megan, we’re so glad to hear from you!

      Please don’t take the comments paying tribute to your grandmother’s accomplishments the wrong way. I think there is a strong sense among this site’s readership that she is a legend who has done massive amounts to shape Gospel Music as we know it today, and that she deserves credit for her contributions. There is also a sense among this site’s readership that we should give roses to the living – that we should start expressing how much our legends mean to us while they’re still with us. That, I believe, is the spirit behind most if not all of the comments on this post.

      And by the way, I’m as thrilled as I can be that there are plans to see her again in the future!