E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One
Consider The Isaacs as the many (Pluribus) who have become the one (Unum), each maintaining a separate identity while becoming a better-together team: a really spectacular motto not only for The United States of America but for a family music ensemble as well. Unity: each supporting the other, respecting the other’s gifts and quirks, and working together to accomplish the common mission. Their mission? Spreading the Gospel and shining the Light wherever they go. Indeed, what a mission for them—and for the USA if she would only remember and honor E Pluribus Unum!
Lily, Sonya, Ben, Becky, and Levi—E Pluribus, Unum of a different variety. Or is it?
When an exceptional musical team has been singing and playing for decades and has racked up phenomenal numbers of awards and nominations (Doves and Grammys), recognitions, appearances, performances, productions, and writings, their unity is tested. In our recent interview, even matriarch Lily, who could pull rank merely from her founding position, stressed the combination of unity all through—E Pluribus Unum. Commendable.
Looking back over the 50 years they celebrate this year, they can relay how The Isaacs joined the singing world and how they began singing together. Lily remembers, “I’m not sure there was a specific time in my life when I realized I could sing. My mother always sang around the house. She loved Broadway show tunes, and I sang along with her. Later, I joined choirs at school, entered talent contests, and started acting and singing in musicals. My goal was to be an actress in Yiddish Broadway shows. I think it was in my DNA. My three children started singing at very early ages, too. By the time they were talking, they were singing.
Their father and I traveled full-time by then; they had little choice! They learned harmony without any coaching.
“I met my husband in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1968. I was a folksinger, and he was a bluegrass singer and musician. I suppose that’s when we entered the music scene. Joe and I married in 1970, and by 1971 we received salvation and started singing Christian music. Traveling as a family, we started receiving national attention in the early 80s. Our career seemed to blossom from there.”
Meet the Isaacs
What does a singing troupe do with extra time? It’s a wonderful thing when career and interests meld. Lily confirms that she “loves to travel and learn about new cultures.” She explains, “My spirit has always been adventurous that way. I also enjoy the beach, the sound of the waves, the sun on my face, the quiet of the ocean, and reading—a perfect combo.
“Son Ben enjoys living on a farm. He’s a veritable handyman and can fix almost anything! He enjoys his tractor and loves the woods, hiking, and hunting. He’s also an amazing studio engineer, a fantastic producer of many well-known artists, and has been voted Producer of the Year several times in the Absolutely Gospel Awards and voted Male Vocalist of the Year and Musician of the Year in several prominent award shows. Ben has produced many Dove Award winning Grammy nominated projects, won several IBMA awards for his production of bluegrass greats, and is the bass player and a vocalist for The Isaacs. He loves time with his wife Mindy and their three children: Jacob, Kyra, and Cameron. As a young boy, Ben accepted Christ and has always had a heart for ministry and helping people.
“Daughter Sonya Isaacs Yeary is a planner who enjoys scheduling vacations and trips. She could probably own a travel agency! She organizes our ministry, Heart for Israel, so we can take people with us to experience that beautiful land. Sonya, the mandolin player and vocalist for The Isaacs, also enjoys creating and writing songs, shopping, spending time with family, including her little children, Ayden and Gatlyn, and husband Jimmy, singer-songwriter with The Isaacs. After her solo adventure with country label Lyric Street Records, Sonya began writing songs professionally and has had many songs recorded by prominent artists, including Gospel artists, for which she has won several Dove awards.
She also enjoys singing background vocals and can be recognized as a background singer in the Hannah Montana movie and on soundtrack performances for Disney Films Geppetto and My Neighbor Totoro. Sonya has won awards by IBMA, SGMA, and CCMA and been nominated many years for Female Vocalist. Sonya believed on Christ at the age of six and has dedicated her life to Gospel Light.”
Lily describes youngest daughter Becky as a deep thinker. “She loves a good mind challenge, gardening projects, any kind of medical challenge, and reading history. She probably would have been a surgeon if we hadn’t been in the entertainment field. Married to singer-musician-minister John Bowman, Becky Isaacs Bowman is the guitar player and vocalist for The Isaacs; Levi and Jakobi are their two children. As a teenager, Becky started writing songs that have been recorded by many artists. Her first number one song was ‘Stand Still.’ She and Sonya wrote ‘Heroes,’ winning Bluegrass Song of the Year from the Dove Awards, ‘Waiting in the Water,’ ‘Your Cries Have Awoken the Master,’ and ‘A Miracle Today.’ Becky has sung background vocals on a variety of artists’ projects and been nominated and awarded Female Vocalist and Songwriter of the Year in several awards programs. Becky has a passion for the Lord and loves to minister through song and testimony.”
Levi Bowman, the son of John and Rebecca (Becky) Isaacs Bowman, is the latest member to join The Isaacs, playing guitar and singing. He just released a new solo album entitled “Find Yourself.” Levi has a heart to serve the Lord and has recently announced his calling to preach the Gospel.
It seems the Isaacs love to travel the world and experience different cultures. There’s great family passion for the countries of their heritage: Poland, Germany, all over Europe. Lily would love to go to Australia and meet family members that she has never met because they were separated by the war. Ben and his wife are big outdoors people who would love to be free enough for cross-country hiking given extra time. Maybe Ben would build a barn on his farm. Sonya would probably want to travel as well. She and Mom share a love for the beach and traveling to Israel. Enjoying time with her husband and babies, perhaps cross-country traveling in a motorhome and eating at varieties of restaurants, would be optimum. With unlimited time Becky would probably opt to travel to places that she’s never been—Paris, London, and Australia—as well take a course in the medical field. Mom thinks Becky would make an incredible physician.
Lily Isaacs has written a couple of books recounting growing-up stories. She describes them: “My first book, You Don’t Cry Out Loud, is an autobiography. It recounts my parents’ struggle in Europe, their concentration camp years, how they were liberated, when we came to America as a little family of three, how we became American citizens when I was nine years old, and my years of growing up in New York City and later. Then, I basically give a synopsis of my life nowadays.
“My second book, A Wedding Dress with Combat Boots, is a continuation of the first. Because I’ve lived a lot of life, I’ve learned so many things about my parents that I didn’t know when I was younger. I explain how, in the past seven years, I’ve found out so much family history and about ancestors. Having been to Israel 17 times, I’ve done lots of research and discovered many details about my parents’ lives in concentration camps—things they couldn’t share because of their heartache. This second book incorporates going through a divorce and health issues and how I had to be a big girl and just lace up those combat boots to survive!”
Lily takes Holocaust reality into various public events and into school settings where she talks to students and faculties about WWII and her family’s experiences in the Holocaust. She has intense thoughts about folks who believe and even teach that there was no Holocaust: “it literally makes me nauseous and infuriates me to think that some people don’t believe, and some even teach in our schools, that the Holocaust never happened. I know it did—my parents lived through it. I lost my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins—many others because of the atrocities of Nazi Germany and the happenings during World War II. In this age of cancel culture, very little is discussed about the Holocaust, but 6 million of my people were inhumanely murdered at the hands of a tyrant and his regime. I have very little tolerance for people who refuse to believe that that murderous action happened. We cannot prevent such atrocities if we don’t know and believe what happened in the past.”
Because of personal repercussions and experiences, strong ties to their “mother land” exist. The Isaacs, first-line descendants of Holocaust survivors, started a non-profit organization called the Fishman Isaacs Israel Initiative (“FIII”) in 2018 and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to bless Israel, specifically Holocaust Survivors, Israeli Defense “Lone” Soldiers, and orphans. The family’s heart is to bless Israel: “Blessing is promised to those who bless Abraham and his descendants, the Jews: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:3). We Isaacs, as Jewish Holocaust surviving descendants, feel it a calling and an honor to bless the land of our people, Israel. We love the Holy Land because of our heritage, but we also love the land because it was the location of the birthplace, home, and resurrection city of our Savior Yeshua Jesus! We have been there many times and have witnessed the needs of so many underprivileged people there. This is why we started FIII, to create a trustworthy opportunity for others to help us bless Israel. We have chosen to partner with several experienced reputable, non-profit organizations in Israel. By giving to the orphans and the elderly, especially the remaining Holocaust survivors, we are honoring the beginning and end of Yeshua Jesus’s earthly life. We are honoring Abraham’s descendants, and we are helping Jesus’s people. We love what He loves. We bless what He blesses. We are His hands and feet, and our hearts beat as His does for His homeland.”
Especially for Fellow Nashvillians
Beyond their phenomenal achievements (see their website for details), The Isaacs have a message: “We are so proud to live in Nashville, Tennessee; we love the state; we love the people. As a family, we’ve learned and practice the value that we all bleed the same blood; we are all one human race. We need to treat each other equally with kindness. Although we don’t agree on everything, we must respect our fellow man—regardless of race, color, creed, or religion—all equal in God’s eyes. We must trust God in everything; ultimately, He is the controller of life. We can do many things to help ourselves, but all things in life we must put in God’s hands and trust Him.
Sheila E. Moss: author of Living to Matter: Mothers, Singles, and the Weary and Broken; Interrupting Women: Ten Conversations with Jesus; and international publications from teaching Bible and Christian ethics in Africa, Ukraine, and Venezuela; teacher of Bible classes for over 35 years; mother of three daughters and two sons; and grandmother of eleven grandchildren