Bluegrass Music

The Hillbilly Thomists: More Bluegrass-Meets-Catholicism

Remember a few months back when I told you about the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word from Birmingham, Alabama that did a video of them performing the bluegrass standard “I’ll Fly Away”? If not, here’s a link:

Anyway, I bring them up again as they were the source for my latest bluegrass discovery. Through their website ( I learned about the Hillbilly Thomists. Taking their name from a comment made by author Flannery O’Connor, the group of Dominican friars, priests and brothers study intensely the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. However, some of them are also move by the lyrics of many folk and bluegrass gospel songs. Under the guidance of Father Thomas Joseph White, the rotating group of brethren perform on traditional folk and bluegrass instruments (guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle), as well as other traditional and ethnic instruments such as drums, piano, bodhran and accordion.

Seeing them on stage, you would think that you were to be serenaded by an age-old Gregorian chant. However, they pick up their stringed instruments and kick into a religious folk standard such as “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” or “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” While it may look strange to the eye at first notice, it becomes apparent that these men of Catholic conviction also know how to jam!

YouTube is filled with videos of the Hillbilly Thomists, whether it be live performances or professionally created music videos. What comes across is that they are religious, but they are also human. They like to have fun. They crack jokes, become self-deprecating about their musical skills, and also love to play secular music (one of the many YT vids shows them jamming to “Whiskey In The Jar”). Take away their robes and dress them in suits and ties, and you would think that they were another great-sounding bluegrass band.

However, it is their conviction to the Lord that makes them special. Jesus and his disciples also loved to laugh, sing, and dance. I do believe that God is looking down on the Hillbilly Thomists and smiling, probably even tapping his foot. Catholicism has always gotten a bad rap when it comes to music. The images of friars walking slowly and chanting in Latin seems to many like a depressing drone. Yet if one really takes a step back, the drone can be enlightening, with fluctuations of tones that the heart reacts to.

The Hillbilly Thomists take this a few steps further. They know that music makes people feel better generally. Moreover, the messages that come across in the standard bluegrass gospel songs are ones of hope, not fear. They also show to others that even priests and brothers can have human fun without insulting God. Theirs is a life of devotion to God and Christ, and that devotion can include singing praises in a popular style of music such as bluegrass and folk.

I urge you to check out a few of the Hillbilly Thomists’ videos and, if moved, purchase the album they releases a few years ago ( It may help you, as Lucinda Williams says, “Get right with God.”

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Nuns Performing Bluegrass and Diversity

Scanning through other WordPress blogs, I came across this and it melted my heart:

They are the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word. Their convent is the Casa Maria Retreat House in Birmingham, Alabama. They have a number of prayer and inspirational videos on their website (, but this one takes the cake as far as inspirational AND toe-tapping.

It makes me think about bluegrass music and its religious connections. While so much of bluegrass Gospel music comes from the Baptist and Methodist themes, a song like “I’ll Fly Away” seems to have no religious border, especially with the Judeo-Christian sects. I have heard this song and “Down to the River to Pray” (both are heard on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack) in a Roman Catholic church that I have attended. I have also heard other songs with Southern Gospel leanings during Catholic mass. Of course, a song like “Amazing Grace” cuts across all barriers and is performed regularly even in secular settings, along with Hank Williams’ classic “I Saw the Light.”

It got me to thinking. The International Bluegrass Music Association has been going crazy with implementing diversity into its fold. They are trying to attract more minorities, including women, African-Americans, and the LGBTQ-whatever else to listen to and perform bluegrass music. This sucking up to the liberal fold is one of the reasons that I left the IBMA – worrying more about who they don’t have listening to the music instead of supporting those that do listen. So, how would they react to a group of Roman Catholic nuns performing bluegrass music? Would that be “diverse” enough for them, or would it be something that they could not handle? In my honest opinion, they would probably ignore it or even purposely brush it off due to the Catholic Church’s views on certain topics.

The IBMA has changed dramatically in the past five years. The people in charge seem to be more concerned with being part of a political move toward the left rather than promoting and preserving the original ideals of the music. Bluegrass music was always firmly rooted in Christian values, and those have gone by the wayside in order to appease the vocal leftists. Bill Monroe is probably turning over in his grave.

As for me, I do hope that the Sister Servants do consider putting out such a bluegrass album in the future.

Chew on it and comment.