Memories: Libbi Perry Stuffle By Laura Kennedy, July 2012. Published by SGNScoops Magazine
One of six children, Southern Gospel’s most beloved alto singer recently allowed SGN Scoops the privilege of some talk time. Singing, as Libbi is quick to share, has been her whole life. “I had just turned seven. We started singing on Christmas day, 1970 after the loss of my 13 year old brother, Johnny, that previous July 30, 1970. The Perrys decided to go full time after the loss of my baby brother George who was also 13 at the time of his death on June 5, 1982.”
The Perrys, in the mid 1980’s, signed with former pianist for the Happy Goodman Family, Eddie Crook on his Morning Star Records label. Libbi later met and married Tracy Stuffle who would then become the group’s longtime bass singer. For over 40 years and throughout various personnel changes, the group has not only been well received, but is one of the leading Mixed Groups in the industry today.
In my opinion, receiving awards and recognition is evidence of diligence to a skill and craft. In southern gospel music, the most important ingredient to the success of any writer, musician, or vocal artist is the rich indwelling and guiding force of the Lord Jesus Christ. And when the Lord allows, an artist can touch and deeply affect the spiritual walk or even awakening of their listener. Libbi is that kind of artist. And as such, has been awarded Singing News Fan Awards for the 2005 Female Vocalist and Alto Singer Of The Year and the 2006 Alto Singer of the Year. While at the 2009 National Quartet Convention, Libbi was voted Favorite Alto in the 2009 Singing News Fan Awards. Both she and The Perrys received 11, Top 5 nominations in the 2010 Singing News Fan Awards for Favorite Artist, Mixed Group, Male Vocalist, Female Vocalist, Horizon Individual, Young Artist, Alto, Lead, Songwriter, Album, & Song. And most recently, Libbi was awarded Singing News Fan Awards, for the 2011 Favorite Alto of the Year.
Clearly, the traditional tone and strength of Libbi’s voice is what makes her a fan to many. When asked how that particular quality speaks to her, Libbi replies; “It overwhelms me! I never dreamed in a million years that people would even consider my singing anything to be awarded for. To say that I am honored would be an understatement!”
Late last year, and with much encouragement from her husband, Libbi finally agreed to and has released her first solo album titled, JOURNEY. “I am excited about my first solo CD! At first when approached about doing it, I said absolutely not. I am not a solo singer, but after a lot of persuading from Tracy, I gave in.” Shares Libbi, “I finally got to sing with some of my heroes that I had dreamed of for so long! We all have a bucket list and this was on mine. I got to bring in Gerald Wolfe, Mark Trammell, Dailey & Vincent, Randy Perry, Debra Perry Reed, Wayne Haun, Tracy Stuffle, the Sisters and Jeff & Sheri Easter. I was like a little kid on Christmas morning in the studio listening to my heroes sing on my CD! The CD is not fancy, but it’s just me and who I am and the music I love! It’s been a long JOURNEY, but I’ve always had a song!”
Upon asking if the music on Journey is similar to her group’s musical sound, Libbi offers; “I’m more of a traditional style singer. I’m not a fancy singer. I’ve listened to a lot of other people’s solo projects, just beautiful singers and then listen to mine and think, ‘That’s real country.’ But you know, we all have our own style. I tried to stick with MY style; what’s ME. I picked songs that fit me. Nor did I use a lot of orchestration. Sometimes I think our message gets lost in the music so I wanted a lot of stuff very traditional. I hope everybody likes it.”
Under Daywind Records label, produced by Wayne Haun, JOURNEY is indeed doing very well. Perhaps it’s the easy friendships she has with her heroes that lend such a comfortable tone to the project. Even more so is the conviction with which Libbi sings. A poignant moment on the project is the opening of “Reunited” when we hear the Perry children; Randy, Debra and Libbi singing, “Daddy Sang Bass” as children. With deep family harmony, the story of the Perry Family takes a focal view.
It will most assuredly be difficult to pin down a favorite. When asked if she has one, Libbi offers, “There are 12 songs on the album and to pick a favorite is hard, but probably right now my favorite is a song when I first started singing with my family. My dad worked away from home and would be gone for two weeks at a time so my mom would have to take us to all of our singings. So on the way back home, my brothers and sisters would get in the back and try to go to sleep. Me and my mom would sit up front. While she would drive, I would sit on the armrest which we called the hump (this was in PRE SEATBELT LAW days). I would put my arm around her neck and we would sing “Jesus Hold My Hand” all the way home. We only knew the first verse and the chorus. And we would sing it over and over… My brothers and sisters would wake up and say, ‘Could y’all please sing another song!?!’ Or, ‘Just learn the words to this one!’ So, when I started putting the songs together for the album, the first one I thought of was “Jesus Hold My Hand.” My mom had a massive stroke in 2000 so I wanted to do something for her. It’s a little bluegrassy so I brought in my friends Dailey and Vincent and they just did a killer job on it. We’ve sang it out and the crowd really seems to embrace it. It kind of throws them off because they don’t think of me singing bluegrass, but I’m a BIG Bluegrass FANATIC! This was for my mom and you know what, I still don’t know the second verse! So when we sing it out, I tell the people, ‘I still don’t know the second verse, so if I miss the words …nothing’s changed in 41 years!’ It’s my favorite song right now, but you go through seasons in your life where one song in this season may mean a lot to you. Then you go through another season and a song that maybe you didn’t look at a whole lot before and it will take on a whole new meaning. For this season, this is my favorite.”
Many of us have continued to be in awe of the health changes that Libbi and her husband, Tracy have woven into their lives. Tracy Stuffle experienced cardiac arrest almost two years ago. He had five blockages and needed to undergo open heart surgery, also discovering that he was suffering from diabetes as well. After Tracy’s 7-hour surgery, he recovered sufficiently to return home less than a week after the cardiac incident. Libbi explains; “We have had to learn the hard way that your health is important! We are not getting any younger and being on the road can be brutal to your body if you don’t try to take care of it. So, we are trying to do our part to keep it in check!” She continues; “Eating healthy is the way that Tracy and I have lost so much weight. The food is low-fat, low-carb, low cholesterol and low sodium. Basically- a bale of hay and a glass of ice water. Haha We eat a lot of grilled food, a lot of fresh vegetables. He eats much like the way God really intended for us to eat to keep our temple in shape. It’s a lifestyle change. We don’t say the “d” word because when you say the “d” word, your brain starts freaking out saying ‘Oh No! That means I can’t have food!’. If you fall off the wagon, get back on it! Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t go back to eating; just get back on the wagon.”
With NQC 2012 just around the corner, I always like to remember years past and all that is still ahead at the next convention. And after Libbi’s great advice on healthy eating, I’m going to diligently resolve to bypass one of my favorite things at NQC… the waffle cones! But seriously though, there are those beautiful moments that the artists create for us that we take back home with us after NQC week. And there are also those impromptu moments that are just divine pieces of Heaven. Libbi shares one of hers with us; “My most memorable NQC was back when it was in Nashville, in 1991. One of my biggest heroes was Vestal Goodman. We had just recorded a Dottie Rambo song called, “Tears Will Never Stain The Streets of that City” and Dottie was at the convention so we asked her if she would come on stage to sing this song with us. She said, “Yes!” And it really shocked us. So, we’re on stage singing and she’s singing with us. It just so happened that Tracy looked at the side of the stage then said to me, ‘Vestal Goodman is sitting on the side of the stage watching!’ I was like, ‘No she’s not,’ because he’s always kiddin’ me. But he said, ‘I promise you Libbi. She is sitting over there watching.’ So I just kind of eased over there and looked and sure enough, she was!! When we came off the stage from singing, Tracy said you need to go up and talk to her. I said, ‘I can’t. She doesn’t know me.’ I was bawling because she’s like Elvis to me! So Tracy went up to her and said, ‘My wife is so shy and the biggest dream she’s ever had is to meet you.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Darlin’, you come over here. Don’t ever be afraid to come and talk to me.’ She grabbed my hand and immediately prayed. I was crying. She didn’t even know me but yet she was praying for me! She just treated me like I’d never been treated before.”
Libbi is ever moving forward, working to convey the message of Christ to as many individuals as possible. She offers, “There’s an urgency to tell people that Jesus Christ is SOON returning and if you’ve not accepted Him as your personal Savior to please not wait until it’s too late!! We don’t know the day or the hour of His returning, so it’s important to be prepared!!”
On the road with The Perrys, Libbi Perry Stuffle is taking care of herself and the boys as much as any moment calls for. “My boys are really a good bunch of guys. I don’t have to pick up after them. Now, I do have a 20 year old son that I have to pick up after but as far as the other guys, they are very clean fanatics. I’m the mom though so when they get sick, I’m the Dr. When they pop a button off a suit, I’m the seamstress. So I wear different titles for whatever is needed, but it’s not bad. I learn a lot. We sit and talk…a lot. It’s really fun.”
“And they take care of me too,” Libbi continues; “When Tracy was sick the guys came together and just helped me with him and whatever I needed, they were there. They were like family and very thoughtful to me.” When not on the road, Libbi tells me they will do just about anything to get off that bus. “We watch hockey! We are big hockey fanatics! The Nashville Predators!!! If we have a day off, we will stop and go to the movies or if we’re in Florida, we’ll go to Disney. We’re just like a family, where one goes, we all go together like the Partridge Family. We’ll make anything fun!”
The Perrys are working on releasing a new album, but “Blue Skies”, their current CD is still going strong! “It’s had two number 1 songs; “Blue Skies” & “Celebrate Me Home.” And also, “Celebrate Me Home” won a Dove Award in April for Southern Gospel Song of the Year! So with my solo CD doing great, and people seeming to really like it, I am happy, happy, happy!” says Libbi.
In April of this year, the Perrys released CELEBRATE ME HOME DVD recorded live in Nashville at Oak Tree Studios. Libbi offers; “It’s something cool for the listeners. We’re sharing stories behind the songs. We realize that sometimes when you know the story behind the song; it gives the song a whole new meaning. We even brought the pastor of our church in and interviewed him.”
Thank you Libbi, for sharing your family, your music, and your heart for the Lord with us. And make sure to visit her at www.perrysministries.com to connect and say hello.