The Martins can attest to absence making the heart grow fonder. The siblings are currently more
active than they’ve been since the group returned to the Southern Gospel Music scene and during their
four-year absence from 2002-2006, they may have learned more about ministering to people than they
knew before their hiatus.
“It meant more when we came back,” Joyce Martin Sanders said. “It was renewed and refreshed.
We realized how much we missed it.”
The group has considerably more concert appearances than it has since its return, and its fan base
has welcomed the trio back with open arms.“It’s a natural process in some ways,” Judy Martin Hess
said. “By the time we were starting to get back on the road, some people were just realizing we were
off the road. Getting that big wheel turning again has just taken time.”
Sanders added, “It was scary. We didn’t know people would care. We knew the joy in our hearts,
of what God had done in our family … it was something we wanted to sing about, but we didn’t know
people would care. It’s been refreshing. We feel like it has encouraged people.”
Those blessings came about after what the group members call a successful step back.“I found
myself for the first 10 months working with my in-laws, preparing rental properties in the Des Moines
(Iowa) area,” Jonathan Martin said. “It was somewhat depressing. I began to look at the families living in those homes. When I left there, their refrigerator worked, but they really just needed somebody to come in and smile and say, ‘I’m so sorry it broke.’ You realize they’re going to eat a warm meal tonight, because we fixed those things up. I realized that God was smiling on me, because I hadn’t sung a note. I realized that God didn’t love me because I sang with my sisters.”
Sanders can relate to her brother’s revelation.“I found out personally how much I depended on what
I did for a living and my ministry to be my Christianity,” Sanders said. “I had to find a way to love God and please God without having that in my life.”
The layoff had its benefit from a performance standpoint as well.“The biggest thing for me looking
back, for me, it helped me to find confidence as a singer, as a performer and as an individual too,” Hess said. “I mainly viewed myself as the harmony singer and a back-up singer. Us coming off the road kind of forced my hand. Joyce already had that. For Jonathan and I both, it made us stronger individually, which made us stronger as a group.”
Both Hess and Martin made solo appearances during the group’s time off of the road. The siblings have considerable distance between them now though as Hess resides in Columbus, Ga., with her five
children. Sanders has two children and lives in Nashville, Tenn., and Martin resides in Des Moines
with his wife and six children.
“It’s like a family reunion every night,” Sanders said. “The travel is difficult. Jonathan’s wife (Dara) takes care of our travel arrangements.“The moms and dads who stay at home with kids are unsung
heroes, as are the extended family members. God called us to do it, and He called our spouses and the
people who surround our children to do that also.” Hess added, “Thankfully, we have families who are like that.”
Despite their understanding and willingness, that doesn’t make leaving home in order to go perform
easy at times. “For the most part, my children never cry and say, ‘please don’t leave,’” Martin said.
“(Recently), my seven-year-old (Emilia) said, ‘I don’t want to let go’ (before he was leaving for a
concert appearance the next morning). That’s hard. Yet, she never cried. I said, ‘I have to go. I have to pack.’ She went to bed, and she was fine.“But it lets you realize that it’s hard on them. It makes it hard on me.”
Sanders added, “We are conscious of the need for family time.”
While the group is enjoying what it is experiencing in the present, they also are quick to highlight
some memorable moments from years past.“The most surreal moment was when we sang at the Billy
Graham Crusade,” Sanders said. “It was in Nashville, but we sang one with Vestal (Goodman). You
see it on television your entire life, but it wasn’t the part of me singing there. It was being a part of that program and seeing with my own eyes people coming to the altar. That’s still one of the most amazing moments of my life.”
Martin added, “The first (memorable moment) would be those first few years in the Gaither thing, to
have such surreal moments of realizing who you were singing with on a nightly basis. The second one
is the period of time we’ve had the last three or four years back on the road. The family relationship and singing relationship is better than it’s ever been.”
The group performs at almost all of the Gaither-affiliated events, and Brian Hudson of Showcase
Management is responsible for the group’s calendar being increasingly occupied. The Martins will
make more than 50 appearances this year, the most since its return to the scene.
“We depend on him (Hudson) so much,” Sanders said. “He has beautifully seized the opportunities
that God has placed in front of us.”
The trio still has many of the hits from early in its career included in its nightly arsenal, such as “Down By the Riverside,” “Count Your Blessings,” “No Not One,” “Redeemed,” “All People That On
Earth Do Dwell,” “Softly and Tenderly” and “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
“We can count on one hand songs that have been successful that we don’t enjoy singing anymore,”
Sanders said. “If we don’t sing them anymore, it’s just because we have replaced them with new songs.
We try to give them a little bit of the old and the new. If you create those (new) moments for them, they won’t miss the (old) stuff.”
In concert, the classics are often blended with songs such a “New Day,” “Love Enough,”
“Somebody Like Me” and “Unredeemed” from the Martins 2011 release, New Day. “It has changed
drastically from when we were younger,” Sanders said. “We were new Christians. At that time, we had
never experienced life like we did in the recent past. Everything we did was about salvation and what
it was like to be saved. Now, we do it from the standpoint of knowing what it’s like to be lost and to be worn out from life. Now the grace and mercy is totally different. Everybody that sits in the audience has the same struggles we have. We have had struggles in our life. God has done miracles in our lives. I think God gives us the ability to remember the bad stuff just enough to celebrate the good. We want that kind of feeling to be there with us forever.”
Some of the group’s signature songs come from its 1996 release, An A Cappella Hymns Collection.
The group is currently working on another a cappella project, which is being arranged by both Lari
Goss and Michael English. English is also producing the project.Goss produced the 1996 a cappella
project and also produced the Martins’ 1997 Christmas project, Light of the World. “It’s been amazing,” Sanders said. “It’s very fun, and it’s very tedious. We hadn’t worked with Lari in the studio since that time. He’s still as sharp as a tack, and he knows our voices so well. With Michael English, it’s just magic every time. There’s something about the Martins mixed with Michael English.”
And yes, there’s still something about the Martins. For more information about the Martins, visit