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The Martins are Still Standing

Joyce. Jonathan. Judy. They are the Martins. The group has performed at places such as the Dove Awards, Carnegie Hall, and even the White House, but “our favorite thing is to appear in churches and tell about Jesus,” said Joyce Martin Sanders, the “firstborn” of the three. “There’s something really special about a congregation of people who walk in the doors, sit down, and pay attention to what you say.”

The three siblings come from humble beginnings. For more than three years of their childhood, they lived in a farm home with no electricity or running water with their parents, J.W. and Wilma, in Extra, Arkansas, in the same house where their father was born and raised. Today, they have received eight Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association and earned a Grammy nomination.

Their home may not have had power, but their spirits did, and their house was full of music. Their mother sang and taught them church songs and family harmony. They often performed at the little country church they attended while Mom played the piano. By age 12, Joyce was writing songs and also playing the piano.

I caught up with her earlier this week as the group was on the way to tape an episode of Larry’s Country Diner which airs on RFD TV.

The three are parents of a dozen kids, ranging in age from 9 to their early 20’s, and they all live in different states. Joyce lives in Nashville with her husband Paul, and she has two children. Jonathan lives in West Des Moines, Iowa, with his wife and their six children, including twin boys. And Judy lives in Columbus, Georgia, with her husband Jake Hess Jr. (son of gospel legend Jake Hess) and their four children. “We have lots of frequent flier miles,” she added.

The Martins perform around 100-125 dates per year. This is a change from their previous schedule of 250 dates a year, which they did with “little babies and nannies,” she said. “Now we travel less—we work smarter not harder.”

Every year, they look forward to returning home to the family farm in Arkansas (now complete with utilities) at Thanksgiving for “Martin time.” “We take as many kids as we can take and spend four to six days together—it’s one of our favorite things to do,” she said.

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a pair of tickets
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Performing through the year with the kids back home is a juggling act, she acknowledges, but their goal is to “be sure to make them feel like they’re more important than anything else we do,” she said. “We have to take that time off to invest in them, and the older they are, the more we need to make that a priority.” They have two preparing for their high school graduation this spring.

“Our goal is to make sure our families at home are just as nourished and just as ministered to as the people we go out and sing to,” she said. “We’ve seen us adjust ourselves a little bit and focus more in that direction.”

Our interview took place on Tuesday, April 10, the day before the siblings were scheduled to do a tandem jump out of an airplane at the invitation of the Army Golden Knights who ask different celebrities to participate every year. Fortunately, they survived the jump, which will serve as a promo for their new project, Still Standing, set to release on July 13 under the Gaither Music Group label. Watch all the fun HERE.

“I got hoodwinked into that,” she said with a laugh. “My husband has done it, my dad always wanted to, I’ve had friends who did it. I’ve never wanted to — in fact, I’ve said you couldn’t pay me to do it.” She blames her “little daredevil sister, Judy” for roping her into something she admitted she didn’t even know how to pray for. However, she admitted she was excited and knew it would be life-changing. “To do it with Jonathan and Judy is really cool. We’ve done everything else together in life, so why not jump out of an airplane?”

But there was a time when they weren’t doing everything together. They took seven years off the road from 2003-2010 and went their own separate ways. Jonathan and Judy did some solo appearances, and Joyce tried, but she said “it just wasn’t something I wanted to do. I found something else to do during that time, I didn’t want to sing.” She didn’t want to be a part of church or gospel music due to her emotional and spiritual state at the time.

While the group was disbanded, she also said her family was “unhitched.” Then she got a phone call. Comedian and singer/songwriter Mark Lowry was doing a concert in Nashville, and he wanted the group to sing just one song—just for him. She did not want to do it but gave in to the pleas of her brother and sister who promised she wouldn’t have to say anything—she would just sing one song.

“Something happened when I stood on that stage,” she said, and God started working in their lives. They did not return to the road overnight, but that performance was a defining moment, and she refers to it as “definitely a catalyst of me beginning to heal a little bit and the Martins coming back to work together.”

“God has done a beautiful crazy work in us,” she notes. “We’re not perfect, we’re dysfunctional—we have our issues, but we know that if it wasn’t for Jesus, we would not be alive, and our family would not be back together loving each other and letting people know Jesus is everything He says He is.”

Those who attend the April 27 event at New Covenant will get to hear some of the new songs off the upcoming project which is produced by Gordon Mote. “We’ve known him and worked with him as an artist for years and never had the opportunity to work with him behind the board, but it was so amazing,” Joyce said. “He’s so talented. He’s a Martin fan, and it shows—he brought the best out of us, and it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.”

What else should you expect to witness at a Martins concert? “The people who have seen us before will see the same old Martins being our silly selves on stage and hear some of their favorite songs,” she said. The audience will also hear about “stuff” they have been through recently.  “Just normal life stuff,” she added. “We’re no different than they are, and that’s one of the things we strive to do — to be relatable. It’s too exhausting to try to be something that you’re not. We deal with frustrations and disappointments just like they do.”

Even though they know Jesus is the answer, she said they don’t always do it right. “We’re not super Christians who always have it together. We’re all in this together, and we want to be a witness that Jesus makes our life what it is, and you can depend on Him for whatever comes.”

What does the future hold for the Martins? “We want to be able to do this long-term—I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “This new music is another set of lyrics and musical artistry, but it’s the same story we’ve always told but told in a fresh way. We still mean it—we cannot do this without Jesus, and we’re going to tell you why.”

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