The Leppien Sisters (Lĕ péen )
The Leppien Sisters, Aleta, Rosemary and Roberta, born in that order, are a singing trio who have been singing and performing in harmony since the ages of 2, 4 and 6. They were born in Saginaw, Michigan into a musical family. Their parents, Fred and Gertrude, were active in the music of their church and often sang duets at their piano. Their five children do not remember a time when music was not played and sung in their home. They often fell asleep in the evening to the sound of their parents’ music. Fred was a part of the Glory Voices quartet at the Saginaw Church of God that loved singing southern style gospel songs, like “On the Jericho Road” and other favorites enjoyed by all who heard them. Gertrude was the church organist pianist and also played the marimba. She was the director of the children’s choir creating warm and lasting memories for those in her choir. When teaching her young daughters to harmonize, she took each to the piano to learn her part as a melody. The fun began when they all came together as a trio.
Later two brothers were born into the family. Having been surrounded by harmonies before they were even born, Fred (Rick) and John were destined to harmonize as well. All played instruments and the brothers and sisters enjoyed singing in five part harmony. Even today when the original five siblings get together, it isn’t long before they are at a keyboard repeating some of those early songs taught to them by their mother, enjoying the memories and appreciating their heritage of a loving home and the church songs learned before they could read.
Early performing years. The Leppien Sisters’ first performance was at the Michigan State Camp Meeting of the Church of God in St. Louis, Michigan. Being so young, they had to be helped to the platform. Little Roberta, then a 2 year old, was given a box to stand on so the whole trio could be seen by the congregants. As children, about 6, 8 and 10, they performed at a radio talent contest at the Temple Theater in Saginaw singing an Andrews Sisters’ arrangement of “You Call Everybody Darlin’.” It was the first time they had sung with a combo of bass, drums and piano. The judges named them the winner, and talent scouts present offered the girls show business opportunities. Their parents, facing a difficult decision, graciously declined the offers, because of their concerns about the challenges of what life on the road might bring to their young daughters and the family.
Another talent contest came about in the mid 1940’s when The Children’s Bible Hour, traveling through Saginaw, asked for local children to participate in a contest for the opportunity to sing on their broadcast. The young trio participated and won the contest with an arrangement of “The Hallelujah Train,” arranged by their mother, who accompanied them on the piano.
Throughout their growing years, the girls sang in broadcasts on radio stations WSAM Saginaw, WFYC in Alma and WJIM in Lansing, Michigan. During high school years, they produced their own Saturday morning radio show on WFYC called The Harmonettes. The show was open to “call-in” requests sung live with Roberta at the keyboard. The show opened and closed with their trio arrangement of “Moonlight & Roses.”
College years and beyond. Each of the girls attended Anderson University in Indiana. They married and raised families. Roberta taught public school music for several years. Occasionally their husbands’ professions led them in different directions, limiting some of their singing. When they all returned to living in Michigan, the trio began recording for Moments of Meditation, a broadcast in Lansing. This led to making two sacred LP recordings with Twin D Records. Doug Doug Oldham, also a recording artist for Twin D, wanted the trio to become a part of The Christian Brotherhood Hour (CBH) radio broadcast heard over 350 stations around the world, with the theme A United Church for a Divided World of which his father, Dr. W. Dale Oldham, was minister. Doug Oldham arranged an evening of fellowship and music with other musicians at his home in Anderson, Indiana. Bill Bill and Gloria Gaither were a part of that evening of music, introducing some of their new songs, later recorded by Oldham, The Leppien Sisters and many artists thereafter, including Elvis Presley. Some of Bill and Gloria’s music is now included in hymn books of every denomination. As a result of that evening, The Leppien Sisters were asked by Dr. Oldham and Jack O’Dell (announcer of CBH and WMBI’s “Unshackled!”) to be a permanent part of the broadcast recorded at Universal Recording in Chicago. Bernie Clapper and Murray Allen did the sound engineering for the production. The recording sessions at Universal led to introductions by Bernie to Chicago jingle producers, and the trio began recording commercials at Universal for American Bakeries (Tastee and Merita Bread) and others. The Leppien Sisters became the singing voices of the Sweet Peas in the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant for The Green Giant Company, sung with the Ho Ho Ho man, Elmer “Len” Dresslar Jr.. They sang backup for country singers including Gene Cash. They also sang backup for Doug Oldham, then producer of CBH and later a GMA Dove Award winner. Their favorite sacred recordings are those sung with Oldham. They were also happy to be a part of Bill Gaither’s Homecoming series “Joy in the Lord.”
Though the trio is again separated by miles, they sing when they can. Roberta continues to be active professionally with keyboard work in both live performance and in studios, and is an arranger for soloists, singing groups and choirs. The Leppien Sisters collectively have seven children. Music is important to all their children and grandchildren who encourage them to keep singing.
Most of their recordings can be heard on YouTube’s LovegoodMusicians channel. Plans are being made to make a Christmas CD for friends and family. Their LP releases were:
• The Leppien Sisters, In Moments of Meditation, Twin D Records
• Leppien Sisters Sing Sacred Songs, Twin D Records
• The Leppien Sisters, Going His Way, Universal Records, Chicago
• The Leppien Sisters, Singing We Go, Universal Records, Chicago
• Doug Oldham sings with The Leppien Sisters, Songs of Joy, Real Joy, Universal Records, Chicago
• Doug Oldham Sings with The Leppien Sisters, The Lord is My Song, Universal Records, Chicago