The Lofties Sisters have always and only sung gospel, but that doesn't mean their music is irrelevant to folks who remain too skeptical, or too set in their own beliefs, to be saved. Gospel music is supposed to be evangelical; that's one of its greatest pleasures, the way the voices grab you, shake you, demand more than a casual hearing. Just try playing the Swan Silvertones or the Mighty Clouds of Joy as background music. It can't be done.
The Lofties Sisters -- Ethyl, Forrestine, Joyce, Annie, Estella, Lorece and Velma -- have been singing together for some 50 years. Raised in Webster Groves, singing in the Douglas Memorial Church of God in Christ and banding together under the guidance of their mother, Addie Mae Lofties (now retired), they are an important part of St. Louis' musical story, even though they've never recorded. In the late '50s and early '60s, the Lofties made regular appearances on Columbus Gregory's gospel show on KXLW-AM, and they remain one of the highlights of Larry Rice's New Year's Day telethon. They have traveled around the Midwest singing for church audiences and schools; every Sunday, some of the sisters still lift their voices in the choir at the Douglas Memorial Church.
At three in the afternoon on Sunday, February 8, as part of the Missouri Botanical Garden's "Celebrate the Gospel" series (4344 Shaw Boulevard, 314-577-9400; free with Garden admission [the St. Alphonsus Liguori "Rock" Church Choir will perform February 15]), the Lofties Sisters (now joined by five of their children) will weave the history of gospel with the history of African-American struggle, from the underground railroad and songs such as "Steal Away" to the civil-rights movement and the countless hymns that inspired people to transform this country. "It's easier to sing in a church setting," Estella Lofties Sargent says, "but we have no problems when it's a secular setting, because we sing the same way. We don't worry that the audience might not know about going to church."