Singing since they were toddlers, sisters Liz Kelley-Tavernier (23) and Cynthea Kelley (20) have progressed as duo that began humbly busking for tips in North Myrtle Beach in 2011. Actually, the girls began singing together as far back as either can remember. Cynthea is now following her sister’s lead by pursuing a music degree from Coastal Carolina University. Liz graduated from CCU in 2016. With the duo’s first full-length album, “Upturned,” and upcoming CD release concert in Conway, July 28, Sisters Fair displays a musical maturity and sensibility that comes from a sisterly pairing, an unusual upbringing, one with strong musical roots, and family ties.
“Our parents are both musicians doing a lot with church music,” said Kelley-Tavernier. “We were always singing together.” Recently married, the elder sister recalls singing with her younger sibling and parents as they drove in the family car between church gigs. The family moved from Alabama to Colorado and lived in Japan on two separate multi-year occasions as the girls’ parents assisted in developing contemporary church music programs in and around Tokyo. Returning to the U.S. in 2011, the Kelley family landed on the Grand Strand, parents continuing in the music ministry. In many ways the daughters’ musical evolution is an extension of the family call to music.
“When we first moved to North Myrtle Beach we lived in a small apartment,” said Kelley-Tavernier, “we were 14 and 16. We were super bored, but we found this little ice cream shop, called the Sugar Shack, on Ocean Blvd, and they let us set up and play outside for tips. We really enjoyed doing that, and were doing covers at that time, like Switchfoot, the Beatles and miscellaneous teen-pop. It’s where the name ‘Fair’ came about. They asked us what they should call us, and since we were getting sunburned we said ‘call us fair.’
“We’d both always written songs,” said Cynthea Kelley, who is a classical guitar major at CCU, “but that’s when we started collaborating.” The two write together and are both guitarists and lead vocalists. “Most of the songwriting was just the two of us. Some of our band members contributed greatly to the arrangements.” Kelley-Tavernier also performs lead vocals in the Myrtle Beach-based jazz-fusion group Oracle Blue, which is making in-roads of its own. Sisters Fair, Oracle Blue and other local bands are in many ways a product of the excellent music program at CCU. Several members of both acts are current or former CCU students.
“We recorded at Wheelwright Studio (CCU),” said Cynthea Kelley. “We started when Liz was a student here, and was working in the studio, and after she graduated, I kind of took her place, and we’ve been recording off and on during summer breaks and whenever we could. We self-recorded, produced, mixed, mastered, arranged the string parts. We had a lot of help from Andrew Wert and Timothy Hardwick, but we did it all ourselves, over the course of a couple of years, resulting in exactly what we envisioned.”
Sharing album credits with the Sisters, who performed the lead vocal tracks and acoustic guitar parts, are: Timothy Hardwick (electric guitar/ vocals), McKinley Devilbiss (bass/vocals), Andrew Wert (drums), Nehemiah Menasse (violin), and Michele Roberts (vocals). The full band and a few guests will perform at the July 28 show.
Sisters Fair transcends genre stereotyping moving from progressive rock, heavily produced, lush pop, to simple, stripped-down singer-songwriter material. “We grew up listening to Yes,” laughed Kelley-Tavernier. The girls’ parents perform contemporary Christian music as “Wind,” and more recently created a cover band called “Second Wind.”
The free Sisters Fair concert July 28 will be held at 104 Laurel Street, which is both the name of the venue and its address. In downtown Conway, the re-purposed historic building is perfectly suited for weddings, and events like the Sisters Fair CD release party. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the concert begins at 8 p.m. and is expected to run just over an hour.
“We’re treating this is our debut, even though we’ve performed a couple of times locally,” said Kelley-Tavernier. “A lot of these songs were written out of [a need] for expression, with no real agenda. It’d be nice to [win a Grammy] but whatever happens happens.”
“Liz as taken the lead role in getting things set up for the show, and interviews, and all that,” said Cynthea, “so in some ways I’m along for the ride, but I’m excited to see where things go.” Hardly “along for the ride” Cynthea Kelley performs most of the lead vocals on the new CD, though both sisters share duties in concert.
Unmistakably sisters, their harmonies blend as only siblings can. They share the same easy smile, and are quick to laugh. Liz dons short blonde hair while Cynthea opts for jet-black. It makes for a striking visual from two attractive young women who hope their music speaks to their own millennial generation but transcends ageism and sexism as well, letting the songs and their performances speak to all.
Learn more at www.Sistersfair.com.