The Herb Henry Family returned to Riverbank to host and perform at a benefit concert at the Community Center this past week. The Friday evening get together featured music that ranged from classical performances through pop, country, patriotic music, and, of course, gospel standards.
The program was organized as a fundraiser for construction of a new Annex and Cultural Center at the Riverbank Historical Museum in the downtown area.
The Henry Family is considered by many as the ‘First Family of Gospel Music’ in California, based in Modesto and Ceres. But it has roots here in Riverbank. They perform regularly throughout the state, as well as Nevada and Oregon. They last performed in Riverbank for the Historical Society in 2002, also as a fundraiser.
Patriarch Herb Henry grew up here, hanging out at his father’s market, Henry’s Groceries, a mom-and-pop establishment on Terminal, near Kentucky, in what was then called ‘Okie’ town. His father Luther came here from Oklahoma and operated the store from 1938 until 1988, when he retired. Henry regaled the crowd, interspersing the concert with anecdotes from his childhood here, including his attendance at Cardozo Middle School, located across the street from the Community Center.
Henry was accompanied by daughter Amanda and son Chris Henry, along with cousin Richie Hartsfield through parts of the concert, but was joined by daughter Angela during other sections. Officially a long-standing member, more than 25 years, she officially ‘retired’ from the group in 2013, upon becoming a mother. She occasionally appears with the group for performances that are nearby, when convenient.
The concert also featured instrumental, mostly classical music from the Gage Family, from Arnold. Dad Chris Gage handled the emcee duties during his family’s performances.
Consisting of daughters Anna and Grace, along with sons Matthew and Cameron, the Gage Family played individually and in small and larger ensembles. All the youngsters played piano at one time or another, with the girls also playing Celtic harps and the boys playing guitars.
Portions of both the first and second halves of the program included tunes performed by third generation Henry Family singers, Herb’s grandchildren, and one son of cousin Hartsfield.
A highlight of the performance came near the end, when Hartsfield sang Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” to a standing crowd. In a seemingly impromptu segment, the sisters and brothers, joined together on some older songs no longer in their repertoire, for which they consulted lyrics on their smart phones, while dad Herb accompanied on piano.
The program then concluded with the four belting out a pair of more traditional gospel songs to end the show.
Henry was born in Oakdale, but he grew up in Riverbank, where his father owned the grocery store. He attended Oakdale High School and graduated in 1964. He attended college at California State University, Stanislaus, graduating in 1969 with a degree in business.
He traveled, sang, and played piano for The Premiers, a Southern Gospel Group, from 1965 to 1973. He later served as Minister of Music in churches both in California and Texas.
In 1986, Henry became the pastor of Richland Faith Assembly of God in Ceres, where he continues to serve today. That same year he established Richland Ministries to promote Southern Gospel Music through concerts and radio, with the family gospel group performing throughout the western states.