sacred steel guitar
Toledo, Ohio

Fran “Lady Strings” Grace is among a small sisterhood of women trailblazers playing sacred steel guitar in African American Holiness-Pentecostal worship services. A masterful lap-steel guitarist, she leads a powerhouse family band specializing in the ecstatic, steel-guitar-driven gospel music she grew up with in church.

Sacred steel originated in the 1930s when brothers Troman and Willie Eason of Philadelphia, enamored of the Hawaiian lap-steel guitar, introduced electric steel guitar into House of God churches. Named for the metal bar slid over the guitar strings, the music is characterized by single-note melodies that mimic African American vocal styles. Distinct approaches emerged in two branches of the House of God, known as the Keith and Jewell Dominions. The Jewell Dominion style—in which Fran Grace was raised—is attributed to Bishop Lorenzo Harrison, and features chord changes, wah pedals, and uniquely tuned double and triple strings that imitate an organ. In both traditions, sacred steel music can take lead or provide accompaniment, but most importantly, it helps inspire and elevate the congregation to become filled with the Holy Spirit.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Fran Grace came up in the State Line Church of the Living God, a tiny church pastored by her grandmother, Bishop Ella Mae Dupree. A resilient woman, Bishop Dupree survived an accident that left her with one arm, but this didn’t stop her from marking the rhythm for her church services on an old bass drum. Fran remembers Dupree praying for her grandchildren to grow up and become her church band—and that’s exactly what happened. As a child, her older brother insisted that she start sitting in on piano with church bands to develop her confidence. With support from her parents, Fran taught herself to play multiple instruments, eventually focusing on lap steel. After decades spent mastering it and earning her community’s respect, in 2019 Fran was declared a Queen of Sacred Steel by the Sacred Steel Hall of Fame.

Carrying on the legacy of her grandmother and Bishop Harrison, Fran leads a family band bursting with talent. Accompanying her in Lowell are her son Chris Pope on drums, and godsons Demetrius Beasley on lead guitar and Byron Harris on bass. Her sisters usually round out the band, but as they are unable to make Lowell, Fran will be joined by vocalist Nicolle Brown.