A Musical Family Affair
By Debi Neville

Four sisters in Spring Valley not only live together, but rehearse, plan, work, travel and sing together. “It’s a bit unusual,” concedes Mandy, their mother, considering their age differences. Zena (21), JLee (17), Elsie (14) and Shelly (12) don’t see this as an issue. In the Blankenship household everyone is treated equally, work is divided and everyone’s talent is nurtured and appreciated. 

Sister Luv, the moniker for the group, came purely from the love of singing. The girls were all home-schooled, taught by their grandmother Linda Watson. “They participated in the home-school collaborative chorus Home Spun Harmony,” she says. “They performed in nursing homes and various locations.” 

Shelly started playing the ukulele at age 4, Zena appeared on the Eagles Cancer Telethon,, the sisters danced in plays and it seemed like the girls couldn’t walk by the piano without singing a tune. Linda’s husband, Grandpa Mik, loved to hear them sing and suggested they form a group. He passed away in 2018, and the formation of Sister Luv is, in part, to honor him.

Grandma Linda, their manager, shares her talents in choreography and costuming. “We’ve become known for our outfits. I research, make patterns and build them from scratch,” Linda explains. All four usually match, and her sewing machine hardly finds time to rest in between engagements.

Mom Mandy, the tech in charge of sound, recording and lights, says the group seems to have a sixth sense when working together. “It’s a blessing that they can build on each other’s strengths, forgive weaknesses—all based on love and trust.”

There are numerous jobs for Zena. She assists with sewing and determining the “look” for the program. Linda and Zena sift through music, then discuss it as a group to create their performance list. She also wears the secretary hat and helps keep the group on task.

JLee is the voice of reason, adding common sense to the mix and cautioning when they take on too much. When they get stuck on a tech problem, JLee is the go-to gal. She co-manages their social media presence with Elsie and Linda.

Elsie is the dancer, bringing new moves to the songs. The teacher in Linda asks that they research the songs, and with much of their vocals from the 40s to 60s, they use history as inspiration. Elsie can get rather elaborate, the sisters agree with a laugh, and they look at her like she is nuts. “You want me to do what?”  

Shelly brings the “cute factor” to the group, with her crowd-pleasing youthful energy and big smile. She helps gather costumes and gear for shows and assists with advertising.

Everyone sets up and tears down, helping Mom in the process. Each picks up slack from the other. They are not only in tune and harmony with their voices, but also their commitment to each other. It is a business but, more importantly, a friendship. 

“We try not to take ourselves too seriously,” says Linda. The girls nod in agreement. “We protect and balance each other.”

In just a few short years, Sister Luv has gained quite a following and reputation. Much of their work comes from word of mouth. They appear regularly on “Over the Back Fence,” a radio show in Lanesboro. They have made lots of friends, learning from observation. Now their own act, “Sister Luv and Friends,” is a variety show including songs, some comedy and dance. “It’s a little corny. We involve the audience, and they seem to love that,” says Zena. Their signature ending for each show is singing “Sincerely,” an old-time favorite, and taking time to meet and greet the audience.

What does the future look like for Sister Luv? All shows are pending because of COVID 19. Watch their web site and Facebook page for updates. They would love to bring the show to Rochester. “We’re open to that,” Linda said. 

It’s a family affair the sisters love, that is for sure.