Marshall and Leon James began singing gospel music at an early age. Their father, AB James, formed a family singing group that included their older brother Albert. He taught them to sing harmony by using the shape-note method of DO-RE-ME and over time, included extended family in the group. They were frequent performers at church events and other social gatherings in the community. During high school, Marshall and Leon performed with the Agriculture Quartet and the Holy Tone Quartet, winning numerous awards along the way.
Marshall and Leon are active in their community. Through their church they organized a prison ministry in 1995 that is still active today. In 2007 they collected used bicycles, painted and repaired each one, and organized a program for children in need. In addition, they sing regularly at a local soup kitchen, where they are also involved with a variety of programs.
The James Brothers gospel music represents an old-school style of singing that features rich harmonies, call-and-response, and shouts and praise in a capella style. They incorporate elements of rhythm and blues and doo-wop and Marshall has written a number of songs, including “If Jesus Had to Pray, What About Me.” They have served in countless church gospel groups over the years, but in 2005 they decided to focus on singing as a duo. They typically mix some storytelling in with their singing during their performances.
Now in their 70s, the James Brothers continue to perform on a regular basis throughout the region at churches, festivals, and family reunions. As Marshall says, “Our greatest joy is sharing our love of music with young people. It’s a blessing to see them discover this music for the first time.” The James Brothers received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2015.