Matney Sisters

Siouxland, Anglo-American gospel and boogie-woogie
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Iowa is the home of various communities that have been shaped by their different religious traditions. Within these faith traditions are distinct styles of music, among them gospel, a Protestant style that uses melody, harmony, and rhythm with Christian religious lyrics to spread the lessons of the New Testament.

The Matney Sisters are a vocal quartet specializing in country and gospel music, much of it written by the sisters. Sisters Pam Ostapoff, Shelly Bell, Jaimee Haugen, and Chris Ramsey grew up in Sioux City, Iowa and have been singing together since they were children under the tutelage of their father, Harley Matney, who still accompanies them on harmonica, guitar, and mandolin. All but one of the group still live in the Siouxland area, where they gather to sing and perform. Their trademark is tight, a capella (unaccompanied) harmony singing.

The earliest church music excluded instruments and the injunction to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” was thought to mean voices only. Though the Matney Sisters do a mixture of a capella and accompanied singing, the members sing different vocal parts to create a rich harmonic mixture. Besides the human voice, gospel musicians use a variety of instruments to back-up the singing and made a bigger sound. Although the harmony enhancing qualities of piano, guitar, autoharp, bass, mandolin, and other stringed instruments are important, it is their rhythmic punctuation that probably is more important in gospel music

Although traditional, popular, and classical rhythms, harmonies, and melodies from the British Isles and Western Africa influenced gospel music, it was the Southern Protestant United States that truly nurtured it—in small churches, camp meetings, and revivals. While the Black and White styles have obviously affected each other, the latter tends to draw its influences more from Scotch-Irish hymns and the tight harmonies and higher pitched voices of early shape-note singing, old time, country, and blue grass.

Both styles attained widespread popularity in the 1930s, when the father of gospel, Thomas A. Dorsey, coined the term “gospel music.” As radio and records increasingly dominated popular entertainment, groups once heard only by the faithful could now spread the word and the sound around the U.S. Once exclusively church and community-based music, gospel has become a popular American
musical form.

Contact: Chris Matney Ramsey, 515-993-3615,,