Mary and Robert Gillihan and Dave Smith have been picking and singing together as friends for about thirty-five years. In 1988, while still not actually a band, they were asked by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism to represent Arkansas at the American Travel Writers Association convention in Kansas City. Their little gig there went over so well that on the way home they decided to start playing together as a group. HARMONY seemed like a perfect name, because although we are all multi-instrumentalists, tight three-part harmony singing seems to be their strongest suit.
ROBERT GILLIHAN was raised in the Ozarks. He learned to sing in church as child–in fact he was leading songs in his church when he was eight years old. He is amazing with some of the harmony parts he comes up with. In addition to lead and harmony vocals, Robert plays mandolin, guitar, bass, picking bow and harmonica. He is a great rhythm guitar player, having played years as a backup to his father Red Gillihan, who was a well-known old-time fiddler in the Ozarks.
MARY GILLIHAN grew up in Eastern Illinois, and did a lot of singing in school and church choirs in her youth. She visited Mountain View in 1973, fell in love with the area and its music, and decided to stay. Shortly after that she met Robert; they married and have been singing together ever since. She has a wonderful voice and can interpret a song beautifully. Mary plays autoharp, bass, spoons and sings lead and harmony vocals. In 1997, Robert and Mary were invited to perform a set of songs about Arkansas at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.
DAVE SMITH moved to Stone County in 1972 at the age of twenty and began attending the old-time musicals at Lonnie Lee’s house in the community of Fox. He was completely captivated by the old songs and tunes. He would spend Saturday night at Lonnie’s and the rest of week learning what he had heard. He plays guitar, fiddle, clawhammer banjo, button accordion, a piano when available and sings lead and harmony vocals.
All three are performers at The Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Arkansas. In addition to work as a trio, Robert and Mary also appear regularly as a duo and Dave as a solo performer and M.C. at the music shows presented there. HARMONY appears at various functions around the state and have been ranging even farther afield in the last few years. In 1998 they were chosen from over 700 auditions to be one of six finalists in ‘A Prairie Home Companions’ “Talent from Towns under Two Thousand” contest. They appeared on a live broadcast from Town Hall in New York City on April 4, 1998. They were voted first runners up in the contest. Their biggest thrill was to be invited to sing an a capella gospel song with host Garrison Kiellor during the show.
HARMONY plays traditional and contemporary folk music, with a little gospel and a few old-time fiddle tunes thrown in. They do a lot of songs by great writers like Bill Staines, John McCutcheon and James Keelaghan, as well as songs from regional writers like Bob Dyer and Charley Sandage. In the last five years they have recorded and performed Charley Sandages’ “Arkansas Stories”, a collection of songs relating to the long and colorful history of the State.
While many bands work off of a prearranged set list, Robert, Mary and Dave like to get the feel of their audience and then pick songs and tunes that feel right for that particular group of listeners. This assures a quality listening experience for the audience, while keeping the music fresh and alive for the performers as well.
The bottom line is that with their strong vocal skills, their proficiency at a variety of acoustic instruments, and their love of “a good song”, HARMONY can put on a heck of a good show for any audience, anywhere!