The flip side of a Country single catapulted Country Music’s most famous father-daughter duo to a career that spanned two decades and saw more than 30 of their hits reach the Top 40.

The Kendalls, Royce and daughter Jeannie, may have recorded “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” 40 years ago, but the snappy title has doubtless been “sung” a million times by fans of the song.

“We’d only played the thing once, and we remembered it,” Royce, who died in 1998 at the age of 62 from a stroke recalled in an interview. “That’s a good sign . . . that’s the reason we cut it.”

The song was originally the B-side to 1977’s “Live and Let Live,” but deejays began playing “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” instead, sending it to the top of the country charts for a month and netting awards from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music as well as a Grammy in 1978.

The Kendalls heavy radio play and burst of commercial success lasted from 1977-1985. Their biggest hits of the late ’70s included “It Don’t Feel Like Sinnin’ to Me,” “Pittsburgh Stealers,” the number one “Sweet Desire” and “I Had a Lovely Time.” In the ‘80s they had more hits with songs like “You’d Make an Angel Wanna Cheat,” “Teach Me to Cheat” and a third number one, “Thank God for the Radio.” 

Both Jeannie and her father were born in St. Louis, Missouri, but Royce had moved his family to Los Angles, California, in the late ‘50s to pursue a musical career with his brother, Floyce, who performed as The Austin Brothers, a guitar-mandolin duo. Without finding the success he had hoped, Royce returned to St. Louis and opened a barber shop, but he did not stop singing.

“I was born and pretty much raised there,” Jeannie said in a 2003 interview with Jon Weisberger. “We lived in California for a little while when I was really young, but otherwise that was it. Daddy used to sing with his brother, and when I was a little bitty teeny thing, they had a duet called the Austin Brothers. They sang some bluegrass songs, and Louvin Brothers style music, and he would do the harmony, and then he’d switch off and sing the lead. But he never did like singing lead that much, so he started me right out doing that, and then he’d sing harmony to me.”

When Jeannie was only 15 years old, she teamed up with her father with Jeannie typically singing lead and Royce double tracking his light baritone harmony vocals behind her. They sold a demo tape by mail order and even signed to a small record label, where they recorded a 1970 cover of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” that just missed the country Top 50.

Their sound was perfect for the Country music recording scene in Nashville during the late ‘70s with its mix of traditional country, country gospel, honky tonk and blue grass. But Country Music changed, and the Kendalls’ commercial success did not last. The duo kept recording, relocated from their home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, to Branson, Missouri and switched their focus to bluegrass. Jeannie, a songwriter who had penned several of their recordings, continued writing songs. She and her father had been working on an album when Royce died in 1998 on his way to a performance.

“Daddy sang on two songs on the album – in fact, right before we left, we were working on songs, and that’s why we had them done,” Jeannie explained to Weisberger. “And then we went out on the road, and that’s when he passed away.”

Jeannie said it took a couple of years to determine what to do with the album, finally deciding to invite guest artists to help.

“So, we sat down and made a list of different singers and artists we’d like to have on the album. We wanted Alison Krauss and Ricky Skaggs and Rhonda Vincent and, of course, big on the top of the list was Alan Jackson,” she said. “I’m thankful that we pretty much got everybody that we were looking for.”

Jeannie completed the album in 2003 with the gracious help of musicians who had admired her and her father and those she herself respected.

This copyrighted story by Claudia Johnson was originally published in Country Reunion Magazine and Country Reunion News.

The role of the family is an integral theme of Country Music. Some of County’s greatest songs have captured memories from family life. Family acts, including sibling duos, have long been a staple on the Country stage. Some families have produced numerous talented members, both performers and songwriters, who separately made their impact on the genre. In other families, each generation has expanded the legacy of the one before it. This series celebrates Country Music’s family connections.