Southern Gospel icon Peg McKamey Bean dies at 85

Peg McKamey Bean, the face of an East Tennessee singing group that helped define Southern Gospel music for generations, has died from complications of stroke at the age of 85.

The family announced the death of “Miss Peg,” as Bean was affectionately known, on its Facebook Page. Bean had suffered a stroke on Dec. 11.

The McKameys call Clinton, Tenn. their home. But Peg Bean and her sisters — Carol and Dora — were raised in Beech Fork, a coal mining community in the Cumberland Mountains. They were well-known in that and other coal communities throughout the mountains — including in Scott County. In fact, their father, Ed McKamey, was once pastor at Smokey Creek Baptist Church.

Ed McKamey, the patriarch of the family, was himself a coal miner. He was born in Clinchmore and began working as a water boy on the Tennessee Railroad that connected the coal mining towns of the Cumberland Mountains between Oneida and Devonia when he was just nine years old. He began mining coal when he was 16, and continued working as a miner for the rest of his life. It was only about two years before his death in 1970 that declining health forced him to retire.

In addition to Smokey Creek, McKamey pastored churches in Campbell and Anderson counties. The last church he pastored was Jarnigan Chapel Baptist Church in Clinton. 

In 1954, Dora McKamey announced to her sisters that they were going to sing together at church.

“She gathered us up in her kitchen, started singing and we each found her parts,” Peg McKamey later said. “We just thought we were gonna sing that one time, in her home church, but different people heard us and invited us to sing at their church or at revivals. Then out of town evangelists heard us at the revivals and invited us to come to their church and we started traveling to Florida and Indiana and Ohio, and that’s how it all started.”

Before long, The McKameys were traveling and singing full-time, performing about 150 days each year. Ruben Bean began playing guitar for the sisters in 1957, and he and Peg McKamey were married two years later. 

Dora and Carol retired from the group in 1972, and were replaced by the Beans’ daughters, Connie and Sheryl. Carol McKamey eventually returned to the group when Sheryl left to support her husband’s ministry. Other family members joined the group in latter years.

In 1999, The McKameys were recognized for having the most No. 1 songs on Christian radio of any Southern Gospel group in history. They continued to tour until 2019, when they retired with a concert in Knoxville, Tenn.

As the most visible member of the group, Peg Bean was known for the white handkerchief she clutched and waved as she sang, and for her high-energy approach. It was a performance of perhaps their most iconic song, God on the Mountain, in 1988 that exposed The McKameys to an even wider audience after Bean spontaneously shouted “He’s still God!” as she sang. 

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