The Mission-Aires

  • 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award, African Nova Scotian Music Association Award Show (ANSMA)

The Mission-Aires were a very talented, dedicated and determined group of African Nova Scotian’s who sang at churches, charities, variety concerts and just about any worthy function through the South Shore and the Annapolis Valley starting in the 1940’s and ending in the late 1980’s. They originally started in the late 1930’s in two churches in the South end of Yarmouth. The group had their start singing in the Disney Chapel, Sharon Assembly (African Methodist Church) and the Town Mission (Herbert Brush Center). They started their singing in the choir in both churches singing at the AME church in the morning and the town Mission in the afternoon.

The original members of the group were cousins who played baseball together and started singing as a quartet in the churches. They sang without music but with lots of harmony they were encouraged by the Ministers of both churches to sing at Christmas concerts. The original members of the group were: Ernie Johnson (father of Bruce Johnson), Sebert Kelley, brothers Gerald and Mac Francis.

One of the first singing engagements for the group outside the church was singing at the Yarmouth rotary Club. They sang together until the start of the WWII. They temporarily broke up because of the members of the group were into the Armed Forces starting with Erie Johnson in 1942.

After the war they got back together but shortly thereafter two members of the group Gerald Francis and Mac Francis moved from Yarmouth to Winnipeg to find work. Therefore, they needed to find two new members. They recruited Charles Smith and Edward Fells, two of their younger cousins. For the next 20 years Ernie, Sebert, Charles and Ed sang together forming the most popular singing groups out of Yarmouth. In 1970 Ed left the group and the others continued as a trio until 1988 when Charles passed away.

Every week you would find the group practicing, going from home to home on a rotation basis. The Mission-Aires were inspired by black groups like the Ink Spots, Mills Brothers and other religious groups. They sang spirituals, gospel and also country and western song.

Highlights of their career were: featured on CBC TV in St. John on the Jeanly Yours Talk Show in 1965, singing at Expo ‘67 in Montreal and they recorded an album of Gospel and spiritual Memories.