The musical heritage of the Hagee family began with Bythel and Vada Hagee, along with their two oldest sons John and Bill. From the humble beginning of singing and playing instruments on the front porch for an eager audience of neighbors, the group began performing as a traveling group when Bythel was called into evangelism in 1952.
Years later, John Hagee, became a fifth-generation pastor and founded San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church. His children, Chris, Tish, Christina (Tina), Matthew and Sandy, grew up in a household full of music and sang practically from the time they could talk. Sandy recalls, “We sang just because we did. The same way that you eat and you drink and you sleep and you run outside and play. It was nothing that was forced or required. We just did.”
It wasn’t entirely church music that the children grew up hearing, although John and his wife Diana enjoyed listening to Southern Gospel groups like the Stamps and the Blackwoods, and well-known groups like the Cathedral Quartet appeared as guest performers at Cornerstone. In addition to singing gospel standards and hymns, Tina, Matt and Sandy also remember singing along to a diverse blend of musical influences, including Ray Charles, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt and the Judds.
John recognized the children’s musical ability early on and encouraged them to begin performing in children’s choirs from the age of 3 or 4. Later, he arranged for Tina, Matthew and little 6-year-old Sandy to perform during a Sunday night service at Cornerstone. Two of the children were enthusiastic. “At that point, we were like, ‘point us to the direction of the stage,’” remembers Sandy, speaking of herself and Matthew. For Tina, who was more of an introvert, it was a bit of a different story. “I had stage fright beyond belief,” she says, but she sang through the fear and gradually grew more comfortable with the stage.
John would often perform with the children, and they grew into a strong musical unit with a tight harmonic blend. They enjoyed singing songs from groups like the Martins, whom they greatly admired. According to Sandy, the genesis of the Hagees was such a natural thing that they didn’t even consider performing under a name at first. Speaking of her father, Sandy fondly remembers, “…he would say, ‘And before the morning message, the children and I are gonna sing this,’ like he was back in that one-room church. It was just what we did and what we had always done.”
Then Todd Payne, son of the Cathedral Quartet’s Glen Payne, called the family. He had seen them sing during a televised church service and urged them to make a record, which they did under the tutelage of Southern Gospel great Ben Speer, marking the official beginning of the Hagees as a professional entity. Thereafter, they had the great pleasure of working with Lari Goss and Roger Talley, and have now recorded several successful albums, including Stand, We Believe and Best of the Hagees.
These days, each of John’s children is employed outside of the music business: Chris, John’s eldest son, is in hotel management; Tish, the eldest daughter, is a copywriter for Global Evangelism; Tina is the director of publishing and marketing for John Hagee Ministries; Matthew serves as the executive pastor of Cornerstone Church; and Sandy is an attorney with a prominent firm in San Antonio. Despite their outside careers, the three younger siblings still love performing together as the Hagees. Ministering with their father has allowed the Hagees to take their dynamic sound on the road, throughout the United States, Israel and Canada. The Hagees continue to sing on the stage of Cornerstone Church, where it all started in 1986; but instead of the small Sunday night crowd that watched their debut, Cornerstone’s services are now broadcasted in 249 nations around the world.
Their faith and desire to inspire others to draw near to God comes through in their joyful, uplifted voices. When Tina is asked what she wants people to take away from a Hagee performance, her response is sure. “I want them to get saved. I want them to be ministered to. I want whatever we’re singing to minister to whatever they’re going through, whatever their struggles are. I want them to be uplifted. I want them to walk away lighter than when they came in.”
Even as they have experienced the Lord’s blessings through success in music and ministry, the Hagees maintain their devotion to the original calling and purpose that their father and grandfathers set so many years ago—to point others to the saving grace of Jesus.