Jere and Sandy Cherryholmes met in their church, married and began raising a family of six children in Bell, Calif., just outside of Los Angeles. Jere was a carpenter for the Los Angeles County school system and Sandy home-schooled the children. In 1999, their oldest daughter, Shelly, died at age 20 in her sleep from respiratory failure, due to chronic heart problems. The family heard about a nearby bluegrass festival and decided to attend, hoping to lift their spirits.
Inspired by the music, Jere promptly decided to start a family bluegrass band. Cia (banjo), B.J. (fiddle), Skip (guitar) and Molly (fiddle) were assigned instruments. Taking what was left, Jere picked the bass, and Sandy chose the mandolin. Within four months, they started getting invitations from people wanting them to play.
By year's end, the family took a gig on Saturdays in the San Bernardino Mountains. They put together some dance routines based on Irish stepdancing (which Sandy had taught for physical education classes). They won a few local contests, and promoters kept calling as their skills improved and their reputation spread.
After a 32-hour round trip to play a show in Colorado, Jere realized they had reached their weekend driving limit. So he sold the house, quit his job and decided to pursue music full time. At first, they traveled in a car, pitching a tent to sleep in. Next, they graduated to a van with some camping equipment and then to a 26-foot trailer. Finally, they acquired a classic GM bus. Their vintage, near-mint condition "home on wheels" is a drawing point for many of the musicians at festivals.
All six members sing lead, so the trio variations are endless in a Cherryholmes set. Arrangements include twin fiddles and Irish stepdancing with Sandy's old-time clawhammer banjo tunes. She choreographs each song with diagrams that resemble football plays.
In 2003, Cherryholmes made their first appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree, the CMA Music Fest and the IBMA's Bluegrass FanFest. In mid-October 2004, the band kicked off their own festival, the Best in Tradition With Cherryholmes, at Hoofer's Gospel Barn in LaGrange, Ga.
In 2005, the family band received a nomination for the IBMA entertainer of the year as well as the emerging artist of the year -- the first time any artist had secured those slots in the same year. They released their debut album on Skaggs Family Records later that year.