It's the annual "Hair Cuts for Hospice" charity event at Hair & Things Haircutters in Beltsville, and the Thomas Sisters are belting out a repertoire of country and gospel songs from a makeshift stage outside.

A large placard beside them on the sidewalk reads, "The Thomas Sisters of Beltsville, Maryland are Nashville Bound." Next to it is a poster covered with newspaper clippings about Courtney, 11, and Danyelle, 12.

A card table holds postcards, refrigerator magnets, coffee mugs and fliers bearing the girls' names, picture and Web site address. A wooden donations box sits on the table beside pamphlets about their fan club.

The audience of about a dozen people is small but responsive. Some have brought lawn chairs, pulled up park benches or plopped down right on the paved parking lot. When the girls finally take a break, fans patiently await their turns for autographs and pictures.

It is a scene orchestrated by their manager and mother, Lori Thomas. Nearly every weekend, she sets up the display at the sisters' performances at festivals, schools and charity events throughout the area.

Ever since the girls sang the gospel song "Praise Him" to their first audience at ages 2 and 3, Lori Thomas has worked toward helping them to realize their dream of becoming recording stars.

"All the church members were amazed they could remember all the words," Lori Thomas recalls of their toddler debut. "It was a very adult song."

Since that early performance, she hasn't been able to stop their harmonies.

"They sing all the time. They sing in the car. And in the shower. We have to tell them not to sing at the dinner table."

Courtney and Danyelle say it's just a reflex. "We don't mean to practice," explains Courtney, who attends the Beltsville Academic Center. "We're used to singing. It's a habit."

In October, they rode their habit all the way to Nashville. They traveled there to record their first single with A.M.I. Records, featuring the songs "Runnin' on Love" and "It Takes Two Hearts."

Getting to that point took good old-fashioned pavement-pounding by Lori, who owns a cleaning business, and her husband, David, a home contractor. With no connections, they have researched marketing and the entertainment industry with a graduate student's zeal.

"The Beltsville library is like my haven," Lori Thomas says.

Lori Thomas taught herself to build the girls' Web site, www.thomas-sisters.com, by reading the book "Creating Web Pages for Dummies." "All You Need to Know About the Music Business" was another library title that proved invaluable.

When there has been anything else she needs to know, pure persistence has usually gotten her the answer. "I'm just asking a lot of questions," she says, adding that she's been known to call record companies just to grill them about the industry.

"I'd rather put my money into [Danyelle and Courtney] instead of putting it into an agent."

Most of their performances are free, but they accept donations. They also raise money to cover their expenses by selling pizza and having fund-raising parties.

In addition to cutting the single, there are signs that the girls' career is gaining momentum. In the past year, the girls have appeared on area television news stations and performed twice on 98.7 WMZQ. A group of seasoned musicians, longtime friends of the family, have agreed to become the Thomas Sisters Band.

The sisters have gained considerable notoriety in Beltsville and the surrounding area, but Lori Thomas tries not to let all the attention go to their heads. She limits practice to 15 minutes each day, to allow time for homework so they can maintain their honor roll grades. The sisters are also involved in school activities such as cheerleading, softball and basketball.

Talk to the sisters about their ultimate goals, and the entertainment business doesn't even come up. Courtney speaks of being a journalist, and Danyelle would like to have a career in social services.

"I'm really interested in helping people, little babies," Danyelle says.

Courtney agrees. "I really wouldn't want to be a singer when I'm really old. I don't want to be singing when I'm 30."

But for now, both say there's nothing like the feeling right after a performance, knowing they've put everything into a song and hearing the audience explode into applause. "That's the best part," Danyelle says.

The Thomas Sisters perform at 3 p.m. Friday at the Hair & Things "Christmas Open House," 10611 Montgomery Rd., Beltsville. Free. Call 301-937-2145.

CAPTION: Courtney, left, and Danyelle Thomas sing at a hospice benefit at Hair & Things in Beltsville, one of the many weekend performances booked throughout the area by their mother.

CAPTION: Courtney, center, and Danyelle, right, work a benefit. At left are Virginia Rinker, of Burtonsville, and Laura McDermot, 11.