Counsel of Elders: Alice Gerrard on Growing with Your Voice

Originally published with The Bluegrass Situation on August 30, 2016.

Some voices create passages to the past, as if they were secret wardrobes through which listeners can crawl and enter their own private Narnia. It’s not just what these voices sing about, but rather their color, tone, and timbre that conduct audiences to times gone by. Alice Gerrard has one such voice. She rose to fame in the 1960s and 1970s singing traditional bluegrass songs with her Appalachian music partner, Hazel Dickens. Their voices provided a juxtaposing force against one another, generating instinctive harmonies that felt closer to a familial note than any born from two unrelated musicians. Simply put, they raised the hairs on your neck.

Gerrard’s voice soars with Dickens, but it’s equally capable of standing alone, as sure-footed and earthy as the land that produced it. In 2015, she released her latest album Follow the Music, which she recorded with M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger. The two met when he was a grad student and she a visiting instructor at the University of North Carolina. The project would go on to earn a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album, and it’s easy to see why … or, rather, to hear. Her interpretations of classics like “Wedding Dress” and “Boll Weevil” pit her voice against the fiddle, the two rising to meet each other and fueling a thicker melody as a result. At 82 years old, Gerrard’s voice has aged, but it hasn’t withered. With over 50 years in the business under her belt, and a staunch determination to fight for traditional sounds, she proves how the past endures, offering its voice to any willing to listen.

[Full article available at The Bluegrass Situation.]

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