After 40 years of recording with some of most legendary voices in bluegrass and old-time music, Alice Gerrard is starting a new project that’s uniquely her own.
Learn more on the project’s Kickstarter page
A Classical Beginning
The daughter of classical musicians, Alice didn’t grow up with bluegrass or traditional music. Her earliest musical memories are of family members and friends singing around the living room piano. Alice’s albums with West Virginia-born folksinger Hazel Dickens, however, rank among the most influential recordings in folk music history.
A ‘78 Recording of Texas Gladden
As a student at Anitioch College in Ohio, Alice discovered a recording of “One Morning in May” by Texas Gladden in the school’s music library. Drawn to the melancholy, unaccompanied singing on the record, Alice became absorbed with the more rural sounds of traditional music that she heard on albums such as The Anthology of American Folk Music. Inspired by the self-taught musicians of the folk music scene, Alice picked up the guitar and banjo and started teaching herself how to play.
The Bluegrass Years
Moving to Washington, D.C. Alice encountered a thriving bluegrass scene. There she met numerous bluegrass and old-time musicians, including Mike Seeger and Hazel Dickens. With their mutual love of traditional American music, Alice and Hazel became close friends. Developing a unique harmony based on many years of listening to the Carter Family, Molly O’Day, Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, and many others, the two singers started performing together.
Their debut album, Who’s That Knocking, released in 1965, was recorded for 75 dollars at the First Unitarian Church in Washington and featured accompaniment by David Grisman (mandolin), Lamar Grier (banjo), and Chubby Wise (fiddle). Although their second album, Won’t You Come and Sing For Me featuring most of the same musicians, was released in 1973. Alice and Hazel’s first two albums were later combined and released as Pioneering Women of Bluegrass in 1996.
Hazel and Alice
The two singers met up with Anne Romaine, who was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement in the South. Also a singer, Anne became interested in organizing an integrated tour of black and white traditional musicians. At the time, most traditional musicians were traveling north to perform at festivals and folk venues in the newly thriving folk music scene.
The Southern Folk Festival, as it was known, combined politics and music, and included musicians such as Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb, Elizabeth Cotten, Bessie Jones and others. The tour traveled through the Mountain South and the Deep South performing in communities and colleges. In this musically and politically charged atmosphere, Alice started writing her own original music.
“I really credit those tours for encouraging the conscious Alice and Hazel,” said Alice.
As a duo, the two started writing and performing their own songs while creating new arrangements of traditional material. Without a backup band of their own, the two developed as musicians with Hazel’s solid rhythm guitar and Alice’s lead guitar, banjo and autoharp.
Their third album, Hazel and Alice was released in 1973 and featured the musical style the duo had developed on the Southern Folk Festival Tour. The fourth album, Alice Gerrard and Hazel Dickens, was released in 1975 with a bigger sound and featured more musicians on original and traditional arrangements.
Alice subsequently recorded several albums with a variety of artists such as Mike Seeger, Tom Sauber, Brad Leftwich, Matokie Slaughter, Tommy Jarrell and others. Alice’s first solo album, Pieces of My Heart was released in 1994. A second solo record, Calling Me Home was released in 2004. Both albums feature half original and half traditional material. No one can accuse Alice of “over-recording” as one reviewer said.
In 1987 Alice founded the Old-Time Herald, a quarterly magazine devoted to old-time music and edited it until 2003. The magazine thrives today.
Alice continues to collaborate, teach, document, write music and perform on her own and with local musicians as well as with today’s innovative songwriters such as Laurelyn Dossett, Kari Sickenberger, and Diana Jones.
Alice Gerrard Recording Project
PO Box 52353
Durham NC 27717