musical lives, remembered in story & sound

The Introduction

"She was in her first heaven, playing music." 
                     -- Letha Sexton, about her old friend Lella Todd

Here, are the stories of six woman, stories told in living rooms, in kitchens, in parking lots: the recollections of old friends, daughters, sons, and sisters.

They played banjos and fiddles, they sang songs to those who listened, and for themselves. These are stories of rifles, and pies baked. Of dreams held back, and dreams realized. There are stories of faith, and stories of hard work.

They played old time music in Kentucky, all. Old time music, I have come to understand, is the music that came out of families, and households; which some took to stages, but all kept as one part of the fabric of their lives.

I heard recordings of these women last winter, on the internet, on CDs.  And I missed not knowing their stories; the kitchens, the living rooms, the laughter, the dancing it seems, are woven into this music and, I would argue, cannot quite be separated.

The musicians who I have had the honor and joy of knowing, who’ve taught me tunes and bowings and how to hold my banjo, they have taught me about life, too. About patience, and humility, and how to listen closely.

So, who are these people in the recordings? How did they celebrate music in their life? And what lessons can they teach us—beyond the bowstrokes they used?

I must say, here, too, that I began this project with a particular focus—to find the stories of women musicians. The intent was to get at an answer to a question—why it seemed there were so few women who played a part in this music’s history? It's true, their ranks among records and field recordings are smaller, particularly when it comes to fiddle. I only found more questions; was it a matter of women not playing? or not playing for field recorders, and the written record? As I became involved, learning the specific stories of the women who did play, I became discontent with the idea of noting general trends, at least for the time being. The landscape of Kentucky is diverse, each community with its own cast of characters. It seemed more interesting, and more honest, then, to hear the stories of the women who did play, with such vigor and joy. I wanted to let them speak for themselves.

Here they are.

If you, who visit this site, knew these women, or their music, please leave a comment, or drop me a line (my email address is

). I'd love to see their stories epanded and celebrated by many voices.