A chat with Lynn Morris

| October 28, 2009 | 4 Comments

Lynn MorrisThis afternoon, I had a lovely chat with Lynn Morris and Marshall Wilborn. Longtime bluegrass fans are well familiar with Lynn’s many years as a performer, bandleader and friend to our music, and we all felt a great loss when she suffered a stroke in Match of 2003, keeping her off the road and out of the studio.

We’ve heard from many readers since then asking how she is doing, and we are happy to share that she is doing fine, and continuing to make progress in her struggles to recover. Lynn suffered her stroke 3 days after what was expected to be a routine knee replacement procedure (due to a blood clot), leaving her with a substantial reduction in facility on her right side, and a frustrating aphasia that restricts her ability to communicate verbally.

As we spoke today, Lynn’s language issues were apparent, but she takes it all in stride with good humor and an enduring spirit. Marshall, her husband and former musical partner, joined us in the conversation, and would pop in to help whenever Lynn was unable to complete a thought or find the word she was after.

She has been working with a speech therapist, and is making progress in dealing with her aphasia.

“I found a teacher in DC, Darlene Williamson – I can write a letter now. She works with stroke survivors, and has all the knowledge.

My talking is not exactly right, but I’m good. I’m a strong woman.”

Marshall explained how Williamson came into their life…

Marshall Wilborn and Lynn Morris in Ladysmith, VA - photo © Dean Hoffmeyer“Darlene has been working with Lynn for a while, and it’s a very positive thing. The two of them have become great friends. Darlene is one of many angels that have come into her life.

Our friend Esther Meckler (from Connecticut) found Darlene for us. Esther is the head of SpayUSA, and we became friends through Lynn’s association with ASPCA and her animal welfare activities.

About 3 years ago Esther was visiting DC, and we met her for dinner and talked about Lynn’s aphasia. Within a day or two after that, Esther had done the one thing that had never occurred to me to do – get on the Internet and Google aphasia – and she found this place about an hour from where we live called the Stroke Comeback Center, Darlene’s practice.”

I think I first heard Lynn Morris in the mid-1970s when she was the banjo picker and vocalist with the City Limits Bluegrass Band, based in Denver, CO where she was in college. She made quite a splash as a banjo picker – at a time when female pickers were much rarer than today – winning first place at the prestigious National Bluegrass Banjo Championship in Winfield, KS in both 1974 and 1981.

She and Marshall soon appeared together in a Pennsylvania-based group called Whetstone Run. Though they had met previously and jammed together, this was the first time they had worked regularly together.

Lynn Morris and Marshall Wilborn“Lynn and I met in my home town, Austin, TX, in the spring of ’82. She was in the midst of talking about joining Whetstone Run. When she took the job, and moved to Pennsylvania, we kept in touch, and when the bass player gave his notice, Lynn told them that I was the guy for the bass job. They, solely on her recommendation, offered me the job, and I packed up and moved to PA.”

They had a good run in the ’80s, even making a TV appearance on The Nashville Network (now CMT) for their popular Fire On The Mountain program in November of 1983. Lee Olsen (now with Keith Case & Associates) was on mandolin, and Mike Gorrell (now with Northwest Territory) was on guitar. Lynn played both banjo and guitar.

The Lynn Morris Band debuted in 1988, and over the years utilized the talents of such noted musicians as Tom Adams, Rob Ickes, David McLaughlin, Ron Stewart and Jesse Brock. Lynn would play either guitar or banjo, as her personnel dictated, and Marshall always held down the bass duties. She and Marshall were married in 1989.

During this time, she also recorded a clawhammer banjo video for The Murphy Method, now available on DVD. The Lynn Morris Band continued to be a top draw at festivals and concerts – also winning awards for their stellar recordings – until her stroke in 2003.

Lynn said that she is able to get out again, and is currently running sound on shows for Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie. She isn’t quite ready to return to performing, however.

“I don’t sing – I can, but I don’t want to yet. Almost ready – just not yet.

My left hand is great – right hand is not good.  Banjo playing is slow, slow, slow…

I can’t write either – letters are hard now. I know everything fine, but I can’t bring them out.”

She also expressed affection for the many folks who encourage her return to the stage, and is grateful for their support.

“I love these people… I had a stroke, but I’m living, and every day (God… thank you so much for every day!) I am thankful for them all.”

Lynn Morris is a rare gem who will be long-remembered should her musical contributions all be behind her, but what a treat it would be to hear from her again.

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.

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