Donna Ulisse – logomaniac survives the pandemic

Donna Ulisse says that she is a logomaniac, which simply means that the singer/songwriter/author/avid reader is a lover of words. Known for her original tunes, Ulisse’s songs have been recorded by Claire Lynch, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, the Bankesters, Doyle Lawson, Larry Stephenson Band, Becky Buller, The Grascals, and Volume Five, to name a few.

When the pandemic hit, forcing her live performances and songwriting workshops to shut down, the 2016 IBMA Songwriter of the Year and her husband, Rick Stanley, hunkered down on their “wee little farm,” as she fondly calls it, and turned to social media. A friend on Facebook challenged her to list five things that she was grateful for during troubling times.

Ulisse honestly admitted, “When I started the gratitude list I didn’t realize what it was going to be. It made me think outside of the panic going on across the country, and with time, my writing morphed into five random things. I was going to do it for 14 days, but the world didn’t open up.”

The Billy Blue recording artist decided since she was stuck at home, she’d continue her daily list for 30 days. After a month with everyone still in lockdown, the writer decided to extend her Facebook posts for 100 days.

Ulisse, author of The Songwriter In Me, stuck to what she loved…words.

“I got messages saying please don’t stop the journal, so I did it for 365 days because I didn’t see an end [to the pandemic] in sight.

I love to read. I tripped upon books written on women of the Bible. It gave me insight on strong women during hard times, so I included some of what I was reading in the journal. We had no money coming in. It was frightening. We lost friends and pets (her beloved dog, Tenbrooks). I was questioning, what will we do? 

God works it all out. I wanted the lists to be viable. The world felt bleak, but the journals didn’t. I decided I was going to write and devoted myself to it. It was true to life. I talked about anything and everything, including the wee farm and the goats, and as a result, the Facebook readers became brother helping brother, sister helping sister.”

If the pandemic, the isolation, the loss of loved ones, and the lack of income wasn’t enough, Ulisse and her husband were also struck by a tornado.

“I was on a Zoom call with about 12 family members, a wake for my aunt. I told my family we’re about to be hit by a storm. As soon as I said ‘storm,’ it hit. It sounded like a sonic boom. Rick saw a 100 year old cedar ripped up. It ended up resting against our glass door as if the hand of God stopped it from flying through our house. We couldn’t get out the back door. We lost two barns, 12 trees, fencing… We had a lot of debris, including someone’s roof. It took the animals away. In an instant, in the lightning and pouring rain, neighbors came and with flashlights, found all the missing goats and cows.”

I wrote a lot of songs, tornado stuff, what it did spiritually, the beauty of neighbors helping. I wrote one, When Jesus is Your Neighbor, that talks about that precious moment.”

All the while, Ulisse continued posting 5 things every morning on Facebook. Near the end of her year of her daily accounts, the couple fell ill with COVID-19.

“I had initially thought if anybody would die from COVID, it would be me, because I had been very ill four months before the shutdown. So we stayed hidden out on the wee farm, and then on Day 350, I ran a fever. At 7:00 that night, I noticed that I couldn’t smell the Dove soap and then I lost my taste. I said, ‘Oh, no, I’m going back to bed.’

As afraid as I was before, I had this calm. I prayed about it. The outpouring of love (from my readers) healed me. They got me from day 351 until the end. 

The first five days I had a high fever, and hardly remember those days. For three weeks, it affected my energy level. I could hardly lift my arm. I watched movies, read a bunch of books, and started crocheting again. Rick only lost his taste and smell for 10 days. 

It’s a crap shoot. You don’t know who it’s going to turn on, but I had a peace about it. Jerry Salley [Songwriter and Creative/A&R Director, Billy Blue Records] said that I had been planning my own funeral for 350 days! He was thankful that it never came to that.”

Ulisse weathered the storms of life.

“We survived it all…the tornado, COVID, the shutdown, inheriting my dad, and we’re still moving forward.”

Donna Ulisse is now turning her experiences, and her one year journal, into a book.

“It is a lot of work. Facebook has some sort of copyright to my work. I have to retype everything. I’m getting permission from folks who left precious comments. It is a written document of what we were all going through, so I want to include some of their feedback.”

Ulisse’s faith, determination, and demeanor (which she credits to her Italian bloodline) continue to mold and motivate her into an even stronger logomaniac. Her passion is our reward: new songs, new recordings, and a new book all forthcoming from Donna Ulisse.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.