It was a good year for Alice Gerrard

2017 has been an excellent year for Alice Gerrard.

The most significant aspect is her induction in Raleigh, North Carolina, with the late Hazel Dickens into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. Hazel and Alice were a pioneering female duo whose recognition was at this level long overdue, many say.

As she acknowledges ..

“It has been a very big year for me and for Hazel (so sad she wasn’t here) and for all those who were inducted. I was excited and pleased, and so grateful to all the folks who worked so hard on our behalf. As I heard many times during the week: ‘It’s about time!'”

As one half of the pioneering female duo Hazel and Alice, Ms Gerrard was named earlier this year as a member of the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, I am pleased to see, and October marked the 30th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of the magazine The Old-Time Herald (OTH) and the founding of the parent organization Old-Time Music Group.

Alice Gerrard was the founding editor of the magazine. She created, laid out, and hand-mailed the first issue of OTH, and remained the editor-in-chief until 2003.

Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard - photo by John Cohen

In the 1960s she met Hazel Dickens and they began to play music together. Gradually, Hazel and Alice built up a rapport and formed their own band. Late in 1964 they recorded an album, Who’s That Knocking? (Folkways FTS-31055) with Lamar Grier (banjo), David Grisman (mandolin) and Chubby Wise (fiddle). A year later they recorded a second album, Won’t You Come and Sing For Me? (Folkways FTS-31034) with Grier, Grisman, and Billy Baker (fiddle). They had already gained the approval of Bill Monroe, who gave The One I Love Is Gone to the duo. The song was the last track on this album.

On both albums Ms Gerrard played the guitar and shared vocal responsibilities with Ms Dickens, who played upright bass.

Later they recorded two LPs for Rounder Records (Hazel and Alice, 0027) and (Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, 0054).

The duo was an important part, with Mike Seeger, Tracy Schwarz and Lamar Greer, of the Strange Creek Singers, releasing an eponymous LP on the Arhoolie label (4004).

It wasn’t until the release of a Smithsonian Folkways CD Pioneering Women of Bluegrass (SF CD 40065 [a compilation of the two Folkways LPs]) that they were recognized for what they were.

Later there were four solo CDs, two for Copper Creek (Calling Me Home, Songs of Love and Loss and Pieces of My Heart); one produced by Laurie Lewis for Spruce and Maple (Bittersweet); and one for Tompkins Square (Follow the Music);

Alice Gerrard and Mike Seeger

She did several recordings with one-time husband Mike Seeger, now on a CD Bowling Green; other releases include one album with the Piedmont Melody Makers, Wonderful World Outside, issued in 2016; one, Tear Down the Fences, with Kay Justice, released in 2017; four with Tom Sauber and Brad Leftwich, all on Copper Creek; one with Mark Weems; and one Gail Gillespie and Sharon Sandomirsky The Road to Agate Hill: Music from Southwest Virginia and Beyond.

She is featured on more than 20 recordings, with Tommy Jarrell, Matokie Slaughter, Carl Nelson, Jody Stecher, Kate Brislin, Kay Justice, Al McCanless, Mike Auldridge, Jim Watson, Bryan Sutton, Rob Ickes, Tom Rozum, Stuart Duncan being featured singers and/or instrumentalists, among others.

Her many talents such as her powerful, hard-edged vocals; her compelling, eclectic songwriting; and her instrumental mastery on rhythm guitar, banjo, and old-time fiddle have been praised in several publications, Billboard, Bluegrass Unlimited, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time magazine, Dirty Linen, No Depression and New Country, included.

She has earned numerous honors, including an International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Distinguished Achievement Award, a Virginia Arts Commission Award, the North Carolina Folklore Society’s Tommy Jarrell Award, and an Indy Award.

Follow the Music was a Grammy Award nominee for Best Folk Album in 2015.

Ms Gerrard, a tireless advocate of traditional music, has come a long, long way in a career spanning over 60 years.

As John Lawless, also the well-deserved recipient of a personal IBMA award this year, wrote in January, Alice Gerrard is the subject of a documentary film.

Alice Gerrard is, understandably, enthused by the progress made towards the completion of this video biography ….

“I am very excited about this project, the teaser was wonderful and there was very good response at IBMA.”

The film’s director Kenny Dalsheimer provides this update while reflecting on his early involvement with Ms Gerrard …

“I have loved working on this project, getting to know Alice and her music, and making friends along the way. I did not know anything about Alice’s life and music prior to meeting her for the first time about two years ago, and I hope to create a film that will invite many others new to her music into her life of music making, documenting, and passing on the traditions and music she so loves.

I began following and documenting Alice (and others) about two years ago and we’re pushing now to shoot final interviews and capture some of the film threads I’ve been shooting at the start of the project. I do continue to follow Alice and expect to be shooting into 2018. We also have begun pre-post production chores such as transcribing and logging interviews and footage. Our plans for final production work and starting up post production will move forward this Fall/Winter and into 2018; and the pace of our work will depend on our success in raising needed funds.

We’re currently running our Old Time Crowdfunding Campaign with a goal to raise $20K over the coming month or so. We launched this during IBMA 2017 and have had great success so far. We welcome you, Bluegrass Today, and others spreading the word about the campaign and the project. This current campaign represents about 20% of our total funding needs of $120K which will cover post production, licensing/rights, distribution, etc. We are building a list of individual donors who can come on as Associate Producers at higher giving levels (e.g. $2,500, $10,000 and up); and will be asking organizations and businesses for similar levels of support and sponsorship. We also continue to look for grant opportunities and expect to launch at least one more crowdfunding campaign in 2018.

I also wanted to share that our film is fiscally sponsored by the Southern Documentary Fund (SDF). In the US, all contributions to the film via SDF are tax-deductible.”

To stress that she has not retired completely, Alice Gerrard shared her plans for next year with us ….

“I’ve retired from the Old Time Herald but not from music or music related stuff.

My plans for 2018 include work on a book of photographs I’ve taken – both bluegrass and old-time – completion of Kenny Dalsheimer’s documentary film, more activities with my dog Polly and, of course, music — always.”

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I’m On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.