Lydia Jacoby – gold medal swimmer with a bluegrass background

Bluegrass is one of the unheralded stars of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, thanks to 17-year-old Alaskan, Lydia Jacoby.

After she was a surprise winner of the gold medal in the 100-yard breaststroke, reporters clamored to know more about the new US star. So, there she was in the interview room with reporters, talking about her love of bluegrass.

“In my town (Seward), we used to have a bluegrass camp for kids every summer,” she said. “There’s a group of us that really enjoyed it, so our parents kind of brought us together.”

The result was the Snow River String Band, with Lydia playing upright bass and singing. She also plays guitar. The band’s videos lived quietly on YouTube for several years before some of them went viral this week when Lydia became an overnight sensation.

“We played together for five or six years at different festivals in Alaska,” the Olympic champion said. Alas, as different members of the Snow River String Band drifted off to college, the band dissolved.

Her success in the pool, after becoming the first swimmer from Alaska to qualify for an Olympic berth, led to prominent mentions of her bluegrass experience on a multitude of platforms, including in The Washington Post and on National Public Radio.

Jacoby will head to college after her senior year in high school, attending the University of Texas on a scholarship. Despite the crazy schedule that comes with being part of a powerhouse college team, Lydia told reporters that music will remain a part of her life.

“I still enjoy playing music,” she told reporters. “It’s a great thing to do.”

One thing seems certain: After a swimming performance in front of millions of television viewers, and after swimming for one of the most competitive collegiate swimming programs in the United States, Lydia is unlikely to experience stage fright the next time she steps onto the stage at a bluegrass festival, whenever and wherever that may be.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.