We are fortunate that Richard F. Thompson has agreed to continue his look at the history of bluegrass with an ongoing series of occasional pieces entitled, On This Day.
Lynn Morris was born.
A music lover from an early age, Lynn Morris grew up in the little rural west Texas town of Lamesa, where from the age of 12 she learned to play the guitar.
It wasn’t until she went to university in Colorado that she took an interest in bluegrass music and began to play the banjo. After graduating with an art degree, Ms. Morris turned her full attention to finding work as a professional musician, but it was still in an era when many bluegrass groups resisted women members. Her first professional job was performing at a local McDonald’s restaurant for $10 a day.
While a member of the Denver-based City Limits Bluegrass Band, she won the national banjo championship at Winfield, Kansas (in 1974), making her the first female victor. A later win, in 1981, made her the first person to earn the Winfield banjo title twice.
The band released two LPs on the Biscuit City label, one of which, Live! At the Oxford Hotel, provides an insight into what the trio was like at the time.
During the first half of the 1980s Ms. Morris was a member of the Pennsylvania band Whetstone Run, who toured widely, including a visit to Europe. While with the band she helped with the recording of the LP No Use Frettin’ on the Red Dog label.
After a short stint with Laurie Lewis and Grant Street (1987), in 1988 Lynn Morris organized her own band, recruiting Marshall Wilborn, David McLaughlin and Tom Adams, each of whom had just left the Johnson Mountain Boys upon that band’s break-up.
The Lynn Morris Band has recorded five albums for Rounder. Each was greeted with critical acclaim and enthusiastic comment from fans.
In 1996, her peers recognised her recording of the song Mama’s Hand (written by Hazel Dickens and released on the CD Mama’s Hand, Rounder 0328) was voted Song of the Year at the IBMA Awards. To emphasise the point they also elected her as the IBMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year, an accolade that she won again in 1998 and in 1999.
Sadly she suffered a stroke in 2003 three days after having knee surgery. That hampered her ability to sing – she suffers from aphasia, a condition that affects her ability to communicate with words, both speaking and listening, and reading and writing – and her playing still does not have the precision that it once had. Nevertheless, she has been making a slow recovery, but her improvement has surpassed doctors’ expectations allowing her to return to the stage, playing at the Apple Blossom Bluegrass Festival in May, 2011.
She is an animal activist, adopting many abandoned animals, and is sponsored by SPAY/USA, an organization that provides affordable spay/neutering services for house pets. Her involvement in animal welfare includes the recording of a jingle Spay Your Pet that has been played throughout the United States and Canada.
As well as being a pioneer among female banjo players, Ms. Morris was the first woman to be elected to the board of directors of the IBMA and in 2010 the organization presented her with a Distinguished Achievement Award. She has been named SPBGMA’s Traditional Female Vocalist seven times also.
Currently she resides in Winchester, Virginia, where she has lived since 1986, with the love of her life, husband Marshall Wilborn, and several cats.
Her star as a full-time musician may have fallen, but nothing will diminish her fighting spirit and the radiance of her smile.
Happy Birthday, Lynn!
Discography: The Lynn Morris Band (Rounder 0276), The Bramble and the Rose (Rounder 0288), Mama’s Hand (Rounder 0328), You’ll Never Be The Sun (Rounder 0458) and Shape Of A Tear (Rounder 0509).
Today’s Quiz Question: Apart from Lynn Morris, who are the band members on the Whetstone Run LP No Use Frettin’?