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The Music of Rachel Bell: Traditional and Treasured

Rachel Bell

Rachel Bell

Bio courtesy of Rachelbellmusic.com Rachel Bell is an accordion player, tunesmith, and music teacher from the wilds of Pennsylvania. She is in demand throughout the United States and beyond for concerts, contra dances, English country dances, French dances, and workshops.

Over a decade of musical travel has landed her smack-dab in the middle of some of her most exciting projects ever. A vibrant and versatile collaboration with Karen Axelrod, exquisite violin and viola sounds from Eric Martin, a rich and energetic contra dance band called Seaglass, and a slew of French-focused music and dance adventures with Susan Kevra are just the tip of the iceberg. A recent addition has been a joyful musical partnership with Becky Tracy, and other combinations often round out the mix.

Rachel Bell grew up playing the piano and spent her college years studying music education and classical piano. As a college freshman, she surprised even herself when she picked up a piano accordion and “accidentally” fell in love with it. Rachel now enjoys a busy gig schedule playing concerts, contra dances, English country dances, French dances, and festivals.

Rachel’s bands include Alchemy, Peregrine Road, Old World Charm School, Seaglass, Eloise & Co. and a slew of other combinations. She plays tunes from France, New England, Scotland, Ireland, England, Quebec, and beyond, as well as songs, original compositions, and even crazy roots-rock arrangements. Recently, Rachel has been collaborating with Susan Kevra to compose new tune/choreography combinations to send out into the English country dance repertoire.

Rachel Bell

The past few years have been bursting with big changes, big travel, and exciting new musical collaborations. After six years as a public school music teacher, Rachel finally let go of that last shred of normalcy and launched into full-time freelance musicianhood. Her obsession with French music and dance led to three music-focused overseas trips, and her obsession with finding the perfect instrument led to the purchase of an incredible tone-chambered Beltuna that sounds exquisite. During June 2016, in the midst of playing piles of camps, gigs, and festivals, Rachel released her debut solo album, Tone Chamber. This recording highlights the versatility of the accordion and boasts and impressive cast of guest musicians.

Rachel’s playing is infused with a contagious enthusiasm for her instrument and a deep love for the musical traditions she carries. Her passion is to share with others the delight she finds when immersed in this music, ushering them into a place where their toes can’t help tapping and their ears are dunked in strawberry jam.

Whenever she’s not playing accordion or chasing after waterfalls, Rachel is busy instilling the joy of music in children of all ages. Through her Crab Apple Jam Music Studio, Rachel offers everything from mommy-n-me musical playgroups for toddlers to piano lessons to dulcimer clubs. Rachel’s upbeat, engaging teaching style is grounded in 9+ years of public school teaching experience and 2 years of Montessori School teaching experience. Every Crab Apple Jam Music Class is packed to the brim with hands-on, creative experiences that build musical skills as well as essential life skills. Children are captivated by the rich array of puppets, ribbons, songs, dances, dulcimers, boomwhackers, bells, drums, and more.

Contact: CrabAppleJamMusic@gmail.com

 

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Nashville’s Game Changer: The Influential Pee Wee King

 

 

Pee Wee King

Pee Wee King

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana The late Country Music Scholar, Charles K. Wolfe wrote of Pee Wee King, “Pee Wee never picked cotton, never hopped a freight train, never worked as a song plugger in Nashville…unlike so many of his fellow members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Pee Wee King was not known as a guitar player or even as a singer. His instrument was an ungainly one, the accordion, and he played it so well that he inspired dozens of country bands to add it to their acts in the 1940s and 1950s….he was also a bandleader par excellence whose work often pushed the envelope of older country music. He was a gifted songwriter….a creative promoter, a finder of new talent, an explorer of new media, and, best of all, a consummate professional. In his heyday, Pee Wee King took Country music uptown and didn’t ask whether or not it was ready to go.”

Pee Wee King was then, what we now refer to as a ‘Game Changer’. But even though King is credited as being one of the key people to formulate the sound and look of Modern Country music, even co-writing Nashville’s own state song, ” The Tennessee Waltz“, he and his instrument are still considered to be outsiders by Country music insiders.. His effort to “mainstream” Country music caused great resentment and is still a primary reason why Nashville is resistant to, and even disdainful of the accordion as a viable instrument in Country music.

Born in Abrams, Wisconsin, February 18, 1914, King grew up there and was known under his given name, Frank Kuczynski. He performed as an accordionist and as a fiddler with his father’s band from the time he was fifteen years old. Shortly after, taking the name of King while still in high school, he formed Frankie King and The King’s Jesters in 1930. Within three years, King had his own radio program in Milwaukee and he and his band performed at the local Badger State Barn Dance. It was there that he was discovered by the legendary Gene Autry, an emerging cowboy singer. Autry bestowed the honorary title, ‘Pee Wee’ on King, for his small stature. King and Autry, lifelong friends from then on, moved to Louisville, Kentucky where King backed up Autry on radio before “The Singing Cowboy” left for Hollywood to become a film star.

When Autry departed, King decided to stick with radio, stay in Louisville and remain as a member of Frankie More’s Log Cabin Boys. He already had a business relationship with Autry’s manager, and also was interested in the manager’s step-daughter, a singer on the Louisville radio station. So, in the middle of America’s Great Depression, Pee Wee King acquired both his wife, Lydia Frank, and as his manager, J. L. Frank. He would eventually legally change his surname to King.

Pee Wee and Lydia King

In 1937, Pee Wee King formed The Golden West Cowboys and shortly after was asked to join the Grand Ole’ Opry on Nashville’s WSN radio. The ambitious King immediately seized the opportunity to move away from the Opry’s strict mandate to use only stringed instruments. He brought in musical instruments never before heard at the Opry, such as the accordion, an amplified electric guitar, horns and the pedal steel guitar. In addition, Pee Wee King did not make many friends at the Opry when he refused to change his band’s sound when asked to do so, or when, along with Bob Wills, he insisted on using drums on stage.

This new style of music was loud and lively, danceable and entertaining, and very much influenced by the Big Band sound that was popular all over the world in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This gave it new energy, a new sound and brought Country music into the mid- twentieth century. Perhaps, because he didn’t come from that exclusive community of musicians and songwriters that grew up in the hills and the ‘hollers’ of the South, King saw what was known then as “Hillbilly” music, in a broader geographic context. He recognized the new “Country” music as being the music that included the entire nation, from east coast to west coast, and not just the music from the Southeastern part of the United States.  In his vision, the Country music genre shifted and stretched to include Texas, Arizona and Southern California, and with this, it acquired a new “western” sensibility. Singers and songwriters from those areas must have taken note, like Marty Robbins, Roy Orbison and Buck Owens and many others and may have felt a sense of inclusion and opportunity in the new Country and Western sound.

Because King saw himself as an entertainer, when America went to war in 1941, he envisioned that Country music should be a part of the war effort and entertainment scene of mainstream America. He knew that to accomplish this, Country music needed a bigger sound and a bolder image. King had a love for flashy, professional showmanship. He outfitted his band with fancy, custom made suits. This new take on Country music became enormously popular all over America and eventually became associated with Nashville.  But, at first, such flamboyance was met with resentment in Nashville and there was a strong outcry against King by music traditionalists. King also “changed the game” when he insisted that his band members be required to read music. They were also among the first musicians in Nashville to join the musicians union.  He wanted his band, not only to appear professional, but actually be the best musicians in the music business.

The new sound of Country music spoke to wartime America.  People needed opportunities to go out and dance, have a good time and for a few short hours, forget that the war was asking for big changes and great sacrifices from them.  Country music was American music, and an expression of the new pride and nationalism that the entire country was experiencing.  Music served to unify everyone during wartime and to underscore that we were one nation in the fight against tyranny.  This new “Western” side of Country music, in its own way, placed American music, defiantly and  squarely in the face of fascism and ideologies of “the East”, looming large in Europe and Japan. The Country and Western sound had nothing to do with any European immigrant tradition, and the piano accordion, for the first time, was front and center. It was the soldiers during the war that brought the new sound of Country music to where they were stationed. This opened up the world to Country music and laid the groundwork for its influence on pop music.

Pee Wee King V

In spite of controversy, Pee Wee King remained with the Opry for ten years, quite a long time in show business years.  During that decade many performers passed through the training ground of The Golden West Cowboys on their way to fame and fortune. They included singers Eddy Arnold, Cowboy Copas, Milton Estes, Tommy Sosebee, and singer/yodeler Becky Barfield. Pee Wee King and The Golden West Cowboys recorded and toured as Minnie Pearl‘s backing band over 1941-1942, as well as for Ernest Tubb. They also entertained the troops during the War with the Camel Caravan Tours, crisscrossing the country.

Pee Wee King IV

In 1946 as the war ended, King composed “The Tennessee Waltz” along with Redd Stewart, vocalist for The Golden West Cowboys,. It was inspired by Bill Monroe‘s composition of “The Kentucky Waltz“, now a standard in Bluegrass music. “The Tennessee Waltz” became an enormous hit, not only for King, but for Patti Page, becoming one of the biggest cross-over hits, of all time. It went on to become a Country music standard and, later on, the state song of Tennessee.

Pee Wee and his family moved from Nashville to Louisville in 1948 when an opportunity surfaced for Pee Wee to work on WAVE radio and television. He explained years later, “The main reason (for moving) was that I wanted television.” The conservative Opry management saw no real future in TV and, again, their view was at odds with King’s vision. But Pee Wee King saw great commercial success as a pioneer in the new medium of television, with regional and national television shows, not only from Louisville, but Cincinnati, Cleveland and Chicago. King won multiple Cash Box and Billboard awards for his television shows and had a six year run on ABC Television with “The Pee Wee King Show“. Just as King had foreseen, television had become an indespensible method of packaging and promoting talent and hit songs in all genres of music in just a few short years.

Pee Wee King III

King and “The King”

Pee Wee King continued to perform and record throughout the 1950’s, reuniting with Minnie Pearl until 1963. In 1965, the state of Tennessee adopted “The Tennessee Waltz” as the official state song. Pee Wee was always interested in the history of the music he had helped redefine, and served on the board of directors for the Country Music Hall of Fame and also served as Director for The Country Music Foundation.

Pee Wee King appeared in four movies, always as a band leader, “Gold Mine in the Sky” with Gene Autry, “Flame in the West” with Johnny Mack Brown, “Riding the Outlaw Trail” and “The Rough, Tough West” with Charles Starrett. He also released his own movie production, “Country-Western Hoedown” in 1967. About disbanding The Golden West Cowboys in 1969,  King said, “I wanted to find what I thought was the top of my career. When I believed I had found it, I stopped striving and searching and enjoyed it.”

In 1970, Pee Wee King was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He composed or co-wrote more than 400 songs, including some of the most popular songs in American music including the enormously successful “The Tennessee Waltz“, “Slow Poke“, “Silver and Gold“, “Changing Partners“, “Bonaparte’s Retreat“, “You Belong to Me“, “Walk By the River“, “Busybody” and “Bimbo” among many others.

In October 1971 Kentucky Governor Louis B. Nunn declared an official Pee Wee King Day in the state.

In 1974, Pee Wee King was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His recording career included more than twenty albums, 157 singles with eleven of them becoming chart hits. “Slow Poke” reached the top of both the pop and country charts and held that position for three months. It became not only King’s biggest hit, but his biggest crossover hit.  Pee Wee performed and recorded hundreds of sides, from fiddle tunes to pop ballads.

In 1996 Pee Wee King worked with writer Wade Hall to produce his authorized autobiography, “Hell Bent for Music (University of Kentucky Press). It was a first person account about his life and career, narrated by King.

Before his death, a boxed set of King’s RCA work was released by Bear Family and a collection of his 1950’s radio transcriptions was released by Bloodshot Records (Pee Wee King’s Country Hoedown)

Pee Wee King died on Tuesday, March 7, 2000 at age 86 while recuperating after suffering a massive heart attack the week before. He was survived by his wife and their four children. Pee Wee and Lydia King were married for sixty-four years. Mrs. King passed away in 2011.

Pee Wee King was fearless, creative, ambitious and successful.   He thought big and accomplished great things for his family, for the music industry, for Nashville, and for American music. Pee Wee had a vision from a very young age and never hesitated to trust it and to follow it, through out his life.  He fought hard for what he believed in, and withstood an incredible amount of criticism for it. Though I never met him, I believe that his life was the stuff of which movies are made. AND, he was an accordion player…..


List of Bands that Feature the Accordion

Punk’s 10 Best Accordion Players: A Tribute to accordion Rockers
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 12:18 PM (PST) by connor_maoil

The sound of the accordion is, in my opinion, one of the best, weirdest, and most unique additions to the punk genre. For most it’s easy to see the instrument as nothing more than a novelty but the truth is there are a lot of very talented musicians whose squeezebox skills can’t be overlooked as a gimmick. As an aspiring punk rock accordionist myself, I wanted to spotlight some of the best in the field.

Check out the list here.

10. (Honorary mention): Eugene Hutz (Gogol Bordello)

Things might have ended up differently for the gypsy troubadour Eugene Hutz if he stuck with his attempt at learning the accordion. In a video interview, Hutz jokes about the difficulties he had trying to learn the instrument:

“Learning the accordion was just impossible. Have you ever tried an accordion? It’s insane. It’s f*cking nuts man, it’s like, to play accordion you must have your brain wired differently. I worship people who can play accordion. I tried for 2 years and ended up withminor scoliosis and, anxiety problem. And that’s when I picked up [guitar].

9. Eric Melvin (NOFX)

While the accordion is rarely up front in the ranks of NOFX, founding guitarist Eric Melvin busts out his giant squeezebox to time to time to please the crowds. Wailing minor waltzes about sleepless nights, Melvin really puts a lot of character into the instrument

I, Melvin

8. Katie McConnell (The Mahones)

I’ve gotta admit that I’ve had a crush on this punk for a long time. McConnell really does a great job of bringing the punk style and hardcore energy to the accordion. Her style of playing seems to draw a good deal of inspiration from The Pogues (above). Seeing any performance by her with The Mahones is an awesome experience that I highly recommend to any lover of celtic punk. Watch for them in your town!

“A Great Night On The Lash” (from “The Black Irish,” 2011, True North Records)

7. Marc Orrell (Dropkick Murphys, 2000-2008)

He’s the one who brought you Shipping Up To Boston. Enough said?

6. Tim Brennan (Dropkick Murphys, 2003-present)

The current recording and touring multi-instrumentalist Tim Brennan has continued to make the accordion a more part of the band’s staple sound.

The Hardest Mile (off 2011′s Going Out In Style)

5. James Fearnley (The Pogues)

One of the pioneers of the punk accordion, James Fearnley, the original and current member of The Pogues, was originally a guitar player. According to Fearnley’s memoir, “Here Comes Everybody: The Story Of The Pogues,” founding banjo member Jem Finer, desperately seeking an accordion for his new band, showed up at Fearnley’s flat with an accordion in a laundry bag and persuaded him to try and learn the instrument.

“Turkish Song Of The Damned“ (from “If I Should Fall From Grace Of God,” 1988, Island Records)

4. Seamus O’Flanahan (The Dreadnoughts)

I’ll just let Seamus speak for himself. (Off “Polka’s Not Dead”, 2010)

3. Matt Hensley (Flogging Molly)

Hensley, a former skateboarder, picked up accordion from guitar like so many others on this list. In addition to skillfully adding to the work of Flogging Molly with his accordion, Hensley is also frequently featured on the concertina and more traditional Irish diatonic button accordion. That’s the kind of thing that tends to really impress the geeky accordion junkies.

“Tomorrow Comes A Day Too Soon” (from “Within A Mile Of Home,” 2004, SideOneDummy)

2. Yuri Lemeshev (Gogol Bordello)

Although not a founding member of the New York gypsy punk band, Yuri Lemeshev has been a vital part of the band for over a decade. Hailing from Russia, Lemeshev has to be one of the most technically skilled members of the scene. And not only can he knock down tunes masterfully, he can also move around and have a good ol’ punk time on stage while doing it.

“Supertheory Of Supereverything” (from “Super Taranta!”, 2007, SidOneDummy)

1. Franz Nicolay (World/Inferno Friendship Society)

In addition to that moustache, Franz Nicolay brings in the background of a converted rock piano player (most notably in The Hold Steady) and has spread the use of the accordion all over the genre. Nicolay probably has the most impressive resume of them all; in addition to being a former longtime member of the punk circus collective World/Inferno Friendship Society and his own collective Anti-Social Music, Nicolay has recorded and toured with the likes of Against Me!, Leftover Crack, The Dresden Dolls, The Loved Ones, and Mischief Brew. Check out a complete list of his recording and producer credits over here.

“Your Younger Man” (from “Red Eyed Soul,” 2006)

Had enough yet? If not, check out some up-and-coming bands featuring the accordion.

The First Chairs (ska)

Roughneck Riot (celtic punk)

Larry And His Flask (cow punk)

The Real Mckenzies (celtic punk)

Mad Caddies (ska/swing punk)

The Mighty Regis (celtic punk)

Crash Nomada (gypsy punk)

Joey Briggs (solo from The Briggs)

Ramshackle Glory (folk punk)

Feudalism (folk punk)

Lucero (cow punk)

This is a list of articles describing popular music acts that incorporate the accordion.

Band or musician Accordionist Style
Agalloch  ? Folk metal, doom metal, black metal, neofolk, post-rock
Arcade Fire Régine Chassagne
Richard Reed Parry[1]
Indie rock
The Band Garth Hudson Americana
Beirut Perrin Cloutier Combines elements of Eastern European and folk sounds
Calexico Martin Wenk Rock
Counting Crows Charlie Gillingham Rock
The Decemberists Jenny Conlee Folk rock
Deep Forest Michel Sanchez Combines electronic beats with world music
Del Amitri Andy Alston Rock
Detektivbyrån Anders Flanders Combination of electronica, folk and French pop
DeVotchKa Tom Hagerman Indie rock
The Dropkick Murphys Tim Brennan Celtic punk
The E Street Band Danny Federici
Charles Giordano
Rock
Equilibrium  ? Viking metal, folk metal, symphonic black metal
Finntroll  ? Folk metal, black metal, humppa
Flogging Molly Matt Hensley[2] Celtic punk
Folkearth  ? Viking metal, folk metal, black metal
Gogol Bordello Yuri Lemeshev Gypsy punk
Gotan Project Nini Flores Tango, Electronic
Great Big Sea Bob Hallett Traditional Newfoundland folk and rock
Green Day Tré Cool Punk rock
The Hooters Rob Hyman Rock
Jason Webley Self Combination of traditional music, romani music, punk
John Mellencamp  ? Rock. Has included the accordion in most of his music since 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee.
Julieta Venegas Self Latin pop
Jump, Little Children Matthew Bivins Combines Irish influences with an alternative rock sound
Katzenjammer  ? Pop
Korpiklaani Juho Kauppinen Folk metal
Lemon Demon Neil Cicierega Indie rock
Mägo de Oz Sergio Cisneros Folk metal, folk rock
MewithoutYou Aaron Weiss Alternative Rock
Moonsorrow Henri Sorvali Folk metal
Motion Trio (Accordion Trio) Collaborations with other artists (such as Bobby McFerrin and Michał Urbaniak)
The Pogues James Fearnley Irish punk, pub music
Skyforger  ? Folk metal, black metal
Silvestre Dangond Juancho De la Espriella Vallentos, Modern and very popular Colombian music
Sound Horizon Revo Combination of many genres, ranging from heavy metal to classical
Stolen Babies Dominique Lenore Persi Avant-garde metal
Styx Dennis DeYoung Hard rock, progressive rock
Svartsot Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen Folk metal, Viking metal
That Handsome Devil Jeremy Page and Andy Bauer Alternative rock, alternative hip hop
They Might Be Giants John Linnell Alternative rock
Tiger Lillies Martyn Jacques Brechtian and gypsy cabaret
Tom Waits  ? Jazz, rock, blues, folk, experimental
Tosca Tango Orchestra Glover Gil Nuevo tango, classical music
Turisas Janne Mäkinen Folk metal, Viking metal
The Twilight Sad Andy MacFarlane Scottish folk rock, indie rock
Vitas Vitas (studio), ? (live) Eclectic Russian pop
“Weird Al” Yankovic Self Parody music
Windir Valfar Folk metal, Viking metal, black metal
The World/Inferno Friendship Society Franz Nicolay[3] Cabaret punk

Jeff Taylor, Nashville’s “Go To” Accordionist

Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor

Professional accordionist and multi-instrumentalist, Jeff Taylor, grew up in Batavia, New York, and began playing accordion and keyboards in his dad’s band when he was 10. He studied classical piano at the Eastman School of Music and was leader of a small jazz/rock group when he was in the Air Force in Ohio. He has lived in Nashville since 1990. Taylor counts among his performing highlights his two years as bandleader at the Ryman auditorium for the musical production Always, Patsy Cline, hundreds of shows as bandleader at Opryland theme park and on the General Jackson showboat, The Skaggs Family Christmas Tour, and many appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, backing numerous artists. He has recorded with Elvis Costello, Paul Simon, Harry Connick Jr., Keith and Kristyn Getty, Amy Grant, George Strait, The Chieftains, Martina McBride, Buddy Greene, Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs. He was a featured artist on the Ricky Skagg’s and Kentucky Thunder Instrumentals CD that won a  Grammy in 2007 for Best Bluegrass Album. Besides excelling on accordion and piano, he also shines on the concertina, penny whistle, mandolin and bouzouki.

Jeff Taylor performs as a member of The Time Jumpers, along with Vince Gill and also some of the best musicians in Nashville. The Time Jumpers are an award winning Western Swing band from Nashville, Tennessee, with two awards from the Association of Western Artists, one from the Western Music Association and two Grammy nominations! This group of Nashville’s studio elite has evolved from casual jam sessions at the Grand Ole Opry to performing on the main stage, and becoming THE Monday night destination in Nashville,.

Their individual recording and performing credits cover virtually the entire history of country music, ranging from Slim Whitman to Carrie Underwood, and their members have recorded extensively with artists in other genres as well, from Barbra Streisand to Megadeth. The Time Jumpers appear, regularily, at The Station Inn,  Nashville, Tennessee.

Jeff Taylor, performs on the accordion, along with the great Vince Gill and The Time Jumpers

Jeff Taylor, Accordionist, with the late Dawn Sears at the Station Inn

 
  

Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester, First Woman in Bluegrass

Sally-Ann-Forrester

Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana She was born, Wilene Russell, in 1922. Her family called her Goldie Sue. Her classmates called her Billie. She performed as Sally Ann Forrester. Was the confusion created by having too many names the reason why Wilene Forrester is slow to be recognized as the “First Woman in Bluegrass”?

All humor aside, in 1943, Wilene was hired as an accordionist by Bill Monroe just as he coined the name for the music they played, called “Bluegrass”. She was compensated and performed as one of the Bluegrass Boys.  As Ginger Rogers said of dance partner, Fred Astaire, Wilene did everything “The Boys” did, only “in high heels”.  She was good enough to work as a musician with the band, tour and record with them. In 1945, Wilene, as an accordionist and as one of Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys, recorded eight great Bluegrass classics, “Rocky Road Blues”, “Kentucky Waltz”, “True Life Blues”, “Nobody Loves Me”, “Goodbye, Old Pal”, “Footprints in the Snow”, “Blue Grass Special”, and “Come Back to me in my Dreams”.

Was the lack of recognition based on the fact that she was a proficient accordionist, and not perceived as a ‘real’ Bluegrass musician? Did she lack the ‘chops’, the right ‘creds’, a good enough reputation, or not invest enough years of her life as a musician to be accepted? Is the Bluegrass establishment reluctant to acknowledge her contribution because she was from the Southwest, and not from the Southeastern side of the U.S.? Did she fail to show, at any time during her professional career, that her work ethic did not measure up to, or even exceed those of her fellow, male musicians? If these are seen as issues, they were not then, or when Wilene worked for years, before World War II, as an entertainer at barn dances, tent shows and on radio programs. Having studied voice, she sang beautifully, and often. As a teenaged professional entertainer,  she moved easily between piano, guitar, and fiddle. By the time she met Bill Monroe, Wilene Forrester was a seasoned, capable and confident multi- instrumentalist and was very, very good.

But, if it was the post war determination to regroup and rebuild America that led Wilene to abruptly say goodbye to her dream, we will never know. She left the group, and along with husband, Howdy Forrester, started a family.  She worked for the rest of her life as a civil servant, performing occasionally.  Wilene Forrester passed away in Nashville from Alzheimer’s in 1999.

Even today, like many women artists and performers, Wilene is not given credit for her work, and not seen as standing alone,’glowing like a beacon in the night’. Instead, women have been presented as being only a mere reflection of light cast by men, who are promoted as the authentic sources of creative energy. Women have to prove that they are worthy of any acknowledgement by their associations with certain men. Critics are quick to discredit  and second guess a woman’s accomplishments, qualifying and redefining how men actually made their accomplishments possible. Because men also have others through out their lives, helping them along the way, it’s clear that women are held to a different standard than men by having always to explain themselves and justify their accomplishments.  Yes, if it hadn’t been for the loving Grandfather that taught her how to play the fiddle she likely wouldn’t have learned. Or, if not for Howdy Forrester, who recognized her talent and personality and wanted her by his side, as a musician and as a wife for 47 years, she may not have been there to take the next step (or maybe she could have and also would have remained in the music business awhile longer).

Bill Monroe also saw and utilized those attributes along with Wilene’s growing experience and professionalism, enlisting, “Sally Ann” (Monroe coined her name, as well) to perform with them from 1943 through 1946. He clearly saw her value and benefited from her talent and personality. It’s not an issue of whether she was paid, but rather that she has been made to seem that she was not really there, and simply “holding a place” for someone more valuable until he could return. We see her in photos and hear her on recordings, and because she was neither invisible nor silent, that should be enough to establish her presence in the band. What we are really lacking is her version of her own story. Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester, either did not seize the opportunity to speak about herself, or any of her experiences, or was not offered an opportunity to do so. This is a sad loss for all musicians and for those interested in Bluegrass music.

The music industry should recognize and validate that, just as Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass “Boys” are given credit for “working through coming up with their sound”, Wilene was there, working through it, alongside them. It is her sound, too. Just as they own a part of that contribution, she owns a part of it, too. This is the legacy of Wilene Russell “Sally Ann” Forrester. She must be given credit, and not forgotten as “The First Woman in Bluegrass”.

Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys II

Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester with Bill Munro and his Bluegrass Boys 1946

Many thanks to Murphy Hicks Henry as my resource, for her insightful book about Wilene and other great women in Bluegrass: “Pretty Good for a Girl, Women in Bluegrass” (University of Illinois Press)and for her interviews on YouTube and in print.

 


Helen Carter of Mother Maybelle and The Carter Sisters

Helen CarterHelen Carter

 

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana The Carter Family, among the original Americana performers, were the first to become well-known outside of their region. Though they were unassuming and humble people, they had an enormous impact on music both within, and outside of America and brought American Country and Roots music to the forefront. Helen Carter continued their efforts with nearly 60 years as a musician, entertainer and songwriter. Her life and the lives of the Carter Family are a testimony of their love for each other, their regard for American Traditional music and their unfaltering efforts for the survival of both.

carterfamily

The original Carter Trio, Maybelle Carter, A.P. Carter and Sara Carter

Helen Carter was the eldest of three daughters born to Maybelle Addington Carter and Ezra Carter, a railroad worker. She was born in 1927, in Maces Springs, Virginia, the year that the original Carter Trio began their career in earnest. Comprised of her mother, Maybelle, along with her cousin, Sara Dougherty Carter and Sara’s husband, A.P. Carter (Ezra’s brother), the trio began performing around the Clinch Mountain area during the early years of The Great Depression.  For 17 years, the three were intensely involved in recording and performing the music of rural Appalachia. In addition, Maybelle gave birth to two more daughters during that time, June (b. 1929) and Anita (b. 1933).

Early Carter Family

The Carter Family (clockwise), A.P. Carter, (Sara and A.P.’s daughter) Janette Carter, Ezra Carter, Sara Dougherty Carter, Maybelle Addington Carter, (Ezra and Maybelle’s children) June, Anita and Helen Carter.

Carter Family historians can pinpoint to Helen Carter’s radio debut as young as 10 years old, but, she formally began her career at the age of 12, when she sang backup harmony along with her sisters. She performed twice each week, and was paid $15 per week, for four years. The trio and children were known as The Carter Family Band when they were featured on XERA, the most powerful radio station in North America, ten times more powerful than any radio station in the country, in the late 1930’s. Because the radio program was heard by all of North America and beyond, the Carter Family Band performances were the first time that Country music was heard beyond the borders of America.

By 1941, times had changed. World War II was underway and the country was finally starting to recover from the Great Depression.  The Carter Family moved to Richmond,Virginia in 1943. Sara and A. P. Carter had divorced in 1936, and Sara had already remarried a cousin of A.P. and Ezra Carter. The couple decided to move on to California, and A.P. Carter retired to run a general store in Virginia, signaling the end of the original Carter Trio.

CarterSisters_Profile

June, Mother Maybelle, Anita and Helen Carter

But the show did indeed go on, only this time, as Mother Maybelle and The Carter Sisters. Anita Carter was usually the lead singer, with Mother Maybelle, Helen and June backing up the vocals, on guitar, accordion, and auto harp, respectively. The quartet was a successful act heard on “The Old Dominion Barn Dance”, a radio program based in Richmond, Virginia, later moving to Knoxville, Tennessee, as “The Tennessee Barn Dance”. From 1946 through 1948, the quartet could be heard performing compositions such as “Wildwood Flower” and “Will the Circle be Unbroken”, which was the Carter Family signature song, even then.  Along with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, performed a very thin Chet Atkins, the legendary guitarist.  He nearly starved with a duo called Homer and Jethro and was very thankful to have been hired for the show.

Mother Maybelle, the Carter Sisters with Chet Atkins

Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters with Chet Atkins

In 1949, the quartet recorded and released their first record, and in 1950, Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters were inducted into The Grand Ole’ Opry. The girls were among the youngest inductees, with Helen at age 22, June at 20 and Anita, age 17. That same year, Helen married Glenn Jones, a pilot, and through the 1950’s they had four children. During that decade, the Carter Sisters were very busy. They were the first nationally televised Country music act presented by a brand new medium, television, appearing on the “Kate Smith Show. They were also the first Country music act to tour a Communist country, Czechoslovakia. Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters also performed as the opening act for Elvis Presley’s tour from 1956 through 1957. During those same years,  Helen was contributing as a songwriter with ”Poor Old Heartsick Me,” becoming a hit song for the singer Margie Bowes in 1959. Another of Helen’s songs was a top-twenty hit for Ann-Margret,  “What Am I Supposed to Do?”, released in 1962. Helen also collaborated with Dolores Dinning of the Dinning Sisters and they recorded songs for MGM, as well.

CarterSisters_Cover

Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters

Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, Mother Maybelle and The Carter Sisters saw much success and received many accolades. In 1960, they began a long collaboration with Johnny Cash, recording with him as back up singers and musicians, as well as  performing with him in concerts. Helen Carter, her mother and sisters enjoyed considerable notoriety with their most successful albums, ‘Sunny Side’ (1964),’Travelin’ Minstrel Band’ (1972) and ‘Three Generations’ (1974). In 1970 they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as the “First Family of Country Music”.The Carter Family Band received the “Favorite Country Group” award by the American Music Awards in 1973. The quartet made regular appearances on The Johnny Cash Show in the 1970’s with June, who had since married Johnny Cash.

Along with her mother, Helen Carter was recorded by the Smithsonian Institution in 1975. For the next three decades, the Carter Family was honored for their work as gospel musicians (Music City News Awards, 1980). They were also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1988, recognized as Bluegrass musicians (Bluegrass Hall of Fame 2001) and rewarded for their lifetime body of work (Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award 2005).

Helen Carter, throughout her long career, is credited as being the best musician and songwriter among the Carter Sisters. It was Helen who assumed the responsibility of arranging the group’s vocals. An unusual technique that Helen Carter worked into the vocal arrangements was the slick, seamless transfer of the lead vocal from one singer to the next. It was so subtle that the listener may not have been aware that a change of vocalist had occurred.  It was also common for songs to have multiple key changes, which added complexity to the arrangements.

In addition to being an excellent musician, songwriter and performer, Helen Carter Jones was the mother of four sons, a wife of forty-eight years and by all accounts, a very capable, strong, and caring person. In the early years, when her Mother, Maybelle, was at a gig or on tour, Helen would care for her younger sisters, cooking, cleaning and providing for their needs, even though she was still young. Helen was the backbone, and the memory of the Carter Family.  Her late sister, Anita, recalled, “Helen was like a book. She remembered everything….all the songs and all the keys”. Helen Carter cared about her family’s musical tradition and was dedicated to preserving it by recording a solo album in honor of her mother, with her son, David Jones. Rosanne Cash, the daughter of Johnny Cash and step-daughter of June Carter Cash, credits Helen Carter for the time that she took teaching her the guitar, and for being a major influence as a musician and songwriter.

Tragedy did not spare the Carter Family. In 1968, Helen Carter Jones’ son, Kenneth Jones, died in an auto accident when he was 16 years old. Ten years later, Maybelle Carter died at the age of 69 due to poor health. Helen ceased to tour in 1995 due to health reasons, and in 1998, she passed away at the age of 71. Her sister, Anita, followed her, passing away in 1999 at the age of 69. Both June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash passed away within four months of each other, June, age 73, in May, and Johnny, age 71, in September, 2003. 

The late Chet Atkins said of Helen Carter, “She was the best musician in the bunch, I guess. She played accordion and piano and guitar just like Maybelle. She added a lot to the group. The only bad part of it was that I had to carry her accordion,” Chet said, laughing. “They’d say, ‘Helen, don’t you carry that old accordion—you’re down in your back. You can’t carry that. Chester, get that accordion!’” Although Helen Carter always primarily performed as an accordionist, she was seen less and less with the accordion and more often with the guitar throughout the latter 1950’s and 1960’s.  By 1969, when Helen Carter was 42 years old, ‘The Carter Personnel’ lists Helen Carter as performing as a vocalist and makes no mention of the accordion.

Helen Carter

Helen Myrl Carter (1927-1998)

http://www.explorescottcountyva.org/explore/carter-family-fold


Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons

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Ben Lovett

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Born in Cardiff, Wales in 1986, Ben Lovett met Marcus Mumford while they were students at Kings College in London.   Along with Englishmen, Ted Dwane and Winston Marshall, they magically came together in 2007, to form Mumford and Sons, a name more evocative of an old time blacksmith or haberdashery, rather than a band.

Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons debuted with an EP in 2008, Love Your Ground. Their first full length studio album, Sigh No More, was released in 2010.  While promoting their album in the U.S. in 2011, they credit their introduction to American Roots music to Emmy Lou Harris and began writing songs for their second studio album. These songs would eventually become part of their next album released in 2012, Babel. Also in 2011, Mumford and Sons toured the U.S. with the Old Crowe Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros on the inaugural Railroad Revival Tour. This tour was inspired by the Festival Express tour across Canada in 1970 that featured Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, The Grateful Dead and The Band.

Winning awards since 2010, notably the Grammy for Best Album in 2012, for Babel, the British band has distinguished itself by becoming known as an Americana band, although none of the members were born or raised, American.  This has offended some, and inspired others. Is it possible for someone who has not participated in the American Experience to incorporate the values and vision of America and to reinterpret it, and sell it back to us? To understand that they have done this, one must understand something about the Americana genre and how it is different.  Americana is not a preservationist genre of music. It recognizes that Americans have a deep past, always migrating from somewhere else, bringing along with them, their experiences and melding them together with each new beginning. Like a language, Americana music is ever growing, moving and reinventing itself. Music, no matter how exclusive and rarified, has little meaning in the social context, if no one relates to it or cares about it. America listened to Mumford and Sons and it seemed to recognize that they were special. In turn, Mumford and Sons has become a highly visible and influential band in American music. The presence of the piano accordion in this band, more than any other event to date, has meant an exciting resurgence in interest in the instrument in the US.

Since co-founding Mumford and Sons, Ben Lovett has evolved as a multi-instrumentalist, producer, as well as founding a record company and a live music promotion team in the UK, Communion. Lovett produced Ellie Goulding’s critically acclaimed album Lights in 2010, as well as a self titled album for Simon Felice, formerly of the Felice Brother’s, in 2011.