The Old-Time Herald Volume 9, Number 8


Alice Gerrard: With a Song in Her Heart
By Jack Bernhardt
About the eight years she spent living in a small house near Galax, Virginia, Alice recalls that “It was a time when it was really exciting,”Alice recalls.

“We’d drive these back roads and hear about musicians, and we’d track down old graveyards and old houses and visit people and look at photographs. That, in combination with actually playing music all the time, learning and going to fiddlers conventions and just being immersed in the whole community, it was a very exciting time. It was the last years of some of the really classic players whose styles were very different from each other. We were so fortunate to be there when that was still happening.”

Other musicians and music collectors had spent time in Mount Airy and Galax before Alice moved there in 1981. But Alice seemed different. Although she came as an outsider, she was accepted as a valued member of the community, and she gave at least as much as she received. Working with elder men and women who were often frail and in poor health, Alice was a source of moral, as well as material, support. She comforted friends when they were ill, often carrying with her a pot of soup or a stew she had prepared at home. She drove friends to doctor appointments and on errand runs. She held their hands when they were sick, and offered encouragement, friendship, and music to those tucked away in the institutional loneliness of nursing homes.

Alice’s Galax years were one chapter in a prolific career that has included performing and recording with some of the most cherished names in bluegrass and old-time music. Musicians and fans may know Alice through her pioneering work with Hazel Dickens. The four albums Alice and Hazel recorded between 1965 and 1975, plus their many performances at festivals and on concert stages provided both model and inspiration for other women who were drawn to the high lonesome sound of bluegrass.

Stints with the Strange Creek Singers, the Harmony Sisters, a duet album with Mike Seeger, and several recordings with her Galax friends further define her legacy and provide a source of repertoire for others to learn. And from 1987 until 2003, Alice edited and published the Old-Time Herald before stepping down to pursue her current musical interests as performer, songwriter, and recording artist.

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