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Bluegrass superstar Claire Lynch brings glass ceiling-smashing sound to Melting Point

Post Time:Jul 26,2013Classify:Industry NewsView:338

Novelty act and trailblazing heroine, naïve debutante and sagely songmistress, backwoods girl and big city woman — Claire Lynch has seen it all, and done most of it twice.

 

A longtime fixture in the bluegrass scene, Claire Lynch got her start in 1973 with a little-known band called Hickory Wind. At just 18 years-old, she was an anomaly in a field dominated by old mountain men with her striking presence and sweetly melodic voice that stood out against a field dominated by rough-edged singers with long beards and low-slung guitars.

 

When I started, my surroundings were fairly humble,” Lynch said. “I did get to play a lot of the festivals, which were much more sophisticated. They had beautiful lights, better stage management, were just much less countrified.”

 

After touring with Hickory Wind, the group changed its name to the Front Porch String Band in the mid-70’s, winning acclaim and awards as they became one of the key players in the rapidly evolving bluegrass scene. Retiring from the road in 1981, the group was dormant for over ten years, only to return in 1991 with “Lines and Traces,” an album that would kick off a string of well-deserved nominations and awards for the now-beloved group, including two GRAMMY nominations and a 1997 International Bluegrass Music Association win for Lynch as Female Vocalist of the Year.

 

The Front Porch String Band retired once again in 2000, and Lynch went with them. Believing she was done with music forever, she retired to focus on her personal songwriting and spend time with her family. Luckily, she couldn’t stay away forever; reinventing herself as a solo artist, Lynch returned in 2005 as the head of the Claire Lynch Band, an ever-shifting bluegrass collective for which she sings and writes the majority of the music. Lynch saw another round of album releases and awards with her new persona, receiving multiple nominations from the IBMA and an induction into the Alabama Bluegrass Hall of Fame. Now with her ninth solo album, “Dear Sister,” under her belt and a recent $50,000 grant from the United States Artist Fellowship, Lynch is positioned to stand tall as a giant of the bluegrass field — and as a groundbreaking heroine to much of its female membership.

 

Emerging as one of the predominant female acts in a largely male-dominated field brings its own set of challenges and barriers to break. While women in bluegrass today are treated as largely equal to their male counterparts, Lynch’s earliest days on the bluegrass circuit were categorized by a cautious acceptance, which sidelined her even as it brought her notoriety.

 

When I played at first, I felt like everybody liked me, and was welcoming me,” Lynch said. “I was a novelty, a little refreshing spot in the lineup.”

 

While Lynch was never kept down or treated unfairly because of her gender, she still recognizes that the bluegrass culture of the 70’s was a somewhat sexist institution — hardly a surprise, given their longtime members’ history.

 

It came out of a culture. You look at the Carter family, who used to have to travel around with chaperones, and three women did most of the music,” Lynch said. “I have a friend, Robert Oermann, who wrote a book on country music, and he cited this story: In the 20’s and 30’s, if you were a woman traveling around without a chaperone, a father or a husband or an uncle, you were a hussy, basically! And when I started in 1973, a lot of those traditions were still being preserved. And I think that’s a lot of the reason why it took us women so long to move out of the mountains and into the city.”

 

Lynch believes that while she was only a small part of the sea change that came to the bluegrass circuit, it’s hard to deny that her life and career have helped to create a culture where women are rewarded for their work, rather than shunned or set aside.

 

Women have really come into their own. A lot of women are headlining bands now, when that was almost unheard of when I first started out,” Lynch said. “We’ve really come a long way from that era…all that stuff’s gone now. It’s a good thing.”

Source: http://www.redandblack.com/variety/bluegrass-superAuthor: shangyi

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