I’m releasing this interview with Kentucky musician/artist/icon Cari Anna Norris, recorded in the summer of 2021.
As Kentucky mourns her passing this week, I wanted to honor her memory with this sweet interview I conducted as part of my dance project, the Kentucky Tour de Dance.
She tells us about her grandmother, banjo legend Lily May Ledford of the Coon Creek Girls, whose death when Cari was 15 was a pivotal moment in her musical life.
She also discusses her other early musical influences, including the legendary Jean Ritchie, Sue Massek, Rich Kirby, and others, and how the ancient music of Appalachia helped her feel connected to her ancestors.
And she rounds out the interview with some metaphysical musings on the synergistic relationship between music and dance in Appalachia.
Read more about the Kentucky Tour de Dance here.
welcome to the what dreamers do podcast. i’m your host carla govan and appalachian musician flatfoot dancer, mama creative and dreamer from kentucky. i’m on a mission to inspire others to realize their dreams and live their most creative lives. grab your mason jar full of sweet tea or something a little stronger, and pull up a chair, because it’s time to get your dream off. that’s what dreamers do. i’m carla grover, as you know, and i’m sitting here with my dear friend, miss carrie norris. thanks for joining us, carrie. thanks for having me. yeah, well, and you guys. i know you’re interested in appalachian music and culture and i just have to tell you that carrie is basically like kentucky royalty. her grandmother was a person named willie mae live for who isn’t one of our state and national treasures for old time kentucky music she kind of helped put it on the map played for the president. maybe a king or queen or two, i think still
roosevelt, king and queen of england. and i think 38
she was an amazing musician and fiddler banjo player guitar. she kind of did it all and carrie just kind of absorbed it all. from her even plays or instruments. so i’m super excited to to introduce you guys to carrie and her music baby
when did you know that you wanted to be a musician? or did you? was it ever even a conscious choice?
great question. music has always been an incredibly strong force in my life. i can’t ever remember a demarcation of oh, music, you know, it was just like, and i think that’s because my lillie mae sang to me and rock me from the time i was an infant, you know, she was she kept me until i was nine months old, full time on my parents work. and then after that on the weekends, so you know, when they talk about the transmission of, uh, you know, music or a heritage or whatever, i just was so fortunate to live that with her. and you know, my dad tells a story of like, um, he was i was in the crib one day, and he walks in, and this was before i talked, and he walked in and i was humming. i was like, humming a tune, you know? and he’s like, what? is that? what i thought? and he’s like, yeah, she was humming, you know, way down yonder in the pub. which, you know, willie mays thing to me all the time. and, and so. so yeah, i just i’ve always been, really it’s just been a really strong force that slipped within me. and so no, there’s not really been a time when when i wasn’t aware that that that that was present and as just a really strong part of my life. so that’s basically your native language. one of here is my first line. my first language. absolutely, absolutely.
i can’t remember if it was your mom, i remember somebody telling the story one time of, of literally me holding you. and like holding you like this and just singing right at you. that’s that image has always stuck with me. so i know, you know, obviously, our grandparents and parents are a huge influence on us. and jesse wills, whom i interviewed last time talked so much about his parents and his parents and his dad, especially giving him music. but also in kentucky, we’re fortunate that it’s just like you can get swing it out without it and a great musician, and i know you’ve been influenced by a lot of other really amazing players. so you want to tell us about some of your other significant influence for sure. well,
i you know, i mean, i will say matt, just growing up in my in my house with my parents. we moved from kentucky when i was four, and lived in columbia, south carolina till i was 10. so, you know, i was away and when we saw lillie mae a couple times a year after that, but during that time, but there was always music i went on and, you know, my parents were just huge music lovers and played a lot of good music, you know, on the stereo, you know, james taylor and the beatles, and joni mitchell and george harrison. and so it was always going, you know, my dad’s guitar player songwriter, so i was constantly hearing him make music, just a very musically rich environment there. but then, when i was 11, we had moved back to kentucky. and my parents were in a string band, so they were you know, playing string band music with a hammer dulcimer and fiddle vanship play banjo, guitar, bass and everything and the hammer dulcimer player knew about the hyneman settlement school and their family folk week. so our family attended that. and jean ritchie, was there rich kirby was there tommy bloods so you know, john mccutcheon came and performed there. then the richie baker. and i, you know, i was in the phase of, you know, all this music is so dumb, i dyed my friends knew my parents were doing this at that time. but then when i was when i was 15, loving my passed away, and that event really changed things for me. i, i was i was just determined to maintain that connection somehow. and it was the music that was my, my way, my way of doing that. and so you know, when i heard jean ritchie saying cali in han men, it was like it was so powerful for me, i just felt that feeling of the ancestors and this this music that was so powerfully connected to that whole energy. and, you know, that was something i desperately needed to feel like there was a way to maintain that connection, you know, and so started singing i had a little volkswagen rabbit, you know, when i turned 16, and i sang in the car all the time, i played the jean ritchie tapes, learn the songs, learn the words, you know, sing it, and i was probably the only 16 year old learning old regular baptist hymns and matt, volkswagen
man, i think that’s about i was 17 when i met you, and we’re really close to the same age. so we were we were in the same headspace. i mean, i definitely liked rock and roll and sure, like, sure. i won’t say my contemporaries because i was listening to the music my big brother’s listen to but i, what did it for me is moving from eastern kentucky to central kentucky. and feeling that homesickness and realizing just what i’d grown up with and how it was a little bit unusual, and it wasn’t like everybody’s experienced that i was meeting in central kentucky. and it made me want to cling to it too. but i just remember i remember hearing about you sound before i met you, and then you played the banjo already, which i hadn’t started playing banjo. so i was longing to play the banjo for that. yeah. but yeah, i instantly felt that we were kindred spirits. and that connection that we had with our grandmothers so. so it’s been really cool to see you continue to make music all these years. and i know that the places that you’ve hung out, you know, you’ve like me have sought out a lot of these elders in eastern kentucky. at places like hindman settlement school in cowan creek mountain music school and learned a lot of the tunes and you’ve learned even a lot of tunes from your grandmother that you didn’t learn necessarily when you were little. you’ve gone back now and learn them as an adult. right?
right, right. yeah, i had the rich kirby and agco produced a cd of willie mays music came out in 2001, i think and so we went back and did a lot of searching for old recordings, and i ran into things i had never heard before. and
it’s yeah, that’s really cool the way these they just keep cropping up to every now and then like some desta digital or some old video, at least it’ll be new to me that i haven’t seen of your grandmother. yeah. so that comes up. one of the things that we have been talking about in this series is the way that this music is so intimately connected with the dance styles of you know, that you can’t really divorce them from each other and so on. i just wondered if you have any, anything you’ve noticed about playing for dances or anything you’ve any thoughts you’ve had? and i’m kind of putting you on the spot about this, but about the way the to connect, or does it feel different to play tunes when you’re applying for a square dance or for a flat footer versus just plantings with no.
i will say this, some of the most joyful times that i’ve had flying my banjo or have been for dances, i think that it’s a synergistic thing that happens, you know, and i mean, this music is the tunes or dance or this dance, their dance music, and they’re yeah, there’s just like a preparation that happens when you get the to go. and that’s just really awesome and fun and powerful. and i think, i don’t know, that’s maybe a more metaphysical answer than you were looking for. but
we can be as metaphysical as you want.
yeah, yeah. and i’ve done some with my kids at school, i teach this kind of stuff that kids and i’ve actually gotten to where i can call a dance and play. it’s the same virginia real and they you know, they just they love it. it’s it’s, it’s very clear to me that the two, how the two are connected, you know, they just almost seem like one thing in a way rather than two different things that you happen to be doing together.
yeah. yeah, for sure. and it’s been fun in this. in this course, in this experience to kind of dive in to each tune as it comes along with each new picker we meet and really think about, okay, which steps go with this tune? and how can i really bring out this rhythmic motif or this little slide in the middle? so we’re excited to to hear from you today because we’ve been dancing to fiddle thus far. so this is gonna be our first team where we’re dancing to the banjo. and, and that’ll be fun to see. you know how that feels different than the dance into a fiddle tune. so what can you tell us about what you’re gonna play for us today?
sure, i’m gonna play a tune that lily may learn from her father. his name was dark white ledford. he was a fiddle player and multi instrumentalist, but the tune is called hot coffee, chicken and gone. it’s a pretty simple tune. it’s not a real complicated tune, but it’s it’s it works works pretty good for dancing.
all right, so i’m excited to try dancing to it. all right. all right, thanks all right. well, friends, it is with great sadness that i have to tell you that miscarry, anna norris, my dear friend and treasured linchpin of music, and art and kentucky, passed away last week. and the whole musical community here has been shocked and reeling, and trying to come to grips with this great tragedy. we recently had the service for her and honored her life and her legacy here in our state and in the world. and i just wanted to put this show up this week to honor her. i’m really extra grateful now that i got to interview her for this, which was part of my kentucky tour de dance program, part of the dance education, outreach work that i’ve been doing here in the state of kentucky and beyond. and carrie was gracious enough to, to join me for that. and so i just wanted to have a little carry moment here on the show today. and if you haven’t ever checked her out or explored her music, she was a very unique voice. and not only knowledgeable about traditional music, but the world of art, and quilting and visual art, and more avant garde types of music as well. and she was a composer so so carrie, we love you, and may your memory be a blessing to all those whose lives you touched with your music and whose lives you have have yet to touch with your music. rest in peace sister.
thank you so much for joining me this week. if you want to make sure you never miss an episode, please hit subscribe wherever you’re listening now, or visit my website to get on my email email@example.com when you sign up, you’ll instantly receive my milton mama digital care package, a bundle of music and videos to help you wring every drop of yeehaw out of life. you’ll even find a dance lesson as well as my granny’s cornbread recipe with new goodies being added all the time. i’ll see you next thursday on the wet dreamers do podcast
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