Ma Crow (“Ruth Abner”)
A longtime veteran of folk and bluegrass music, what were your earliest memories of hearing bluegrass music, and when did you begin your musical journey?
My earliest memories were my mom and dad singing together, plus people were singing everywhere in East Tennessee—in church, on the school bus, higher up on the mountainside from a neighbor’s house, the radio. My musical journey began when I was twelve years old in school and church. My first stage show with a band was in 1980. Yes, forty years ago!
When did you first learn to play guitar?
I never had formal training. I began teaching myself the guitar in the early 1970s, from my parents’ “Mel Bay” books. In the 1980s, I moved to the Ohio Valley, where I met musicians on both sides of the river from Louisville, Kentucky to Cincinnati, Ohio, and began attending jam sessions to continue my musical endeavors.
Who were some of your early musical influences?
Everyone who hummed a note in the beginning, and then anyone I heard on the radio from country to rock and roll.
In the 2019 drama The Mountain Minor, you portrayed the adult Ruth Abner. How did the opportunity arise, and how did you prepare for your role?
I already knew the writer-director, Dale Farmer, from the old-time music community in Cincinnati. He said I reminded him of his grandmother, who Ruth is based upon. When I watched the trailer for the movie, I saw how young Ruthie was already inspired to become a musician. She was fearless, just like a lot of women I knew from the mountains of East Tennessee.
What would you like viewers to take away from the film?
Pride in their Appalachian heritage.
You’ve performed in several collaborations throughout the years. What is the current lineup with Ma Crow & Co.?
I work with two other women in this group—Margie Drees on fiddle and vocals, Vicki Abbott on upright bass and vocals. We work as a trio but also invite various local musicians to join us for a 4th instrumentalist.
How and when did this collaboration begin?
I’ve worked with Margie and Vicki since 2011; we formed a four-piece female Bluegrass group, ‘The Lady Slippers,’ that produced three CDs. We were working on the fourth CD when we disbanded in 2017, leaving us as a trio and moving forward as ‘Ma Crow and Company.’
With cities slowly reopening after the pandemic, what plans do you have to get back out and perform?
We do hope for a better 2021. I don’t think we will pursue this until next spring. Music is medicine, and music played live brings peace to this world—this has been my life’s work.