The daughter of trained classical musicians, Alice Gerrard didn't grow up with bluegrass or folk music. Her earliest musical memories are of singing along with family members and friends around the living room piano. Gerrard's albums with West Virginia-born folksinger Hazel Dickens, however, rank among the most influential recordings in folk music history. Gerrard's first exposure to folk music came while she was attending Antioch College in Ohio. Inspired by the folk songs played by dorm-mates, Gerrard abandoned the piano and became absorbed with the more rural sounds that she heard on such albums as The Anthology of American Folk Music.
Moving to Washington, D.C., to complete her college co-op experience, Gerrard encountered a thriving bluegrass scene. Hanging out in her spare time at the Famous Restaurant in D.C., Gerrard met numerous bluegrass and old-timey musicians, including Mike Seeger of the New Lost City Ramblers, who introduced her to Dickens. With their mutual love of traditional American music, Gerrard and Dickens became close friends. Developing a unique harmony style that combined the alto-below-lead of the Carter Family and the tenor-above-lead of Bill Monroe, the two vocalists soon became frequent performers in the folk clubs and coffeehouses of the D.C. region. Their repertoire continued to expand as they studied sheet music at the Library of Congress and taped old-timey musicians at folk festivals.
Gerrard and Dickens' debut album, Who's That Knocking, released in 1965, was recorded for 75 dollars at the First Unitarian Church in Washington and featured accompaniment by David Grisman (mandolin), Lamar Grier (banjo), and Chubby Wise and Billy Baker (fiddles). Although their second album, Won't You Come and Sing for Me, featuring the same musicians, was recorded the same year, it wasn't released until 1973. Gerrard and Dickens' first two albums were later combined and released as Pioneering Women of Bluegrass in 1996. The 26 tunes on the reissued album include six Carter Family songs, five Monroe tunes, three original songs by Dickens, and Gerrard's hard-hitting satire of sexist attitudes toward women, "Custom Made Woman Blues."
Gerrard and Dickens' Get Acquainted Waltz was released in 1975 and featured accompaniment by Seeger, who was at the time Gerrard's husband, and his New Lost City Ramblers bandmate Tracy Schwartz. Gerrard subsequently recorded two albums with Seeger -- Mike & Alice Seeger in Concert in 1970 and Alice Gerrard & Mike Seeger in 1980 -- and one solo collection, Pieces of My Heart, in 1994. Starting in 1987, Gerrard published The Old Time Herald, a quarterly magazine devoted to the preservation of old-timey music, and continued as its editor-in-chief until 2003.
In 2004, she released Calling Me Home on the Copper Canyon label. She continued to perform solo and as part of Tom, Brad & Alice, with Tom Sauber and Brad Leftwich, as well as with the Herald Angels and Beverly Smith. It took eight years and a Kickstarter campaign to release Bittersweet, Gerrard's universally acclaimed debut of all original material, through her Spruce and Maple label. It was issued in 2013. In 2014 Gerrard returned to the studio with Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor as producer; the end result, Follow the Angel, was released by Tompkins Square in September of that year. ~ Craig Harris