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Atwater/Donnelly

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Biography

Rhode Island-born folk musicians Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly met in March 1987, when they shared emcee duties at the all-volunteer Stone Soup Coffeehouse in Providence, Rhode Island. Joining their voices together for an a cappella introduction to one of the evening's performers, they discovered that their combined tone was much greater than what they could produce on their own. In the years since, they've continued to make their greatest statements together. Married since 1989, the two vocalists and multi-instrumentalists have successfully explored a wide spectrum of traditional and contemporary folk music.

The granddaughter of famed violinist Mary Rose Eaton His, Atwater first played piano. Although she spent seven years studying classical technique, she left the instrument behind at the age of thirteen. She didn't return to music until switching to the acoustic guitar at the age of sixteen, and teaching herself to play folk-like songs by Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, James Taylor and Neil Young. While studying psychology, history and French at Brown University in Rhode Island, she became a frequent performer at campus coffeehouses and rallies. Shortly after volunteering to work at Stone Soup Coffeehouse, she met her future husband.

A self-taught guitarist and harmonica player, Donnelly has been performing music since the age of fifteen. In addition to performing as a soloist, he played with a rock band, the Lonely Things, from 1965 to 1967, and a group, the Kesar Band, that specialized in the traditional music of Cambodia in 1984.

Atwater-Donnelly's first two duo albums — Labor And Love, in 1988, and Culled From the Garden, in 1991 — focused on traditional songs from Ireland, England and Scotland. Their subsequent releases — Like the Willow Tree, in 1994, and Where the Wild Birds Do Whistle, in 1997 — were expanded to include traditional Appalachian tunes and original songs.

While the duo performs regularly throughout the Northeast, Atwater has periodically worked as a soloist. In addition to touring throughout the United States and the British Isles, she released a solo album, Simple Sentences, of her original songs in 1992. A book of her poems, Be Careful, Don't Walk Barefoot on My Kitchen Floor, was self-published in 1995. Atwater has also consistently added to her arsenal of musical instruments. A former student of influential dulcimer player Jean Ritchie, she's taught dulcimer classes at the Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky, the Ozark Folk Center in Arkansas and the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. Atwater is currently working on a live recording of children's music with students of American community schools in England.

Formed:

1987

Genre
Years Active:

'80s, '90s, '00s

Contemporaries