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Alison Brown

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Progressive bluegrass banjoist Alison Brown made her name not only as a virtuosic instrumentalist, but as an accomplished jazz-influenced composer, a combination that earned plenty of comparisons to Béla Fleck and David Grisman. Brown began playing the banjo before reaching her teens and developed quickly, winning numerous contests and even getting a chance to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. She was also an excellent student, and temporarily left music to attend Harvard University; following graduation, she worked as an investment banker for a couple of years, but quit to pursue music. Brown gained her first wide exposure as a member of Alison Krauss' Union Station, covering the banjo slot from Krauss' 1987 debut album through 1990. That year, she departed to record her own debut, the entirely instrumental Simple Pleasures, for Vanguard, and also spent some time as the musical director for folkie Michelle Shocked. Brown's 1992 follow-up, Twilight Motel, was jazzier and more eclectic, and 1994's Look Left displayed her increasing interest in world and ethnic music. Released in 1996, The Alison Brown Quartet refocused on her jazz sensibility and found her switching to guitar on a few tracks; it was also her last album before moving to the Compass imprint, for which she debuted in 1998 with Out of the Blue. Issued in 2000, Fair Weather featured a duet with Béla Fleck on "Leaving Cottondale," which won Brown a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental. Her follow-up album, Replay, was another of her jazzier outings. Brown sang about parenthood and musicianship on Stolen Moments, which arrived in spring 2005. She released Evergreen, a collection of holiday music with Joe Craven, in 2007, followed by Company You Keep in 2009. After a six-year gap, Brown returned in 2015 with The Song of the Banjo, a versatile collection that included a slew of guest spots from artists like the Indigo Girls, Keb' Mo', and Compass Records labelmate Colin Hay. ~ Steve Huey

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August 7, 1962 in Hartford, CT

Years Active:

'90s, '00s, '10s