Welcome to the CDF’s Featured Artist page. Every so often, during this time when we are not able to gather in person, we want to share the work of some of our favorite artists with you, virtually. We are delighted to feature our final Featured Artist of 2021, Aubrey Atwater.
About Aubrey Atwater
If you’re around any group of mountain dulcimer enthusiasts, mention Aubrey Atwater’s name and watch their eyes light up. Aubrey was a close friend of iconic Appalachian musician Jean Ritchie, who died in 2015, and is regarded by many as Ritchie’s natural heir. She lives in Warren RI with her husband Elwood Donnelly; the two perform and record as the Atwater-Donnelley Duo. They have also produced thirteen recordings and eight books together. She is a beloved teacher, a magical storyteller, and a great favorite at the Colorado Dulcimer Festival. (Also an astonishing clogger!)
Here is Aubrey talking about her musical sources and inspirations (with thanks to Folkworks, which originally published a longer version of this interview): One of my sisters policed my record collection and required me to listen to artists like The Youngbloods and Joni Mitchell. So I started following Joni Mitchell and other artists of the time. My mother listened to Peter, Paul, and Mary, and my step-father played ukelele and sang wonderful, corny, sentimental songs. Those were some of my folk music beginnings.
At 11, I learned some guitar chords, but for a long time didn’t do anything with them. At 15, I got a Beatles book and had a moment that was a huge turning point. One song only had two chords and showed an easy way to play them. I started to sing and play instantly. It was a defining moment because I didn’t know I could sing yet. That was 37 years ago and I’ve been playing and singing ever since.
The first time I met a mountain dulcimer was at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1986. My roommate introduced me to the music of Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Richard and Linda Thompson, and John Renbourn, some of whom played dulcimer. A friend of hers had a dulcimer. He taught me two Steeleye Span songs and I was smitten. I found it natural and intuitive to play, especially because I already played guitar. I was attracted to the dulcimer because of its unique appearance and the fact that it is NOT a guitar, which so many folk singers played. I liked the idea of playing something different.
At 19, I spent a year in Europe. That was my introduction to traditional Irish folk music, which was another epiphany. So I set out to learn traditional Irish songs. Later on my parents bought a house in Ireland. I would visit and my mom and I would bring back recordings of traditional Celtic singers and musicians. Later Elwood, my husband, and I would discover a whole lot of other Celtic and English groups when they came through New England. We were very involved with a folk club, Stone Soup Coffeehouse, in Providence, for about 20 years. It still exists in its 4th decade. During those years, we put on 35 concerts a year of musicians from the United States and beyond.
Support Aubrey Atwater
You can find additional lessons from Aubrey and more by clicking the link here.
You can download handouts for Aubrey’s Spanish Lady and the Slap Strum by clicking the buttons below.
You can visit our previous featured artists by clicking the link below.Featured Artists