Speaker Sessions: Ballad Singer Donna Ray Norton on Murder Ballads - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Speaker Sessions: Ballad Singer Donna Ray Norton on Murder Ballads

October 10, 2023 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Date: Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Time: 7:00 p.m. Eastern

Location: Birthplace of Country Music Museum, 101 Country Music Way, Bristol, VA 24201 

Cost: Free but please RSVP HERE

Join us on Tuesday, October 10, 7:00pm for our next Speaker Sessions as we explore balladry and murder ballads as part of “spooky season.” Eighth-generation ballad singer Donna Ray Norton will explore the history of murder ballads in story and song, and share examples of ballads that have flipped the narrative of female victim to protagonist.

This program is offered in-person at the museum and virtually via YouTube (rather than our usual Zoom). When RSVPing at the link above, please indicate how you will be attending, and if you will be joining us virtually, the YouTube link will be sent to you on the Monday prior to the event.

This program is complementary programming to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music exhibit, on display through December 31, 2023. This exhibit has been funded in part by grants from Virginia Humanities, the Massengill-DeFriece Foundation, and the IBMA Foundation, along with local women-led business sponsorship from Friends of Southwest Virginia, The Crooked Road, Artemis Consulting Services, LLC, Bristol Ballet, Suzi Griffin (Studio 6), Kim Sproles (KS Promotions), and Kayla Stevenson (Matte Nail Bar). East Tennessee Foundation Arts Fund provided grant funding for related public programming, and the Virginia Tourism Corporation provided grant funding for the exhibit’s website.

About Donna Ray Norton

When Donna Ray Norton thinks about Appalachian music, she says, “I think about home.” Home for Donna Ray is Revere, also known as Sodom Laurel, in Madison County. It’s hard to imagine a deeper musical heritage than Norton’s. She is an eighth- generation ballad singer, the granddaughter of fiddler Byard Ray and Morris Norton, who played the banjo and mouth bow, daughter of singer Lena Jean Ray, and cousin to Sheila Adams and many other prominent Madison County musicians.

Like her forbearers, Donna Ray grew up hearing her family’s music and stories in her home; but it did not always appeal to her. It was just one of those things that you grew accustomed to, and you learned from hearing them. When she was seventeen, however, a senior project in high school was what really got me interested in my heritage. Researching the tradition of ballads led to learning them—from her mother, from Adams, Marilyn McMinn McReadie, and Bobby McMillon—and then to performing.

Norton is now a highly regarded member of the younger generation of Madison County ballad singers and storytellers. She was featured in the documentary Madison County Project, which won the 2005 Audience Choice Award at the Asheville Film Festival. She has performed at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival, Mars Hill University Heritage Day, and at many other venues in western North Carolina every year since she began her musical journey. In 2005, she was honored with the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Youth Award for Balladry. In 2006, Donna Ray performed with the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra in their Blue Skies/Red Earth concert series in Raleigh. She also toured western North Carolina with the Symphony concert at the end of May 2007 and received The Key to the City of Hickory for her contributions to musical heritage. In September 2007 Donna Ray performed at the Berkeley Old Time Music Festival in Berkeley California and was scheduled for a return performance there in September of 2019! She has been performing across North Carolina at several different venues, including a show at the NC Museum of History. She performed at the 50th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. in July of 2017 with her cousins, Sheila Kay Adams and Melanie Rice Penland. She and Melanie performed in Washington at the Folklore Society of Greater Washington’s Getaway in October of 2018. She has been a part of many different performances celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Cecil Sharp traveling through the Appalachian Mountains and collecting a ton of old ballads from people in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These shows were in Blowing Rock and Mars Hill, NC and at The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol. Most recently Donna Ray has added hosting events to her long list of accomplishments. She, alongside her cousin Sheila Kay Adams, hosts a monthly Ballad Swap at the historic Old Marshall Jail Hotel and Zadie’s Restaurant.

Donna Ray has three albums for sale. Her newest album was produced by Grammy nominated, highly accomplished old time, bluegrass, and swing musician, Josh Goforth. Josh also provides the musical accompaniment for Donna Ray’s first ever old time song, featured on this album. A special treat for any listener, for sure! One of her songs was used by Sarah Council, an independent choreographer, in a piece that she created telling the story of her southern roots and personal history, in New York City. She was featured on an album called “Big Bend Killing, The Appalachian Ballad Tradition”, with artists such as Sheila Kay Adams, Bobby McMillon, Alice Gerrard, Amythyst Kiah, Roy Andrade, David Holt, and Roseanne Cash. This album was released in the fall of 2017 and won a Grammy in 2018 for Best Album Compilation!


October 10, 2023
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
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Birthplace of Country Music Museum
101 Country Music Way
Bristol, VA 24201 United States
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