Lady of Tradition
Bluegrass master Lorraine Jordan is helping the next generationBy Donna Campbell Smith
Video courtesy of Ted Lehmann
Lorraine Jordan — known as the “Lady of Tradition” — taught herself to play the guitar at an early age and got her start in bluegrass while still in high school. She was playing bass guitar with the West Craven High School Band at a school function when some local bluegrass musicians took notice of her. They invited her to join their jam sessions.
Eventually, Theodore and Hattie Morris, who hosted the jam sessions in their home, formed a band and toured bluegrass festivals, exposing Jordan to the country’s top bands. Her foot was in the door.
It was in the ’70s when Jordan heard a band called Seldom Scene and fell in love with its traditional style of music. She decided to buy a mandolin and try some lead picking and singing. In 1984, she moved to Garner. By this time, Jordan knew she wanted to form her own band, develop her own style and write bluegrass music.
And she did just that. Her band, Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road, is now one of the top bluegrass bands in the nation. No more camping out at the festivals. She now arrives in a big tour bus with her portrait painted on its sides.
Then the awards started. She won Recorded Event of the Year in 2006 and 2009 from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). In 2015, she did a recording project with 11 Grand Ole Opry stars titled “Country Grass.” Also in 2015, the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America awarded Jordan Bluegrass Traditional Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year for “That’s Kentucky.” And in 2017, she performed on the Grand Ole Opry stage. She and her band now have two No. 1 songs on the national charts.
Helping fellow musicians
Jordan knows she was fortunate to have had help from some great folks in getting her music career going. Today, Jordan is paying it back by helping others. Two of her projects that stand out are the formation of the Daughters of Blue Grass and the launching of young Garrett Newton’s career.
Jordan got the idea for the Daughters of Bluegrass while she was on the road. She realized there was no project for an all-women musicial group. She and her banjo player at the time, Gena Britt, called together 15 other female musicians and recorded an entire project with the female pickers and singers. In 2006 and 2009 they won national awards. There are now more than 200 Daughters of Bluegrass.
Garrett Newton is nothing short of a banjo phenom. The not-yet 18-year-old has led his Garrett Newton Band to become a finalist for an IBMA award, get a song on the national charts and sign with a national recording label.
“When I first met Garrett Newton, the first thing he told me was that he loved the traditional music my band played,” Jordan remembers. Then the young teen asked if she wanted to hear him play and ran off to get his banjo. Jordan was impressed by his talent and his knowledge of bluegrass music.
She made a deal with the young man: She’d let him tour with her and play one number at each concert if he’d work her band sales table. He accepted her offer.
Eventually Garrett asked Jordan to help him form his own band, so he could play more than one song per show.
“He knew exactly who he wanted in the band and gave me his list. It was quite impressive, and it even included me on bass guitar,” she said.
Jordan recently fulfilled another dream of hers: to own a family‑oriented place where folks can come to hear live bluegrass music. In 2014, the dream came true when she opened Lorraine’s Coffee House in Garner (lorrainescoffeehouse.com).
Young and old come to listen to big name bands and enjoy the family atmosphere. Jordan continues to give back.
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