Local Music Makers: A Pioneer Woman in Bluegrass, Louisa Branscomb
By Peggy Ratusz
There’s a lot to take in about Louisa Branscomb.
The trails she’s blazed and continues to cut through are too many to cover in one small feature in one local magazine. Therefore, I invite you, encourage you to google her name and go down that rabbit hole where you’ll learn so much more than these allotted words will allow. You’ll be incredibly glad you did, regardless of your favorite genre(s) of music.
With so many awards and accolades, one can’t help but be just a little bit intimidated by this effervescent, motivated, fit as a fiddle bluegrass music giant. Louisa does nothing to elicit trepidation, but by the sheer number of her accomplishments, it can make one feel just a tad bit inadequate! At 72 years young, she shows no sign of slowing down.
I was introduced to Branscomb for the first time by a mutual friend, Clint Bernard after one of my concerts they both attended many years ago. He began our meet and greet with: “This is world renowned, Grammy winning songwriter, Louisa Branscomb.” I thank Clint for waiting until after the show to conduct this meet and greet.
Songwriting is an endless journey for Louisa. A quote from one of her gobs of interviews over the years: “The perfect song is a vanishing point,” she says. “I’m only interested in pursuing something I can never really achieve. It inspires me to keep trying to be a better writer and reminds me to live close to the bone, open to the unknown so I won’t miss the next song.”
Ms. Branscomb’s notoriety and fame basically began in 1991 when a song she’d written in 1971 was included as a track on an Alison Krauss record that won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album of 1990.
Songwriting is the purest art form. It leads us to the essence of experience, through all our senses. It offers a form to celebrate the little story that descends through the rabbit hole to universal experience. Songs join us together, no matter what our differences, and remind us we are one family – humanity.
~ Louisa Branscomb
By 2011, she had more than 90 songs recorded by various Bluegrass artists, as well as her own highly praised releases. While her illustrious career as songwriter, mentor, picker and performer was chugging along, Louisa decided she would simultaneously explore her desire to study human nature by pursuing a degree in Clinical Psychology which she accomplished during the 1980’s.
In a 2021 interview with Sandy Hatley from Bluegrass Today, Branscomb says: “I wanted to understand the human spirit – how people transform their lives, what creativity is really for.”
With a keen sensitivity derived from her own, pretty much lone experience as a pioneer female in a male dominated business, Louisa’s heart spoke to her head when in the latter part of the 1990’s she was inspired to find a way to share with and give to other songwriters what she wished she had had early on.
So she put her money where her heart was and started a songwriting workshop, which has morphed in name a bit but always with the intention of building community. A quote from her “Up Close” page on her website says: “There’s an emphasis on the artistic core within all of us that enables us to live art-worthy lives in many forms of creating and communicating.
This concept informs her model of “From the Inside Art” – capturing the artists’ cycles of going to the clearest truth within and taking it in some form back to the community. “This theme of deep diving in order to come up out of the water with something to take back into a community through songwriting, has been central to these workshops which she’s been hosting, producing, spearheading for over 30 years.
WNC is now fortunate to have her, as she’s transformed a 1937 farm house and surrounding property into a retreat center where songwriters can register to attend weekend long songwriting workshops near Black Mountain, NC. She lovingly refers to this place as “Lyric Mountain” and has created a workshop that sounds like a mantra: Songs Move Mountains.
By the time this article is published, another workshop will be in the works. Therefore, if you’re an aspiring songwriter, a seasoned songwriter or anything in between, I respectfully advise you to set a reminder alarm to check back and visit her website often to learn of the next retreat.
In Louisa’s own words:
“The most powerful tool we have to move people, and bring people together, is music. And songwriting is where music begins. The most important skill a songwriter has is not craft or rhyme — its empathy, to connect deeply with one’s own soul and to connect to others. Two verses and a little soul can change lives, and when life is changed, the song keeps on going, crossing frontiers in ways we can only imagine.”
“My approach is based on the assumption that everyone can learn the skills that make writing possible, and that finding one’s voice, and transforming thought and feeling to the song is a personal and highly individual process. In the same way, the kinds of blocks and fears that stall the creative process are also personal.
"I offer broad frameworks and exercises within which each person can understand, explore, and refine their own writing process, as well as their own blocks, while actually writing as we go.”
Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach,
song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at