Not a Friday goes by that I don’t discover an amazing new song on David Johansen’s Mansion of Fun on Sirius. Tonight, driving home from work, it was this song that put me in a happy place for 5 minutes of freeway time. I am in love with this voice.
The song is “Shake Sugaree” by Elizabeth Cotten. The voice is her daughter, Brenda Evans, according to All Music. But according to the eMusic review of the album, it’s Cotten’s 12 year old granddaughter. Either way, she sings like an angel.
Elizabeth Cotten was an important figure in the early folk scene, and had quite a unique story to tell. Born in North Carolina in 1895, she started playing the guitar at an early age, playing it left handed and upside down. She developed a picking style that had her playing the bass lines with her fingers, and the melody with her thumb (you’ll see it in the video below).
She got married at 15, and put her guitar away for the next several decades. She ended up, of all things, being a housekeeper for the Charles Seeger family (a very musical family which included Charles’ son, folk legend Pete). The Seegers encouraged her to pick up the guitar and start playing again, and what resulted were some groundbreaking folk / blues tunes. She recorded the ‘Shake Sugaree’ album in 1967, and lived to the ripe old age of 95 (passing in 1987).
So listen to Elizabeth’s signature guitar pickin’ accompanying her daughter (or granddaughter) on “Shake Sugaree” (not to be confused with the Jerry Garcia / Robert Hunter-penned “Sugaree”).