18.5 Anna and Elizabeth: She Does Music / by Elaine Sheldon

 Photo by Jim Herrington //    Elizabeth (left) and Anna (right)  

Photo by Jim Herrington //   Elizabeth (left) and Anna (right)  

Music Featured in Episode 18

Curated by Sarah Ginsburg

You don’t often come across a musical duo like Anna & Elizabeth, or at least I haven’t. When they met in 2011, they each brought a pretty obscure knack to the table besides their musical skills. Elizabeth was interested in old time musicians, ballad singers from the past. Anna, also drawn to the old, made Crankies, which are panoramic, mural-like scenes that unwind between two rollers and are accompanied by an oral story.

Together, Anna & Elizabeth revive songs and stories that might otherwise go unheard. It’s folk music from the mountains rich with banjo and fiddle, traditional hymns and lullabies never recorded, all found in archives and then discussed with historians and relatives who share what they know of these long-gone greats.
 

Anna & Elizabeth honor the originals but bring their own and it was a magical feeling when Elaine and I realized how perfect their music fit with our 18th guest, Kalyanee Mam’s narrative. All three of these women see the value in keeping heritage alive by unearthing stories and retelling them in a contemporary, relevant way. It’s a beautiful thing when melodies from old Appalachia heighten and even become a part of a story from so far away, from Cambodia. It’s that common thread of ‘home’ that brings it all together, and we hope you feel its power as we did in working with the voices of these women.

INTERACT: A&E on Twitter and on tour

LISTEN: Their latest album

READ: VICE Noisey, Huffington Post

WATCH: NPR's Tiny Desk performance 


Q&A

How are you two different and alike? 

Anna: "If I were to describe Elizabeth, I would say she is way more inward. I would be more likely to just babble to a stranger and she would be more likely to listen. You have to be a lifer to really get to know her. Maybe when I'm 35 I will get to the next level of LaPrelle. Elizabeth's energy helps ground our project, and also the energy that comes with where she lives (rural Virginia). Because when you're making music in a city, you see the rat race around you, you see this desire to get ahead or have more people know about your band...there's this energy toward quantity. There's a slowness in the way that Elizabeth approaches things. This depth that I think grounds our work together." Elizabeth: "To frame it the same way, I feel like maybe when I'm 35 I will have accomplished some of what Anna has. She is certainly the more ambitious of us two in an outreaching way. I value that alot."

Is it fair to say you two share a value system? 

Anna: "Yes. I trust this project to always want to have a mission. I can't say that of some of my musical peers. For me, that's the most important thing about any project is that it have a goal beyond notes and recognition. We are always trying to dig for deep meaning and purpose in being a traveling band and storytelling project. There's no one else that I share the same sensibility and set of ethics about that. That's really special and rare."

How important is trust and building relationships with the sources of inspiration for your music? 

Anna: "It's a really important process because we're singing the songs of someone else's family and so that is something that we take really seriously." Elizabeth: "It's amazing what they want people to know about their family members. They're like, 'make sure people know that they were a really caring grandma. I want people to know how she would make food for us after school. Tell them that.' If people can walk away from our show with the idea of someone like that in-mind and the idea that people can pass art to each and that it would be this loving and nourishing thing that's what we're after.