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Mountain balladeers to perform

Donna Ray Donna Ray

Two eighth-generation mountain ballad singers will be featured in the "Keeping the Fires Burning" series presented by the Center for Cultural Preservation at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, at Patton Auditorium. Donna Ray Norton and Melanie Rice Penland, both from Sodom, Madison County, will perform and discuss the history of ballad music and how it evolved as it crossed the wide sea.

Donna Ray Norton, 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, grew up hearing her family's music and stories in her home. She is now a highly regarded member of the younger generation of Madison County ballad singers and storytellers who has been featured in the documentary Madison County Project, performed at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival and many other venues.

Melanie PenlandMelanie PenlandMelanie Rich Penland has been singing on stage since the age of 3 and started singing ballads regularly at local festivals at the age of eight. Besides arising from a family rich in Appalachian tradition including father-in-law Joe Penland, and mother Sheila Kay Adams, she has been a shining star in her own right as a regular performer at the annual Bluff Mountain Folk Festival, 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. In 2005, she was honored, along with Donna Ray Norton, with the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Youth Award for Balladry.

This special program moves to BRCC's Patton Auditorium. Previous shows were in Thomas Auditorium. There is a suggested donation of $5 or more at the door. Given that this program is expected to sell out, advance registrations are highly recommended by calling the Center for Cultural Preservation at (828) 692-8062 or emailing us at saveculture.org. The next Keeping the Fires Burning program will be Green River Valley Stories featuring bestselling author Robert Morgan, at 7 p.m. March 3, at Patton Auditorium.

In case of inclement weather, the weather date for the program is Thursday, Feb. 19, at the same location. In case of iffy weather, call the Center at (828) 692-8062. A weather message will indicate if there are any postponements.