ETSU alumna Becky Buller is not only the first artist to win in both instrumental and vocal categories at the International Bluegrass Music Awards, and the first female to win fiddle player of the year, she is also a songwriter whose songs have been recorded by bluegrass icons such as Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.
Buller combined her songwriting, singing and gospel music spirit in 2017, writing a song for The Fairfield Four, legendary a cappella gospel group, and asking them to record it with her on her 2018 “Crêpe Paper Heart” album.
On Friday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m. at Elizabethton’s First Baptist Church, The Becky Buller Band and The Fairfield Four meld Buller’s bluegrass roots and the Four’s gospel grounding in a gospel concert. The concert is sponsored by the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts.
The daughter of musicians, Buller started Suzuki violin at age 10 and soon began performing with her parents’ band, Prairie Grass, in her home state of Minnesota and Iowa. She started writing songs in high school and won first place in the Hank Williams Songwriting Contest in Iowa, as well as the Minnesota Junior Fiddling Championship.
Buller then traveled to East Tennessee State University for college, where she studied public relations and played with several ETSU bluegrass ensembles, including the school’s Bluegrass Pride Band, with which she performed throughout France and at the Kennedy Center, while also touring with the band Appalachian Trail.
Since then, Buller – who now makes Manchester, Tenn., her home – has won two Grammys and eight IBMA awards and is the leader of her own band, which includes ETSU Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Studies Director Dan Boner on guitar, fiddle and vocals; Ned Luberecki on banjo; Nate Lee on mandolin and vocals; and Daniel Hardin on bass and vocals.
In 2015, Buller was selected IBMA Songwriter of The Year. Although she’s known as one of the “first ladies of bluegrass,” Buller has long been using the “amazing stories” of the Bible as inspiration for gospel songwriting and singing.
A couple of years ago, inspiration came from not only the Bible but also the recordings and history of The Fairfield Four, a Nashville-based gospel group started in 1921 at Fairfield Baptist Church, disbanded in 1962 and revived in the 1980s. The ensemble is now best known for its appearance and music in the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and work with John Fogerty.
“I fell in love with the music of the Fairfield Four through their collaborations with the Nashville Bluegrass Band in the 1990s,” Bluegrass Today quotes Buller as saying. “I started writing some songs that I thought would suit their style and had no way of knowing how to get the songs to them.”
But her record producer connected her with the quartet, and Buller and The Fairfield Four recorded “Written in the Back of the Book” on her latest CD, “Crêpe Paper Heart,” which was named the No. 1 bluegrass album of 2018 by Bluegrass Today. Fogerty also featured The Four on his second comeback album, “Blue Moon Swamp” and had the group open shows for him in support of his CD.
For information, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-8587. Tickets are $25 general, $20 senior 60+ and $5 for students with an ID. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.