She always knew she would be an artist. Her love of music, melody and words began longer ago than she can now remember. The relentless stirring of the mortal soul, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me..." left an indelible imprint on her music. That hymn, her first musical memory, would shape her future.
Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, of Scottish descent, Betty began playing piano at the age of Four, and by age six had already begun to compose melodies. She loved hymns. She loved the rhythm of poetry, especially the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost. By age ten, she had written several of her own. One, "Snow," would be honored by the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in 1961.
Betty studied ballet and taught herself to play guitar by listening to records. At fourteen she formed a folk trio with two girlfriends. Just Us, and they played at talent shows and cafes, displaying an eclectic musical repertoire and love of vocal harmonies. In the wake of the arrival of the Beatles and the sounds of the British invasion, Betty played drums for a year in an all-girl Beatles cover band. Soon more dynamic rhythms and melodies caught her ears, in the music of Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Jackie DeShannon, and James Brown.
Summers were spent at her aunt and uncle's farm in Woodlawn, Virginia. There Betty added to her influences the lilting harmonies loved by her uncle; the memorable refrains of Ralph Staniey, The Clinch Mountain Boys and, of course, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. Once again. her love of yearning melodies and harmonic voices was rekindled.
Later, the folk artists of the sixties and seventies expressed yearning with a social and political conscience, leading Betty in another direction. One of Betty's "favorite first songs I ever learned to fingerpick on guitar" was Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." It will still occasionally surface on her set list, when homage is being paid to those influences which artfully combine great poetry with great music.
From birth until she recorded her first album of original songs, After the Curtain, in 1981, Betty Elders' music had been shaped by all she beheld. In its diversity one may clearly see her love of that music which speaks to the soul's struggles, its yearnings, from the early influence of church hymns to popular music, to an education in the brilliant blues of Gershwin's melancholy, the vast expansive scores of Aaron Copeland and Ferde Grofe, and the exquisite marriage of rhythm and melody in the orchestrations of Maurice Jarre. Betty still claims Jarre's score for the movie. "Thee Comancheros." to be among her favorite film scores of all time.
Betty settled in Austin, Texas, in 1984. Her self-produced release Daddy’s Coal was issued on her own Whistling Pig Music label in 1989, and earned her several year-end awards from Austin's Music City Texas Insider: Best Independent Tape, Song of the Year (shared by two of Betty's songs), Best Female Vocalist and Best Female Songwriter. The release of Peaceful Existence, issued in 1993 on Whistling Pig, resulted in another round of awards from the Insider’s poll and the Austin Chronicle's Music Poll. It also attracted a degree of critical acclaim truly unusual for a release on an artist's own label. Reviews in Detroit's Metro Times, Detroit Free Press, Austin Chronicle, Performing Songwriter, Richmond Times Dispatch Dirty Linen, Folk Roots and many other publications range in tone from laudatory to reverential. Dave Goodrich of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette named Peaceful Existence one of the five best releases of the decade.
She's been a featured artist in six standing-room-only showcases in the internationally renowned South-by-Southwest Music and Media Conference 1989-1994. Meanwhile, she co-authored "He Never Got Enough Love" on Lucinda Williams' critically acclaimed 1992 release, Sweet Old World.
Highlights of the 1994 season include her performance on National Public Radio's "Mountain Stage program Jan. 9; a successful tour of the Northeastern U.S. in July; the release of Daddy's Coal on CD; and her enthusiastically received performance on the Main Stage at the 1994 Kerrville Folk Festival.
Betty's songs and her sweet, haunting voice call forth the spirit of Appalachia combined with a keen vision and revealing honesty about what really matters. Betty is a favorite of mine and deserves to be heard!
It is and has been to me for some time a source of amazement that an artist of Betty's caliber has not been recognized yet on a national level. Maybe this will be the album that slaps some heads.
Return To Artist Page copyright (C) 1995 Harmony Ridge Music, San Carlos, CA, USA
Her music will touch your soul. From deep inside the genuine person she is, Betty Elders' songs speak through the pain and happiness of all the moments. Just simply being--and carrying on. I hope she always does.