Acclaimed singer songwriter Donna Ulisse to play Opry for first time
Tonight, Aug. 31, the Mountaineer Opry House welcomes Donna Ulisse and the Poor Mountain Boys to Milton for their first appearance at the venue.
Show time is 7:30 p.m.
Ulisse comes to town a couple of weeks after receiving her second straight International Bluegrass Music Association Songwriter of the Year award nomination.
Ulisse began her career as a country music singer, recording a couple of albums and singing on song demos. Eventually, she turned to bluegrass music, a genre that she listened to her whole life. Ulisse was further immersed in bluegrass when she married Dr. Ralph Stanley's cousin, Rick Stanley, who is in her band. Over the last four years or so, Ulisse has made her mark in the business, both as a songwriter and as a superb singer.
Ulisse has just released a new album called "I Am a Child of God." Usually, her recordings are a mix of gospel and secular music. With this new project, Ulisse collected all of her best gospel songs from past efforts and put them onto one album, with two brand new cuts thrown in the mix as well.
"Since my early days in bluegrass, I can't believe what a difference a few years in this business makes," said Ulisse. "Tom T. Hall let me do the whole photo shoot for my next album out at his farm. It was a hoot. Just two or three years ago, while I have always been a Tom T. Hall fan, I didn't know him or his wife Dixie. Then this year, I'm sitting at the Music City Roots (radio and TV show) and they come up and sit by me. I've met Sam Bush, Russell Moore, The Roys, Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle and Jerry Salley, and over a period of time, we've all become friends somehow. This bluegrass community is small, anyway, and I love it for that. I came out of the country music world where you can't turn your back because you'll have a knife hanging out of it."
Ulisse is looking forward to her first visit to the Opry.
"We were looking at the Mountaineer Opry House website and said, 'Wow, everybody has played there, everybody but me," said Ulisse. "Playing at these smaller venues is my favorite thing to do. I love the festivals, they're fun, but I don't really get to connect with an audience like I do in those theaters. That is where I shine the most because I get to tell the stories of why the songs were written and all of that good stuff. It's different at a festival, where you have to get up and keep the music pumping. It's more intimate at the smaller venues, and they get a real feel for where the songs came from at those shows."
Ulisse not only performs around the country with the Poor Mountain Boys, but she also writes music full time as well. Chances are, if you enjoy bluegrass, you've heard one of her songs recorded by another artist.
"My band is like my family," said Ulisse. "We're all about the same age. We're all at about the same place in life. These people love music and they want an outlet for it and I'm offering that. So, it isn't drudgery, by any means. Not that music ever is, but with us, especially, it's like, 'Woo! Road trip!' We don't tour like many other artists because I have a full-time songwriting job here in Nashville. My dream is to work every other weekend for a three or four day run because I'm always afraid that the songwriting is going to suffer. I write for Hadley Music Company.
"For me, songwriting is still very much a business," continued Ulisse. "I'll write five, six and seven days a week. The older I get, I don't know if it is that I am watching the sand coming through the hourglass and I've got a lot to say and a little bit of time to do it in, but I can't turn it off anymore, and I don't want to. I just wrote a Del McCoury cut that I am extremely excited about called 'The Butler Brothers,' which is coming out on his new 'Streets of Baltimore' album on September 17th. I wrote it with Jerry Salley and he went out there and pitched it to one of the McCourys. Del heard it and absolutely fell in love with it. I heard the cut, finally, and it is every ounce Del McCoury. I don't even recognize my hand in it anymore, he made it so much his own and that is always a thrill."
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