Long recognized and praised as a creative force in acoustic music, Claire Lynch is a pioneer who continually pushes the boundaries of the bluegrass genre. Her career has been decorated with many accolades including two GRAMMY nominations, six International Bluegrass Music Association awards and the prestigious United States Artists Walker Fellowship.
Dolly Parton credits Claire with “one of the sweetest, purest and best lead voices in the music business today.” Her harmonies have graced the recordings of many stellar musicians. Equally gifted as a writer, her songs have been recorded by The Seldom Scene, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Cherryholmes, The Whites and others.
Blazing her own trail in the mid 70’s when there were few role models for young women in the genre, Claire Lynch made history when she led the Front Porch String Band which evolved in the 80’s and 90’s into “one of the sharpest and most exciting post-modern bluegrass bands on the circuit.” She formed her own Claire Lynch Band in 2005 and has since consistently been a top pick of prestigious publications, critics and audiences across the U.S. and beyond.
Claire grew up in Kingston, New York until the age of 12 when her family moved to Huntsville, Alabama. There she began her education in country music and got caught up in the Bluegrass revival of the 1970’s, joining a band called Hickory Wind. Later, the band changed its name to the Front Porch String Band with Claire’s vocals as its centerpiece.
In 1981, after their first nationally released recording, the group retired from the road and Claire pursued dual careers in addition to raising a family, spending seven years as a staff writer at two of the most prestigious publishing houses on Music Row in Nashville. At the same time, she became a much-sought-after session vocalist.
In 1991, the Front Porch String Band was resurrected with the album Lines and Traces on Rebel Records – a move that ultimately led to the launching of Claire’s solo career in earnest. Friends for a Lifetime was released on Rounder Records in 1993 followed by Moonlighter in 1995 (Claire’s first GRAMMY nomination) and Silver and Gold in 1997 (also nominated for GRAMMY glory). She was named the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1997 and enjoyed many chart successes. The band kicked off the new millennium with the album Love Light in 2000. At that time Claire took what she thought would be a full-fledged break from music, stepping away from the grind of daily touring. She wasn’t sure when – or if – she would return. “I hadn’t planned to come back… One day I opened my catalog of songs and realized that I’d written my life,” she said.
Little by little, the lure of music worked its way back. She sang harmony on The Grass is Blue and Little Sparrow which led to promotional touring as backup vocalist for Dolly Parton. She graced albums by other artists with her background vocals including Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Pam Tillis, Alison Brown, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea and Ralph Stanley. Today, the impressive list of other guest appearances continues including spots on albums by Donna the Buffalo, Sara Watkins, The Infamous Stringdusters, the Gibson Brothers, Jonathan Edwards, Jesse Winchester, The Special Consensus and Kristin Scott Benson.
In 2005, Lynch struck out on her own, forming the Claire Lynch Band and releasing the aptly named New Day CD. It was a hit on the bluegrass charts and earned her IBMA nominations for “Song of the Year” and “Female Vocalist of the Year.” In 2007, Rounder Records featured a brilliant catalog of music from her previous five albums and titled the anthology collection, Crowd Favorites. More IBMA nominations followed as well as an induction into the Alabama Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
Whatcha Gonna Do, Claire’s next release (2009), was called “a stripped-down production with sumptuous acoustic atmospheres showcasing…the instrumental brilliance of her four-piece band.“ After a busy touring schedule in 2010, she received three IBMA nominations including “Song of the Year” and “Recorded Event of the Year,” and won the 2010 trophy for Female Vocalist.
Ms. Lynch’s 2012 USA Walker Fellowship Award ($50,000.) was one of 50 salutes given from United States Artists (USA). The USA Fellows represent the most innovative and influential artists in their fields – including cutting-edge thinkers and traditional practitioners from the fields of architecture and design, crafts and traditional arts, dance, literature, media, music, theater arts, and visual arts.
In January 2013, after a long successful stint with Rounder Records, Claire signed a recording agreement with esteemed Nashville roots label Compass Records, called by Billboard Magazine, “…one of the greatest independent labels of the last decade.” With their co-founder Garry West producing, she released the ninth solo recording of her career titled Dear Sister. The title track – a tear-inducing masterpiece co-written by Claire with Southerner Louisa Branscomb – is an intimate farewell letter shared between a brother and sister, their lives ravaged by the destruction of the Civil War, and delivered with all the tenderness Lynch is known for.
By Summer 2013, and over a period of almost two years, the album reached the #1 position seven times on the Roots Music Reports Top 50 Bluegrass Chart. It received an “Album of the Year” nomination at the 2013 IBMA Awards and twelve months later in October 2014, Claire and Louisa were aptly awarded IBMA’s “Song of the Year” trophy for their brilliant piece, Dear Sister.
Meanwhile, Claire and her band also released a seasonal project on her own label, Thrill Hill Records’ Holiday! (Sept 2014). The recording, a USA Today Season pick described as “a charmer” they “couldn’t help but love”, included her unusual take on some old chestnuts, a couple originals (Claire Lynch/Steven Sheehan’s Heaven’s Light and Henry Hipkens’ Snow Day) and even a rendition of In the Window, a traditional Chanukah song.
That same year, DigitalJournal.com listed Claire as “One of the 10 Best Angelic Voices of Our Time”. She shared that honor with such luminaries as Judy Collins, Alison Krauss, Sarah McLachlan, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.
In September 2016, Claire released North By South – a tribute to America’s northern neighbor. Produced by Compass Records’ co-founder Alison Brown, the recording pays homage to some of her favorite Canadian songwriters, interpreting tracks from greats above the Great Lakes like Gordon Lightfoot and Ron Sexsmith. Backed by the CLB alumni and some of the world’s finest acoustic heavyweights (Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, David Grier), Lynch infuses the collection with her signature Bluegrass treatment producing an elegant blend of foreign songs and domestic artistry.
Lynch’s Canadian leanings all started when a fan’s email suggested places for her to play in Toronto. When she emailed back, it sparked a long correspondence about Canada’s culture, history and diverse art scene. She eventually did score a gig in Toronto and what’s better, she fell in love with her pen pal leading to their marriage in 2014. North By South is the product of a growing love for Canada that is now one of the centerpieces of Lynch’s life.
The current Claire Lynch Band is a powerful juggernaut, a quartet that has the innate ability to perfectly interpret the beauty, subtlety and genre-defying sophistication of Claire’s music. The group features like-minded musicians blending tradition and innovation – two-time IBMA-winning bassist/clawhammer banjo player/dancer/percussionist Mark Schatz, soulful mandolinist/guitarist Jarrod Walker and young string wizard Bryan McDowell who, at age 18, won an unprecedented triple win at the Winfield, Kansas National Flatpicking Championship.
As one observer writes, “Listening to Claire Lynch sing is not something to be undertaken casually. Her songs and stage presence demand the listener’s rapt attention. She’s an intensely soulful singer, whose distinctive voice resonates with power and strength, yet retains an engaging innocence and crystalline purity. She’s also a songwriter of extraordinary ability who can bring listeners to their feet with her buoyant rhythms or to their knees with her sometimes almost unbearably poignant and insightful lyrics.” (Dave Higgs-WPLN Nashville)