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Dale Ann Bradley

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A mountain murder ballad, a haunting tale of the Underground Railroad, a trip on a moonshine run, a walk in the mists of Ireland, a wild ride with Bobby McGee: whatever Dale Ann Bradley sings, people believe her.

That’s because she’s the real deal, a Primitive Baptist preacher’s daughter raised in the rural southeastern Kentucky crossroads of Williams Branch, where family and faith came first. Singing old style hymns in a church where no musical instruments were allowed, living down a rural road where electricity and running water weren’t available until she was in high school, Bradley learned the hardships and the joys of a way of life that had more in common with that of earlier generations than the experiences of her contemporaries in today’s bluegrass scene. “It was very different. It was not easy,” she says. And even as a girl, she knew she wanted more. “When you go up on one of the mountains there, it’s breathtakingly gorgeous — but I was so sure I was never going to be able to leave.”

She was sure of something else: her love for music. An uncle who’d been part of the Appalachian migration to Detroit city brought country music tapes back with him when he came to visit, opening her ears to music beyond church hymns. Bradley began to claim her own right to music as a teenager, borrowing her uncle’s guitar to play and sing at school events. Eventually that love for music would take her out of the mountains and into the top ranks of bluegrass stars.

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