Part of “our calling” at the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is to highlight and advance “artistic and cultural expressions of who we were and are.” This naturally includes bluegrass musicians since this is a musical form that originated in the Appalachian regions. But there are those musical artists who grow out of the bluegrass tradition but then spread their talents into such a wide range of musical forms we can only classify them as American musicians. Ma Crow is one such artist.
No matter your musical inclinations, if you pay any attention to local music in Greater Cincinnati you have heard of Ma Crow. She has been involved in local roots music and bluegrass for so long now you almost need to make it a point to have missed her. For people involved in the Cincinnati bluegrass world, Ma Crow is one who forms something of the backbone of contemporary artists. She even makes an appearance in Industrial Strength Bluegrass, the definitive text on bluegrass in southern Ohio.
Many of us know her from Ma Crow and the Flock. This has transformed into Ma Crow & Company, but no matter the name or specific group of musicians, Ma Crow’s voice is the constant that has stitched her to the local imagination for decades. From her first professional show in 1980 and continuing today with Ma Crow & Company, Ma’s voice and acoustic guitar are unforgettable.
Ma Crow is from Cincinnati, but her family is from from East Tennessee. He mother and father met in Oak Ridge, and of her siblings, she was the first one born in Cincinnati. The family remained tied to Tennessee, though. “Our parents regularly sent me and my two older brothers to the farm in Tennessee every summer,” she told me. Ma Crow’s upbringing would seem familiar to many urban Appalachians who spent their childhoods split between the city and the farm back home.
Ma Crow comes to music naturally. “My dad had a band and my mother played guitar. Dad tried to teach me guitar when I was 12.” Ma also said that she was surrounded by singers growing up: “Church was full of singers, and there were always people singing around us. I remember hearing voices coming down the mountain.” The guitar lessons from dad didn’t take right away, but Ma Crow picked up the instrument again when she was 24. She said, “I taught myself from the Mel Bay guitar books.” Music was part of the fluid of life for Ma Crow, and it would seem inevitable that she would express herself through music.
A good part of her development as a professional artist was spent in southern Indiana. Ma Crow said “southern Indiana was full of great musicians. It was such a great place for bluegrass and acoustic music.” Ma Crow and the Flock formed from this crucible of music and creativity. Ma explained that “the Flock had always been acoustic, but they started replacing people with electric players.” It is not that Ma Crow has anything against music that finds its fuel from electricity, it is simply that her heart is closer to the acoustic instruments. “My soul was crying out to play bluegrass,” she says. And, as we know, bluegrass is an acoustic art form. As Ma Crow explains, “acoustic is more earthy—it fed me more than electric.”
Over the years, Ma Crow has branched out into folk, blues, and Celtic music. The thread that ties them all is the elemental heart and soul that comes through these musical forms. Each has its origin in acoustic instruments, soulful singing, and a clear honesty that accounts for their longevity and appeal. There is an earthbound element to all of these musical forms that clearly links them all. Certainly, anyone who has listened to a Celtic fiddler next to a bluegrass fiddler will instantly get the connection. At the time we spoke, Ma Crow was preparing to record a performance for “Song of the Mountains” on PBS (I include a link below). She appears with another local favorite, Maurice Mattei. She is busy these days with the Ma Crow & Company. Toward the end of our conversation, I had to ask where the name “Ma Crow” came from. She said, “it comes from my Cherokee ancestors in Scott County, Tennessee.”
Ma Crow is as tied to American folk life as anyone could be. She is the kind of artist that embodies much of what the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition celebrates and fosters in our area. From her summers in the mountains surrounded by singing to her earliest days performing in the tristate region, Ma Crow has lived and breathed bluegrass and American roots music. You can find information about Ma Crow on the internet, but you will have a hard time finding her. She lives unplugged and acoustic, just like her music.
To read more about Ma Crow you can look her up on the Cultural Resource Directory: https://uacvoice.org/artist_profile/ma-crow-company/.
You can find more information at Ma Crow’s website: https://www.macrowmusic.net/home.
He performance on Song of the Mountains can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opDystvzKgA.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.