Banjo Women header
Photograph of Cari Norris Cari Norris at the Celebration of Traditional Music, Berea, Kentucky, October 1997. 
Photo by Geoff Eacker


CARI NORRIS is the granddaughter of banjoist Lily May Ledford of the Coon Creek Girls, the first commercially succeeded all-woman string band of the 1930s. Cari feels “a bodily connection” with Lily May, or “Mamaw” as she calls her, because she sang to her every day when she was an infant. “It mesmerized me…the depth of those songs. It was almost like she was telling me her own story when she would sing to me.”

She began playing banjo at the age of fifteen , the same year her Mamaw died. ‘Something happened to me that year,” she says, and she asked one of Lily May’s protégés to teach her “the frail.” It took just three lessons and she was playing banjo tunes like “Red Rocking Chair” with the same passion for voice and instrument as her grandmother.

Cari has continued in the banjo and ballad singing tradition of Lily May Ledford. On her 1994 recording Morning and Night, she included some of the same songs the Coon Creek Girls had played for the King and Queen of England in 1939 during a command performance at the Roosevelt White House. They include songs like ‘Pretty Polly,” an Appalachian standard which tells of a woman’s murder by her false lover, “Willy.” Willy responds to Pretty Polly’s fear that she has led her astray with the following line: “Polly, Pretty Polly, your guess is about right. I dug on your grave the biggest part of the night.”

INTERVIEW:   AudioTranscription
PERFORMANCE:   “Pretty Polly”

<< HOME >>


Special Collections-CSEGA Logos   Web pages created and maintained by
Lisle Brown, Curator Special Collections
© 2009, Special Collections, Marshall University