October 23, 1998
LYNN MORRIS BAND
By David Duckman [David Royko]
Special to the Tribune
When jazz diva Betty Carter died last month, the public’s attention was refocused on the role of women in jazz, and specifically on Carter’s uncompromising stance that music and not gender stereotyping would guide her career. Bluegrass bandleader Lynn Morris has been equally steadfast, but if anything, her world of bluegrass music is even more entrenched in tradition—and traditional rolls—than is jazz. Her part in the insurgence that has helped bring about a boom in female bluegrass bandleaders has been deployed quietly and from the inside, but no less effectively.
Best known these days as the singer and guitarist for the Lynn Morris Band, she first garnered national attention as a banjo picker, winning contests, not insignificantly, where gender was not a factor.
"At Winfield," says Morris of the prestigious Kansas competition, "the judging is totally blind. You take a number. The judges do not see you, and you are not allowed to speak during your performance. If you do, you are disqualified."
In 1974 and again in 1981, Morris was up against 25 men, and in each of those years, she took first place. There have been "non-blinded" high-level competitions that Morris has entered and fared less well, and was told later by inside sources that her lower placing was in fact due to the fact that she is female.
But Morris tends to downplay what was once a handicap in bluegrass, instead concentrating on the power that comes with determination.
"I could list a million incidents like [gender discrimination in contests], but I think the main thing that keeps a woman from succeeding in this field are the limitations she puts on herself, not the ones that other people will impose on you," says Morris. "Ultimately, this life is not convenient, you don’t make a lot of money, there are all kinds of reasons why you shouldn’t do it, but it basically amounts to how much you are willing to inconvenience yourself and how badly you want it."
The Lynn Morris Band will be appearing at 7:30 PM Saturday at Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren Street in Woodstock. The Whites are also on the bill. Tickets are $18. Phone 815-338-5300.