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Fayssoux McLean
Fayssoux McLean -- Friday, January 9, 2009, at 7:30 PM

Singer and songwriter Fayssoux McLean will make her Charlotte Folk Society debut at our January 9th Gathering. Join us this Friday at 7:30 PM at the Great Aunt Stella Center. Fayssoux's website is here. Her MySpace page, with songs to listen to, is here.

Ms. McLean, described by Emmylou Harris as one of her favorite singers, will be accompanied by guitar wizard Brandon Turner (his MySpace page is here.)

The Great Aunt Stella Center, a beloved downtown landmark located at 926 Elizabeth Avenue in the edge of downtown Charlotte, was originally designed as a church. The former sanctuary offers a warm and beautiful performance space with seats for 400. Free surface parking is available adjacent to the Stella Center, as well as in a nearby parking deck after 7 PM.

Folk Society Gatherings are family-friendly, open to the public, and free. Donations, which support the series in part, are greatly appreciated. The hour-long concert will be followed by refreshments, a song circle, and slow and fast jams. Visitors are also invited to the Charlotte Appalachian Dulcimer Club meeting after the concert.

You've no doubt heard Fayssoux McLean, even if you haven't heard of her. Fayssoux's alto voice was an integral element in some of the finest country music recordings of our time. Fayssoux sang harmonies on Emmylou Harris legendary early recordings: Luxury Liner, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, Elite Hotel, and Pieces of the Sky, and she sang duets with Emmylou on Spanish is a Loving Tongue and Green Rolling Hills. Given that Emmylou Harris is arguably the single greatest and most consequential harmony vocalist in country music history, Fayssoux's role as Emmylou's harmony singer of choice should tell you nearly all you need to know.

Fayssoux grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Her grandmother Mary Jane was an early influence, playing piano and singing for family gatherings. She composed jigs and sang songs she heard workers on the farm singing. Fayssoux also listened to her parents recordings of all the great singers in grand opera, classical, rock and roll, boogie woogie, and the blues. She was drawn to singing harmony, herself, rather than the melody. Occasionally, Fayssoux listened to bluegrass and country music on the radio. When she was nineteen, she sat with friends on the porch playing and singing bluegrass -- How Mountain Girls Can Love, Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet, etc. - and was hooked by the intensity of the sounds unfiltered through the radio. The harmonies of Don Reno and Red Smiley, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and The Stanley Brothers fascinated her and felt like a part of her heritage. She adopted Ralph Stanley's part and branched out from there.

The 1970s found Fayssoux and her then-husband, John Starling, in the Washington, D.C. area. She taught speech therapy in public schools. John, an interning physician, was assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Washington was a vibrant bluegrass scene at this time. John became a founding member of the Seldom Scene, a seminal progressive bluegrass group. One night, he visited a Georgetown club to catch a solo act and brought the performer, Emmylou Harris, home to meet Fayssoux. The three of them sat up all night singing old favorites together. While continuing to work as a speech therapist, Fayssoux would fly to the West Coast to sing harmony on Emmylou's first several recordings.

After Fayssoux's marriage with Starling came to an end, she dropped out of the performance world. She returned with her husband, E. T. McLean, and their daughter to Spartanburg in 1993. There, she continued her career as a school speech therapist. In the mid-90's, a middle school teacher named Peter Cooper called for an interview. He was writing about the extraordinary musical history of Spartanburg (Pink Anderson, The Marshall Tucker Band, Marshall Chapman, Walter Hyatt, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Daryle Ryce, Hank Garland, and others) for his book, Hub City Music Makers. Fayssoux began singing harmony with Cooper at book signings to appreciative audiences. Gradually, he encouraged her to sing lead.
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Many years later, Cooper is now one of the country's most respected music journalists, writing for Nashville's The Tennessean newspaper, as well as Esquire, Britannica, and No Depression. When Fayssoux was ready to make her own CD, he encouraged her to record in Nashville. Under Peter Cooper's production guidance, she called old friend Emmylou Harris and The Whites to sing harmony with her, as well as Ricky Skaggs, David Ball, and Lloyd Green to contribute their talents. She brought with her heavy-duty guitarist Brandon Turner, who plays on nearly every track and holds his own with the most seasoned Nashville veterans. Released in March, Fayssoux's debut CD is entitled Early and features two of her own compositions (Early and I Know It's Over), as well as traditional folk songs, old-time gospel, contemporary country/rock, and love ballads. It is a work of grace with spare and beautiful instrumental support for a voice described as "regal and elegant" by Kevin Oliver in No Depression.

"Charm, elegance, whippoorwills, and Magnolia dewdrops: these are the things that come to mind when I hear Fayssoux sing," says Rodney Crowell, who first met Emmylou Harris in Fayssoux's living room. Do join us Friday evening to enjoy the talents of piedmont Carolinians Fayssoux McLean and Brandon Turner.

Charlotte Folk Society Gatherings are made possible, in part, through a Cultural Project Grant from the Arts & Science Council and the Grassroots Program of the North Carolina Arts Council, a state agency.