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Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show creates


Norman Warwick learns more

We have reported recently on these pages on how artists like Dolly Parton turn their lyrics and songs into children´s books and stories as educational aids.

Then, yesterday we spoke about Old Crow Medicine Show in our article about the band playing at Merlefest earlier this year. In researching that article we also learned that band-member Ketch Secor is heavily involved in the publishing of children´s stories. This, it seemed had attracted the attention of The Tennessean newspaper, who sent an intrepid reporter to find out more about how it all began.

Ketch Secor was — for lack of a better word — squatting. He lived in a rundown house with no power and no running water, set alongside a tobacco field in the Appalachian foothills.

His band, Old Crow Medicine Show, had started up two years earlier, but it was still far from the Americana fame it would eventually enjoy.

So when Secor, a still-struggling young musician, needed a place with a roof over his head, a woman named Pearl took pity on him.

“You’uns don’t have nowhere to go,” Secor remembers Pearl telling him. “You’uns can go down to my place.”

Secor and a bandmate moved into Pearl’s long-abandoned home in Poga, Tennessee, and spent the summer cutting and braiding tobacco during the harvest. As Secor worked the fields, he heard many stories. One, in particular, stuck with him.

 In ‘Lorraine,’ Ketch Secor and Higgins Bond spin a tale about the power of music

It was a tale told to him by a Cherokee woman named Lorraine, who, as a child, tamed all kinds of animals, including a pet crow she called Pretty Boy.

Now, nearly two decades later, that story has come to life in a unique way for the East Tennessee farmhand-turned-famous musician-turned-father.

Walking up the steps to Secor’s East Nashville home, it quickly becomes obvious he’s a dad.

A purple helmet and roller skate are on the front porch, an open cereal box on the dining room table and small piles of children’s clothes folded in laundry bundles on the couch ready to be put away.

In the hallway outside his 7-year-old daughter’s bedroom, a bookshelf overflows with classic children’s titles, some of the spines worn and cracked from love.

There’s always a story being told in Secor’s house. There are old radio shows and books on tape and bedtime tales. And now there’s “Lorraine.”

Inspired by the Cherokee women’s folktale from years ago, Secor’s new children’s book, “Lorraine: The Girl Who Sang the Storm Away,” explores the love shared between a young girl and her grandfather, the music they create, and a tricky bird that wants to play.

Together, young Lorraine and her Pa Paw spend their days in the Tennessee hills. With their instruments, the two feel they can face just about anything. But when a foreboding storm rolls in and their instruments go missing, Lorraine must turn to the music inside her to help them through the rain and the mystery.

So much of the story resonates with Tennessee roots.

Secor was inspired to write the book, he says, because the city he calls home isn’t just a great song town, it’s a great story town.

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And while many children’s books emanate from huge publishing cities like New York, those tales don’t always resonate with the kids in his neighborhood, in the Episcopal school he founded just a few blocks from his home or with his own daughter and son.

“My kids don’t hang out on that New York stoop and they don’t use those public transportation systems,” he says. “We live in Nashville, and there are so many creative minds here. This is a great place for children’s literature to soar.”

So, just as he has done with his music, Secor has written the South into the pages of his book, the playful iambic pentameter crafted like a Tennessee folk song.

In Secor’s story, the young heroine, Lorraine, plays the pennywhistle.

Secor, himself, received his first pennywhistle for Christmas when he was 11 years old. He fancied, he says, that he would become a piper and play all the old Irish melodies.

“The kind of tunes that you would go off to war listening to,” he says.

But, it turned out he wasn’t very good. “So I found other instruments,” he says with a laugh. 

One of those, the harmonica, helped make him Grammy-winning famous.

Secor turned Pa Paw, the book’s grandfather character, into a pretty decent harmonica player, too.

But Secor isn’t the only one who left a personal touch on the pages. 

Nashville illustrator Barbara Higgins Bond (shown left and above right with Secor)  — who, among many accolades, was the first African-American woman to design a U.S. postal stamp — turned Secor’s rhyme into wonder.

Her vibrant illustrations make the Appalachian hills and Tennessee sunsets glow in emeralds and oranges.

Bond drew Lorraine from observations of her own granddaughter, her bare feet and lengthening limbs dancing through green grass.

Pa Paw, with his glowing cheeks and full white beard, is based on Bond’s dad. And if you look closely, you will notice a photograph that hangs on the wall of their wooden home. That is Bond’s mother.

“To me, illustration is like putting together puzzle pieces,” Bond says.

She has fit her own life together with the story. She was drawn to the tale of Lorraine, she says, because of the devotion between the girl and her grandfather and the magic of the sounds they create.

“To feel the healing power of music,” she says, “is something everybody can identify with.”


Secor has given readings of his works and promoted his books at The Southern Festival of Books, a festival that welcomed more than 215 authors, including Rick Bragg, Tayari Jones, Celeste Ng, Luis Alberto Urrea, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Ketch Secor.

It is free and open to the public. No advance registration or tickets are required. All seating for speaker presentations is on a first-come basis.

The founding member of Grammy-winning band Old Crow Medicine Show, Secor spoke of his children’s book “Lorraine: The Girl Who Sang the Storm Away,” and joined illustrator Higgins Bond in a discussion at the festival.

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