Louisa Branscomb ’71 recently earned a 2017 Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). The award is given to musicians who have made substantial contributions that broaden the genre’s accessibility and recognition.
The Distinguished Achievement Award is one of the IBMA’s highest honors. It is reserved for those who been forerunners in their field, and have made substantial contributions that broaden the bluegrass genre’s accessibility and recognition. Branscomb was recognized both as a songwriter and musician as well as an educator, organizer, and advocate. She is best known for writing nearly 200 recorded songs including Alison Krauss’s first hit and John Denver’s final hit, “Steel Rails,” which is one of the longest running chart hits in bluegrass history. She has helped write multiple tracks that received Song of the Year awards, was inducted into both the Atlanta and Alabama Music Hall of Fame, earned a first-place award in the prestigious Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, and received a Georgia Lifetime Achievement Award.
“The Distinguished Achievement Award has deep and special meaning to me, because it is an affirmation of the person and their lifework,” Branscomb said. “I think it is the highest honor to have your peers say you have made a difference, and your work has had an impact, that I could imagine. If I have made a difference for someone, or people, with my songwriting or my work, then this is the legacy I would like to have had a hand in.”
Branscomb evolved a pioneering model of songwriter development and mentorship through 26 years of directing her program at the Woodsong Farm Writer Retreat, one of the oldest ongoing songwriter workshops in the country. Utilizing the natural setting along with techniques for accessing the deepest voice of each individual writer, she has hosted over 1,000 participants, including many returning participants working toward the master level of songwriting through her Woodsong model of mentorship. Combining her careers as a clinical psychologist and songwriter, she has researched using songwriting as a treatment intervention for post-traumatic stress in veterans and children.
In addition, Branscomb was a founding member of the IBMA Songwriter Committee, and as its chair drafted the Songwriter of the Year Award proposal. She has advanced a community-building model with a geographic base in coastal North Carolina through her non-profit, ScreenDoor Songwriter Alliance, which hosts the Southport Songwriters Festival.
While attending R-MWC, Branscomb majored in biology and minored in English, but she also had a strong interest and took many courses in art. She only took one music course, but remembers participating in many “hoot nannies” where students would come together and sing and play instruments.
“R-MWC had a profound impact on my life,” Branscomb said. “It created a space where exploration of original ideas was encouraged and supported. As a creative person, that was very important to me at that time. It opened up my horizon to be unlimited as far as how I could create a life that is meaningful. This set the initial stage for me to take the path less taken, and take responsibility for creating a life—more than just career—that fit for me or gave me room to learn and grow and involve myself in community through my work.
“I think intellectual integrity and intellectual curiosity were additional values I experienced in the R-MWC environment, along with the unspoken concept that we have more than an imperative to live an ‘abundant’ life, but also to help others live a more abundant life,” she added. “I think we need these more than ever, and that everyone has their own talents and perspectives from which to create what is meaningful in a form that fits for them.”
Branscomb is currently fundraising for another year of the ScreenDoor Songwriter Alliance and producing her 12th album of original songs, which will be released in early 2018.Tags: alumnae, alumnae accomplishments, art, biology, English, music, outcomes, psychology