Social justice through song, with Laurelyn Dossett
The North Carolina Folk Festival returned Sept. 10-12, 2021. And once again, “Songs of Hope and Justice,” led by Laurelyn Dossett ’99 MS, helped launch the weekend festival.
Laurelyn Dossett was the cover feature in the Summer 2008 UNCG Magazine. At that time, she was composing music for the summer’s Triad Stage musical production, “Bloody Blackbeard.” The magazine (and this writer) followed her as she played at Merlefest, rehearsed with Rhiannon Giddens, composed new songs for the show, helped rehearse the performers, and co-led a folk music workshop on songwriting at UNCG’s School of Music.
Her workshop partner was old-time music legend and longtime editor of “The Old Time Herald” Alice Gerrard. In an interview that day, this writer asked Gerrard about Dossett. Her voice “cuts through,” she explained. She compared Dossett’s harmonizing voice to that of Bill Monroe, who was a friend and supporter of “Hazel & Alice,” her pioneering duo with Hazel Dickens.
(The signature cut on Giddens’ new album is Gerrard’s “Calling Me Home” – as the influences play out in wonderful circles.)
Dossett graduated from UNCG’s prestigious Counseling and Educational Development (CED) program. US News and World Report consistently ranks it in the top 3 in the nation. She was an intake specialist at Family Services of the Piedmont before transitioning to her music career.
Dr. L. DiAnne Borders, Burlington Industries Excellence Professor in the CED program, recalled her as a student, for that 2008 article. Borders liked to think “her singing complemented her counseling, and vice-versa. The songs she liked to sing – and now writes – are very insightful about people, their lives, and relationships.”
While a master’s student, Dossett and a reading group friend, Karen Sickenberger ’00 MALS, discovered they both enjoyed the same music styles. Their duo became Polecat Creek. (They still sing together and teach harmony workshops.)
A recipient of the Betty Cone Medal of Arts, Dossett has been a mentor to a lot of musicians in the Triad (and beyond) – making her an ideal person to take the lead in organizing the first “Songs of Hope and Justice” before the official start of the 2014 folk festival. Not an official part of that festival, the “pre-festival event” focused squarely on social justice issues. It sent a message. Now, it is officially part of the NC Folk Festival. That message continues to ring loud and clear.
- “Songs for Hope and Justice: Friday, 6:30 p.m., Sept. 10, Old Courthouse Stage on Market St. Guests included N.C. Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, Alice Gerrard, Dr. Lalenja Harrington, Charly Lowry, Sam Frazier, and many more.
- Learn more about the many UNCG connections to the 2021 NC Folk Festival.
- As of May 2021, she began presenting music on her 40-acre spread near Hanging Rock. As a nod to Levon Helm, she calls each event there “Ramble on Big Creek.” Learn more about her shows and music at her web site.
By Mike Harris, UNCG Magazine editor