When young Byard Ray was all of seven years old growing up in the remote Madison County town of Revere, it’s said that he would sneak his mother’s fiddle away to learn how to “tease out a tune” while no one was looking. It should not have been a surprise when his mother and father who both played banjo and fiddle, sang, and told stories to find that they themselves had a little songbird on their hands. And so it should come as no surprise today to find that eight generations later, his granddaughter Donna Ray Norton, is carrying many of the same traditional ballad songs forward into the next generation at every coveted Bluff Mountain Music Festival in Hot Springs and on stages across the United States.
“My mom was constantly in the kitchen singing songs and when she wasn’t, we were going over to her cousin Sheila Kay Adam’s place where several others would be gathered around in the kitchen together singing,” Norton shared. “All of us kids were in the living room playing and listening as they went. Singing was just something that happens all the time, everyday. If it wasn’t someone singing, it was somebody picking, and usually both.”