Arts and Entertainment

The roots of Laura Love

Contrarian by nature, Laura Love has been breaking boundaries for more than 20 years. She comes to Bainbridge with her new group Harpers Ferry Jan. 25 at the Island Center Hall on Bainbridge. - courtesy photo
Contrarian by nature, Laura Love has been breaking boundaries for more than 20 years. She comes to Bainbridge with her new group Harpers Ferry Jan. 25 at the Island Center Hall on Bainbridge.
— image credit: courtesy photo

Against the grain.

That’s how the Nebraska-born recording artist Laura Love has always lived, be it by the virtue of choice or just the cold facts of life. But through it all, she’s come out singing.

She comes to Kitsap with her newest roots ensemble, a trio called Harper’s Ferry, at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Island Center Hall, 8395 Fletcher Bay Road on Bainbridge.

Now 47 years old, the self-described “light-skinned black woman” was born and raised in Nebraska. At first, she and her sister Lisa were two of the only African Americans in a mostly white neighborhood in Lincoln. Later, when they moved into an African American dominated ghetto in Omaha, the girls were ecstatic they would finally have the “black experience,” but alas, once again they were outcast.

“We kind of had our dreams shattered when they started calling us ‘honky,’” Love related. “But it’s those kind of experiences that were really kind of what shaped me and made me question my own ethnicity, how I came to grow up ... and what all happened there.”

Later in life, Love would find herself similarly the sole black musician on multiple bluegrass and folk rock stages. “The only fly in the buttermilk,” she said, at places like Merlefest, the largest folk festival in the United States.

Through most of their childhood, Love and her sister were raised helter-skelter by a single mother who suffered from schizophrenia. All the while suffering through abject poverty in the Great Plains, little did the girls know that their father, absent throughout, was a famous jazz musician who played with cats like Count Basie’s Orchestra, Billie Holiday and Johnny Otis.

Love didn’t find out the story of how their father had died in a car accident wasn’t true until she had moved out of her mother’s house at the age of 16.

“I went to a gig of his to see if indeed Preston Love was my father,” she recounted. “Sure enough, there’s this guy who looks just like me, on stage with a saxophone.”

She approached the guy on his break as he schmoozed with the ladies, rum and Coke in hand. When she dropped the proverbial bomb — “I think you’re my father” — he responded nonchalantly, asked how her sister was and even invited her onstage to sing a few songs with the band during its second set.

“It just made my head swim at how fun it was to get up and sing with him and the band,” she said.

But other than that mental swim and perhaps a bit genetically, Love didn’t really garner much influence from her famous father. She was actually already on the road to becoming a professional musician when she first met him. At that time, she was playing gigs in Omaha with LeRoy Critcher and the Oklahoma Twisters, singing jazz standards like Aretha Franklin and Shakakan.

Shortly thereafter, she would follow Critcher to the Pacific Northwest where she would begin her storied career that has challenged to the point of crushing the stereotype of an African American female musician.

While it carries an ample amount of Aretha-esque soul, Love’s voice is a uniquely tinted throwback to the roots of African American music and American bluegrass. And what’s more, she plays the electric bass like a fraying banjo.

That side of Love is well-represented on her latest record “NeGrass” — a collection of original and traditional negro spirituals, field hollers and bluegrass music which she recorded after researching and pontificating on her own family roots.

It’s the tenth album of her discography.

“When I started researching for my last record ... I realized the music I love the very most is roots music,” she said. “Whether it be African American acoustic blues or spirituals or slave music or bluegrass, I just love that acoustic rootsy music ... they’ve all sort of come from the same place.”

Love brings her collective roots to Bainbridge at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 25 at the Island Center Hall, 8395 Fletcher Bay Rd., jamming with Harper’s Ferry, a multi-ethnic ensemble combining Love’s favorite types of music — bluegrass, African American acoustic blues and negro spiritual. Tickets are $20. Info: or (206) 842-2306.

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