Puremusic interview with The Lonesome Sisters

Like a marriage, like a boxing match, like figure skating, there is something magical in the duo paradigm. A trio never stands naked like a duo does. But in that nakedness lies a much more intimate and illuminating experience, especially in the rare instances of vocal resonance as one finds in The Lonesome Sisters.

Sarah Hawker and Debra Clifford are to the music born, but in much different ways. Debra is a veteran of many old time country and bluegrass groups from upper New York State. She's a very strong guitarist and banjo player, and a superlative vocalist. Sarah grew up a closet singer, dwarfed by a deeply talented Virginia family on one side and musically adrift from a non-artistic family on the other. She tells a stirring story of how she came out as a singer through the death of her musical grandfather, Ben Hawker. She's the niece of Ginny Hawker, a highly regarded singer, and Tracy Schwartz, who was a longtime member of the trailblazing New Lost City Ramblers, who showed the world where old time music was at in the '60s, and for many years to come.

The story contained in the following conversation with Sarah includes her fateful meeting with Debra Clifford at a camp of her aunt's. It should be an inspiration to all who have a voice within them that they would like to set free.

As only a great duo will do, their music started resonating with other people immediately, the way it did and does with each other. That high lonesome sound, when it's done impeccably, especially with spare accompaniment, just stops people dead in their tracks. There's something essentially human there, because it is so lonesome, that it literally hits you where you live.

Although they started out singing more traditional songs, they have both become superb songwriters--though they are both fairly new to the process, one would never know that. Sarah's song "Forgiveness" won the song contest at Merlefest in 2004, out of nearly a thousand entries.

They've won over the fans and their musical peers and idols alike. It's an undeniable sound, both because it's coming from a very pure place of love for this music and because the sound they're making cuts right through your worldly concerns and hits you in a place you thought was protected. And then you find out or you remember that it didn't need to be.


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