Performing has been a personal passion for me since I was a young girl. Though it wasn’t something I pursued professionally, singing and playing has been a fun part of my life and just naturally comes from being raised in a musical family. My dad, Sterling Green, taught me my first few guitar chords when I was around the age of 10 or 11 and let me plunk around on an old electric guitar. I always loved to sing, though I didn’t purchase my own guitar until after college. My two older brothers Dan and Sterling both learned to play guitar as well and my younger brother Stan learned to keep rhythm on a snare drum while my mom added her part by playing a comb.
On weekends in the 60’s and 70’s we’d get together with my dad’s brother Ralph who played guitar and sang and our Uncle Forest who played the fiddle and we’d spend hours and hours making some great music together. Those were special times. Sadly, both my dad and his brother passed away in 1982 only five weeks apart from heart problems, but what they taught us will live on in our memories forever.
In the early years, whenever my mom could, she’d sign my brothers and me up for various talent shows around our small town of Montgomery City in Missouri. I have to laugh when I think about taking 4th place at the “Old Settlers Picnic” in nearby New Florence, MO for singing “Worms.” I think I won a whole $2.00. My brothers fared much better winning 2nd with their version of “Wildwood Flower.” Later we had the opportunity to play on stage with some of the members of Lee Mace’s Ozark Opry in a talent show. I was only in 8th grade and sang a rather adult song, “Charlie’s Shoes.” We didn’t win, but it was a great experience for all of us.
Though that was a long time ago, my family’s love for music has been passed down to our children. My brothers Sterling and his son James, Dan and his son Daniel and Stan’s son Sam all play guitar. My own son Lee plays banjo and guitar and my daughter Jessie loves to sing. (My daughter Ellie used to play guitar and I hope will take it up again one day).
My husband Lee grew up playing music as well following in the footsteps of his dad, Dorsey Lee Townsend, Sr. It’s been said he spent four decades playing around North Central Florida with his brother Jesse and even Chubby Wise. Music is just good for the soul.
In 1981 and 1982 while working as the News Director for KHCC-FM in Hutchinson, KS I had the opportunity to conduct interviews with all of the musicians and top contestants of the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS. Our station then produced a 13-part series of music programs for national distribution on public radio two years in a row. The experience of meeting such legends as Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Bryan Bowers, Dave Grisman, Tim O’Brien, Sam Bush and Bela Flek was all it took for me to be renewed with musical energy.
In 1983 I moved to Florida to begin work as a news producer for WUFT-FM. Less than two years later I had the opportunity to meet Florida’s Black Hat Troubadour, Will McLean. I had learned one of his most famous songs, “Hold Back The Waters,” while producing the “Walnut Valley Series.” When he realized I knew his song he asked me to sing it with him at his November, 1985 concert at the historic Thomas Center in Gainesville. That concert eventually became a CD produced by WUFT. Here is the introduction to the song that night in 1985
and here’s the recording of Will McLean, Murphy Henry and me singing “Hold Back The Waters.”
Just a few years later I bought a nicer guitar and began to go to music jams in the Gainesville area.
One Christmas season when my mother and I were discussing Christmas presents she told me not to get her anything that cost a lot as she knew I was struggling to pay for three children in daycare. I rounded up some of my favorite music buddies and asked if they’d consider getting together to produce a CD for my mom. I had just met some of these guys, but they all said yes. With the help of WUFT-FM ‘s (former) Program Director Bill Beckett we gathered at Bill’s home and recorded around 11 tracks for what became known as “Train Wreck.” Bill mixed as he recorded while we were all gathered around microphones in a large circle in his living room. The gathering included David Cook on piano, Art Crummer on dobro, Dave McBrady on banjo, Dan Peterson on bass, Ned Stewart on guitar and Ray Valla on mandolin. We’d practice the song once, maybe twice, and walla….we did it for real. It was an amazing night. Four more tracks were recorded on a separate night, including two songs written by my friend Priscilla Bingham and with the additional help of Ron Bowman on fiddle. Here are the tracks on the CD:
Track 1- Intro and Wreck of the ‘ole 97
Track 2- Blue Ridge Mountain Blues
Track 3- Goodbye Little Darlin’
Track 4- Blue Kentucky Girl
Track 5- Don’t Come Cryin’ To Me
Track 6- Shady Grove
Track 7- Cryin’ My Heart Out Over You
Track 8- Sadie
Track 9- No One Will Ever Know
Track 10- Rough and Rocky
Track 11- Down South
Track 12- Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia
Track 13- I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could
Track 14-Old Fashioned Love
Track 15- From Loving You
My mother treasured that CD, especially when she went through four years of dementia in a nursing home. Music helped to soothe her and it helped her to remember. It’s so interesting how dementia patients can remember lyrics despite memory loss.
Following the recording of the first Train Wreck CD I began to do more live performances at folk festivals and church events. See some of the videos below:
Performing Highway of Sorrow with Art Crummer on dobro and Lynn Hall on banjo at a Sunday Sampler in Dunnellon, FL in the spring of 2000
Someday We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart:
“Where Could I Go”
Donna, Jessie and Lee Townsend singing Never Grow Old at the Homecoming services for the Providence United Methodist Church in Windsor, FL on October 26, 2014
Donna, Jessie and Lee Townsend performing I’ll Fly Away at the Homecoming services for the Providence United Methodist Church in Windsor, FL on October 26, 2014
Singing Little White Church at the Homecoming Services for the Providence United Methodist Church in Windsor, FL on October 26, 2014
Singing Where The Soul of Man Never Dies at the Homecoming Services for the Providence United Methodist Church in Windsor, FL on October 26, 2014
The following music tracks are some of my favorite live performance recordings:
Conch Island performed at the Will McLean Folk Festival in 2001 with Art Crummer on guitar
Hot Buttered Rum performed at the Will McLean Folk Festival in 2001 with Art Crummer on dobro, Dave Cook on guitar, Annie McPherson on mandolin and Dennis Devine on bass
I’m Goin’ Back To the Old Home performed at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, WV in August, 2000
Never Grow Old performed with my son Lee on banjo
“Angel Band and Old Rugged Cross” Medley performed at the New Cross Creek Baptist Church at the April, 2013 Homecoming Sing
“I Saw The Light and I’lly Fly Away” medley performed at the New Cross Creek Baptist Church on October 14th, 2012
Mississippi You’re On My Mind
Performing “Never Grow Old” with son Lee and daughter Jessie at the Paran Baptist Church Gospel Sing on Saturday, April 5th, 2014
“Where The Soul of Man Never Dies” performed by Donna and Lee Townsend at the New Cross Creek Baptist Church at the April, 2013 Homecoming Sing