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Tracy Nelson and the Bel Airs

Musical Instrument Museum - MIM
Event organized by Musical Instrument Museum - MIM

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Tracy Nelson

She has one of the signature voices of her generation. That natural gift has always guided Tracy Nelson’s soul, and allowed her to both write and seek out the deeper songs regardless of niche or genre. A fierce singer of truth and a fountain of the deepest heartache, she is an ultimate communicator and has regularly dissolved audiences across decades of performing. She is one of the few female singers who has had hit records in both blues and country genres, performing with everyone from Willie Nelson to Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas, with Grammy nominations for both her country and blues efforts. Music writer John Swenson from Rolling Stone magazine asserts, “Tracy Nelson proves that the human voice is the most expressive instrument in creation.”

Nelson’s education began in the early 1960s when, while growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, she immersed herself in the R&B she heard beamed into her bedroom from Nashville’s WLAC-AM. As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, she combined her musical passions singing blues and folk music at coffeehouses and R&B at fraternity parties as one of three singers fronting a band (including keyboardist Ben Sidran) called the Fabulous Imitations. A short time later, Nelson moved to San Francisco, California, and, amid that era’s psychedelic explosion, formed Mother Earth, a group that was named after the fatalistic Memphis Slim song that she sang at his 1988 funeral. Mother Earth (the group), true to its origin of being more grounded than freaky, was a major attraction at the Fillmore, where they shared stages with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Burdon.

Nelson continued to record throughout the 1970s as a solo artist on various labels. In 1974, she garnered her first Grammy nomination for “After the Fire Is Gone,” a hit duet with Willie Nelson. She continues to tour and record, making music that is as deeply felt as anything she has recorded in her exceptional career; she is a soul survivor.