AUDIO & VIDEO: A magical voice, silenced for 19 years, reappears at IBMA
Among the annals of guitar players, particularly in the world of bluegrass music, few stand as tall as Tony Rice. His meticulous flatpicking styles have been emulated by many of today’s hottest pickers. Besides his guitar-playing, however, Rice, now 62, had been known for his warm baritone vocals — a voice that easily could evoke the warmth in an old Gordon Lightfoot ballad or tell a story from an old folk song.
Rice was influential in the guitar world for his so-called “newgrass” styles. He played everything from bluegrass to folk to jazz, starting out early as a member of the Bluegrass Alliance and with J.D. Crowe and the New South. He later joined the jazz-inspired David Grisman Quintet, was a member of the Bluegrass Album Band and later struck out on his own. In 1983, he won a Grammy for his work with the New South, and he has won numerous awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association.
But 19 years ago, Rice developed problems with his voice. After years of recording, he stopped singing, as he coped with the loss of his second instrument. Eventually he resurfaced, performing guitar with Peter Rowan or with others, but never singing on stage again. On those rare occasions where the audience would get the chance to hear him speak, his voice had turned into a raspy husk of its former self. Hard to listen to. Sad to hear.
A gaunt-looking Rice, who was inducted Thursday night into the IBMA Hall of Fame in Raleigh, N.C., came onstage and stepped to the side of the lectern for a few moments, soaking in the applause and absorbing the antics and comments from presenters and friends Sam Bush and Peter Rowan, along with the standing ovation from an adoring crowd of bluegrass fans and fellow performers.
But foremost in his mind last night was Alison Krauss, a Grammy-award-winning bluegrass legend whose angelic voice helped make her the youngest person ever inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and who backed out of performing at this year’s IBMA conference because of “dysphonia,” a disabling problem with her voice.
For bluegrass fans and others listening, that’s when something magical occurred.
Spurred by his desire to encourage his friend Alison, Rice said he had been working on vocal therapies. And after a few moments, summoning the strength to continue, Tony Rice spoke in the baritone voice that had been so long gone. He was the Tony Rice of old.
“But I wanna be able to tell Alison that now I am speaking in my real voice,” he said. The crowd, in disbelief, began to slowly cheer and then roared. It was as if Rice had won the Super Bowl.
“I figure maybe, if I keep this up, that one day again, maybe, I’ll be able to do what I miss at times, for 19 years now, which is to express myself poetically through music. And if I can keep this momentum going, maybe one of these days I’ll be able to do that again.”
Listen to this: Audio and photos provided by IBMA:
He then went on — in his normal voice — to thank others. It was a magical moment, and the bluegrass world was stunned. As Bluegrass Today wrote “grown men cried,” and bluegrass fans everywhere started to believe in miracles.
Watch the entire video segment,
including presentations from Sam Bush and Peter Rowan:
Full disclosure: Steve Ide did not attend the ceremonies, but watched them streamed live from Music City Roots and BluegrassNation.org.