MURFREESBORO — Blues-rock icon Tracy Nelson, whose soulful, powerful voice lends extra gravitas to the music of her four-decade career, will perform songs of freedom at MTSU Wednesday, Sept. 14, as part of the university’s Constitution Day 2016 celebration.
Nelson, who fronted Mother Earth in the 1960s and ’70s and wrote classics like her signature song “Down So Low”, which has been covered by Linda Ronstadt and Etta James, will perform and speak at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 14 in Room 221 of the McWherter Learning Resources Center.
Her appearance is free and open to the public. A searchable, printable campus parking map is available at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap.
The Grammy-nominated Nelson will discuss songwriting in the context of free speech and social activism during her MTSU visit as well as her storied career, including her days with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and her collaborations with Willie Nelson, Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas.
Her visit is presented by the Center for Popular Music in MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment.
The Wisconsin native, who first heard R&B music on Nashville’s historic WLAC-AM radio station, began performing in folk groups as a teenager. She released her first album, “Deep Are the Roots,” in 1964, featuring acoustic blues tunes accompanied by a band that included renowned harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite.
By 1966, Nelson was in San Francisco, singing with Mother Earth at the Fillmore Auditorium on bills with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Jefferson Airplane. Before the decade ended, she and the band had moved to Middle Tennessee, where they recorded their groundbreaking “Make a Joyful Noise” album and four more together and Nelson released another solo effort, “Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country.” Her next solo album, “Bring Me Home,” included songwriter Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road,” released a full decade before The Eagles’ live 1980 cover.
Her 1974 duet with Willie — no relation — Nelson, “After the Fire is Gone,” earned the pair a Grammy nomination, as did her acclaimed 1998 collaboration with Ball and Thomas, “Sing It.” Through the years, Nelson has continued recording and performing on her own schedule and terms, singing across genres and contributing to other artists’ albums and causes.
Her command of so many forms of American music has led critics to call her “the Queen of Americana,” but she’s dismissed the title with a laugh. She told the Nashville Scene’s Jim Ridley in 2007, ““I think I make perfect sense in that format, but what do I know?”
You can hear Nelson sing “Down So Low” from her album “Live from Cell Block D,” recorded in 2002 at the West Tennessee Detention Center in Mason, Tennessee, at http://youtu.be/qSaBPO-9hqs.
Details on MTSU’s full Constitution Day 2016 schedule are available at http://ow.ly/iupZ3043WTg.
For more information on MTSU’s Center for Popular Music and its projects and special events, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/popmusic.