Martha as a child

I grew up in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and sixties, during the height of the Folk Revival. The New Lost City Ramblers and the Friends of Old-Time Music were just then bringing the greats of early country music to national attention. Harry Smith’s pioneering Anthology of American Folk Music, the first major re-issue of early folk music 78s, came out the year I was born – the New Lost City Ramblers Songbook, when I was twelve. I gained much of my education in folk music on Sunday afternoons in Washington Square Park. When Doc Watson played at the tiny Gaslight Café on Macdougal Street, I was there – with my mother.

I have since lived in many parts of the U.S. -- Ann Arbor, Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston, Providence, and on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, where I’m presently based.

Martha Burns in 1976

Photo: Clyde Boenke.

My first move was in 1970 to Ann Arbor, Michigan where I went for college and stayed for a decade. Some of the songs on my recent album Old-Time Songs, I first began singing at the Ark Coffeehouse, then a celebrated hub for traditional music in the Midwest, and my own musical home through those years. During that period, I also played in the Argo Pond String Band. Others in the group included David Cahn and Bill Meyer, now both prominent west-coast musicians, and Craig Johnson, later revered for songs like “New Harmony,” that he wrote in Ann Arbor.

I began performing in the early 1970s, first regionally and then nationally. By the mid-eighties I had played the Philadelphia Folk Festival, Pinewoods Folk Music Camp and myriad folk clubs. In 1984 I completed a six-week British tour, which included a memorable concert on the Island of Guernsey.

Martha Burns and Alan Block

Photo: Georgia Sheron.

In 1985 I paired up with fiddler Allan Block, now remembered for the Allan Block Sandal Shop in Greenwich Village, where he hosted legendary jam sessions throughout the 1960s. When Allan and I began performing together, I was living in Boston. Allan had since moved to New Hampshire and was a central figure in the New England folk music scene. Together Allan and I recorded an album on the Marimac label. Sadly, the unexpected death of Marimac’s president prevented its release at the time. (Keep posted.) Ten videos of Allan and me from 1986 are on YouTube. Click here to see one.

Martha Burns now Allan’s and my duo dissolved in the late 1980s, except for occasional concerts, when I left music for a two-decades-long foray into academia. My field was American History, and I have written and published on music-related topics ranging from early American hymnody to female piano teachers before the Civil War.

My return to music and performing was consummated in 2014 with the release of Old-Time Songs. My first solo album, it was funded through an eminently successful Kickstarter campaign -- the video was chosen by Kickstarter as a “Staff Pick” and featured on the Kickstarter Blog. I recommend my Kickstarter video to anyone interested in learning more about me and the project. Click here to see it now.