When Denise Norton spent a year living with her great-grandmother Dellie Norton, she saw in part what life had been like for her ballad-singing forbears, and why music played such a powerful and enduring role in their relatives’ lives. “Granny Dell” lived in a house with no running water and no television. “It was just like stepping in a time capsule,” Denise says, in the documentary Madison County Project. “People didn’t have all the TV and video games and stuff to baby-sit their kids. They had to entertain them other ways.”
Though Denise grew up in a very different age, her family still made sure that she heard the old love songs as she grew up. She learned ballads from Dellie Norton and great-aunt Inez Chandler, and learned “knee-to-knee” from cousin Doug Wallin. She has performed at many North Carolina festivals and music events. Her CD Little Margaret was released in 2004, and a second CD, Black Is the Color, was released more recently and is dedicated to her grandparents. Denise received the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Youth Award in 2005.
Now Denise Norton O’Sullivan is not only a great ballad singer, but a mother, and the two roles have made her very conscious of the importance of her place in the family tradition. “That would be a nice memory,” she says in Madison County Project, “to have somebody say after I’m gone, you know, ‘I heard this girl sing this song, and she’s an eighth-generation ballad singer.’ That’s cool.”
Denise Norton O’Sullivan is available to sing at festivals, concerts, and other events.