When Donna Ray Norton thinks about Appalachian music, she says, “I think about home” (May 15, 2002, Mountain Express). Home for Norton is Revere, also known as Sodom Laurel, in Madison County. It’s hard to imagine a deeper musical heritage than Norton’s. She is an eighth-generation ballad singer, the granddaughter of fiddler Byard Ray and Morris Norton, who played the banjo and mouth bow, daughter of singer Lena Jean Ray, and cousin to Sheila Adams and many other prominent Madison County musicians.
Like her forebears, Norton grew up hearing her family’s music and stories in her home; but it did not always appeal to her. “It was just one of those things that you grew accustomed to, and you learned from hearing them.” When she was seventeen, however, a senior project in high school “was what really got me interested in my heritage.” Researching the tradition of ballads led to learning them—from her mother, from Adams, Marilyn McMinn McReady, and Mary Eagle—and then to performing.
Norton is now a highly regarded member of the younger generation of Madison County ballad singers and storytellers. She was featured in the documentary Madison County Project, which won the 2005 Audience Choice Award at the Asheville Film Festival. She has an album, Single Girl, and has performed at the Asheville Dance and Folk Festival, the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival, Mars Hill College Heritage Day, and at many other venues in western North Carolina. In 2005, she was honored with the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Youth Award for Balladry.
Donna Ray Norton is available to perform in concerts and festivals, and at other venues. She is one of the featured artists in the documentary Madison County Project, which can be viewed at www.folkstreams.net.