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After 40 Years, Record Label Has Deep Roots in American Music

After 40 Years, Record Label Has Deep Roots in American Music
After 40 Years, Record Label Has Deep Roots in American Music

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BARBARA KLEIN: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Barbara Klein. Rounder Records is an independent music company celebrating its fortieth anniversary. Rounder is a major label that specializes in roots music, including bluegrass and old-time country. This week on our program, we look at Rounder's history and listen to some of its artists.


That was Alison Krauss and Robert Plant with "Rich Woman." That song received one of the more than fifty Grammy Awards that have gone to Rounder recordings.

Two men and a woman started the company in nineteen seventy. Ken Irwin, Bill Nowlin and Marian Leighton Levy were friends. They knew each other from their college days in the Boston, Massachusetts, area in the nineteen sixties. They were not musicians, but they had seen people whose music they thought should be documented.

A few months ago, Ken Irwin and Marian Leighton Levy spoke on Tuned In Broadcasting's "Music Business Radio" program from Nashville.

Ken Irwin told how he got the idea to start a record company after meeting someone else who wanted to do the same. But he says he and his two friends didn't really know much about the music business.

KEN IRWIN: "So when this thought came about starting a record label we already had a few ideas of people that we'd like to record. But even after that, even after our first two records which came out in nineteen seventy, our only initial goal was to make one record which we thought would be a classic in a field. So if you thought about fiddle records, we would have one of the great fiddle records that would make it into the top ten or top banjo record. But we certainly didn't have goals. I don't know if we had ever heard of Grammys at that point. Or if we had they certainly wouldn't have entered our consciousness."

Rounder Records celebrated its fortieth anniversary with a concert in October at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Public television stations around the country broadcast the event last month, and Rounder has released a concert album.

One of Rounder's artists is sometimes called the best banjo player in the world. Bela Fleck brings a modern sound to this traditional string instrument.

Here he is at the Rounder concert performing "Another Morning."


Another Rounder artist is Mary Chapin Carpenter. On April twenty-seventh she will receive the "Spirit of Americana" Free Speech in Music Award at the Newseum, a museum of news in Washington. That same day her new album "The Age of Miracles" comes out.

Mary Chapin Carpenter released her first album for Rounder in two thousand seven. "The Calling" included this song which she performed at the fortieth anniversary concert, "Why Shouldn't We?"


Other Rounder artists include groups that perform the music of the Creole and Cajun cultures of Louisiana. At the anniversary concert, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas played "Think About the Good Times."


Minnie Driver joined Rounder Records in two thousand one. The performer from Britain was already known as an actress. She was in films such as "Circle of Friends," "Big Night" and "Good Will Hunting."

At the Rounder anniversary concert, she performed a song from her two thousand seven album "Seastories." Here is "Beloved."


Another Rounder recording artist is Alison Krauss. She signed with the label when was a young bluegrass fiddler from Champaign, Illinois. She was just fourteen years old. Now she is thirty-eight and has twenty-seven Grammy Awards.

Her group Union Station includes the famous dobro guitar player Jerry Douglas. At the Rounder anniversary concert, Alison Krauss and Union Station played "Restless" from their album "Lonely Runs Both Ways."


We leave you now with the grand finale that brought the fortieth anniversary concert for Rounder Records to a close.


Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs at You can also write about your favorite musicians and tell us about others you would like to hear. Visit us at our Web site and on Facebook, at VOA Learning English. And join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.