Nova Scotia

How an American researcher is preserving the legacy of a Nova Scotia-born singer

A Nova Scotia-born singer's contribution to folk music was largely forgotten until a woman on the other side of the continent found an old tattered songbook at a library in Seattle.

The Carrie Grover Project preserves more than 200 traditional folk songs collected by N.S. musician

Carrie Grover, born in 1879 in Nova Scotia as Carrie Spinney, was the youngest of nine kids in a very musical family. (The Carrie Grover Project)

Someone was always singing in Carrie Grover's home.

The folk singer and fiddler from Sunken Lake, N.S., grew up learning the same songs her ancestors sang, and she made it her mission to preserve the family music for future generations.

But after her death in 1959, Grover's contribution to folk music largely faded into obscurity.

That is, until an American woman happened to find Grover's old tattered songbook, A Heritage of Songs, in the shelves of the Seattle Public Library in 1999.

"I said, 'We need to republish this book. This is an amazing collection,'" Julie Mainstone Savas told the CBC's Mainstreet. "No one even knows it exists, and it needs to be ranked with all of the other well-known Maritime folk collections."

The songbook, published in the 1950s, contains more than 100 traditional folk songs dating back four or five generations. There are also handwritten notes from Grover and some of her family stories.

Julie Mainstone Savas has created an online resource to share 242 traditional folk songs that Grover either sang or preserved. (The Carrie Grover Project)

The book became the seed of Mainstone Savas's decades-long fascination with Grover and her music, which evolved into the Carrie Grover Project, a website, podcast and free resource of traditional folk music.

"I felt such a responsibility for the music that it not be lost and not be forgotten," Mainstone Savas said.

Grover was born in Sunken Lake, not far from Wolfville, in 1879. Her extended family lived around the lake, and they regularly got together to share food and music, according to Mainstone Savas, who has written about Grover's life on her website.

"The women sang at their evening quilting and seasonal paring bees. The men shared in the work of raising a barn or clearing the land of brush and trees, occasions that frequently concluded with song, fiddle and dance," writes Mainstone Savas.

Grover and her family lived on Sunken Lake, a few minutes southwest of Wolfville, until they moved to Maine in 1892. (The Carrie Grover Project)

In 1892, when Grover was 12, her father lost his job at a sawmill and the family moved to Maine.

Mainstone Savas took a year off from teaching in 2013 so she could travel from her home in Seattle to trace Grover's life story, from Nova Scotia to Maine. She was able to meet with her relatives and some of the people who knew her.

"I visited every place I knew where they had lived, not just Carrie in her home in Sunken Lake, but Carrie's grandparents and her great-grandparents who had owned an inn on what is now Highway 14 and some of the songs came from there," she said.

It was Grover's parents' dying wish that she pass the music on to her children and grandchildren. (The Carrie Grover Project)

In uncovering one family's musical legacy, Mainstone Savas has opened a portal to life in rural Nova Scotia in the 1800s.

"Everyone in that era sang," Mainstone Savas said. "It was not unusual for people to sit around every evening and sing songs before the fire."

"It was a breach of good manners if you didn't ask someone to sing a song when they came to visit you. Can you imagine?" she said with a laugh.

Mainstone Savas continues to play some of the songs that Grover collected.

She's found a total of 242 songs, and published them all as downloadable PDFs on her website, with the hope that other musicians will help her carry on Grover's mission.

Mainstone Savas said it was Grover's parents dying wish that her children and grandchildren know the music.

"Carrie did as much as she could do in her lifetime in preserving the music, and so this is now my attempt to carry it further and to further ensure that it's remembered," Mainstone Savas said.

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With files from Carsten Knox and CBC's Mainstreet

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