Appalachian Folksinger Talks Parenthood, Pandemic And Livestreaming Lullabies
Elizabeth LaPrelle grew up performing music with her family in southwestern Virginia. Today, she is taking the tradition forward by playing with her own, young family for a social media audience that watched throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
If you’ve listened to Inside Appalachia, there’s a good chance you’ve heard LaPrelle’s music before, as one half of Anna & Elizabeth. That would be LaPrelle, who grew up in Rural Retreat, Virginia, and Anna Roberts Gevalt, who is now based in Brooklyn.
For a while, LaPrelle lived in Brooklyn, too, but eventually she and her husband, Brian Dolphin, moved back to southwestern Virginia to raise a family. They moved in just before the pandemic hit. In March 2020, the longtime performers and new parents took to Facebook Live and began weekly livestreams of lullabies and stories.
Inside Appalachia co-host Mason Adams spoke with LaPrelle to learn more, beginning with LaPrelle’s roots as a ballad singer who took up the tradition of regional legends like Texas Gladden.
***Editor's Note: The following has been lightly edited for clarity.
LaPrelle: It started for me at a pretty young age. But I think my first memories of ballads, as such, like knowing that they were stories and being interested in learning them, and actually learning them and singing them would have been around 10 or 11 years old. I've learned Barbara Allen and I sang it at my summer camp talent show.
Adams: What initially led you away from your hometown of Rural Retreat?
LaPrelle: The short answer is just touring — being a musician and trying to live as a musician. I went away for college, and after four years, I went back to Rural Retreat. I really missed the mountains and wanted to focus on music ,and didn't have a better idea than going back to my parents’ farm. But I would be out traveling on tour, mostly around the U.S., but also going overseas. I was doing shows in the duo, Anna & Elizabeth.
Then Anna moved from southwestern Virginia to Baltimore. So we would do a lot of our work around there as well. And then from Baltimore, she went to New York City, to Brooklyn. About a year after she moved to Brooklyn, I also moved to Brooklyn to be with my now-husband, then-boyfriend. We spent a couple years based out of the city, and again, touring a lot.
Adams: What was it that brought you and Brian to southwestern Virginia again?
LaPrelle: Having our kid, we thought, ‘Well, why don't we go? We spent a couple years in New York. Why don't we go to our place in Virginia? We can be on the farm. That seems like a nice place to have a young child and we'll be near my parents, Noah's grandparents, for a little while.’ So when Noah was just a couple months old, we moved. And then a couple months after that, a big pandemic. We had thought we would travel a little bit more last year, and also maybe look for another place to live, potentially a smaller city. We didn't have the opportunity because we were in Virginia, and we pretty much stayed there and hunkered down.
Adams: I’m interested to hear you elaborate a little more on the pandemic and how it affected you as parents of a young child and as performing musicians. What’s that been like?
LaPrelle: Mostly enormous changes, not least of which, getting married and having a kid is really huge. Even before the pandemic, I had done a pretty big pivot to not traveling as much. When Noah was a young infant. I really wanted to be home, and I didn't have anything planned. We were going to start getting out of our kind of parental bubble in March of 2020. So we didn't. I'd already been doing lessons online, and so I made that my whole thing. I've actually really enjoyed teaching a bit more and teaching one-on-one. I'd done a lot of workshops, but not a lot of private lessons. And I like them, so I think I'm going to continue that even as things open up more.
My husband and I started doing a weekly livestream. Sometimes we read stories aloud and mostly we sing songs, just for whoever is tuning in at that moment. Now I'm starting to get the Facebook memories, and it's us a year ago, holding like our itty bitty, breadloaf-sized baby. Now we just wait until he's asleep because he has normal sleep hours. It's also just very hard as a parent. It’s hard to be isolated just in your family. It's really, really really really clear to me how much you really need community as a parent, and how the care of a child really should be spread over more people than just two.
LaPrelle maintains a Patreon page where she releases occasional songs. Dolphin also has a Patreon and a website. The two recently contributed two songs to a compilation titled “Old-Time Sweethearts - Vol. 1 & Vol. 2.”