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Lytingale Wanted to Sing Folk Music. Her Songs Still Echo the Ethos of the 1970s

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Before she went by the singular name of Lytingale, Lois Henrickson envisioned a career fronting a folk rock band.

“Any day now I’m going to be discovered. Don’t you know this?” she said with a laugh.

Alas, Peter, Paul and Mary never became Peter, Paul and Lois. But in some respects, Lytingale has never abandoned the ethos of folk music’s heyday. You can hear some of her music on the Womansong program June 1 and 2 at Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church in Swannanoa.

For more than 30 years, she was music director for Unity Church, in Arden, where her husband ministered. She composed and sang scores of songs for the church band about peace, justice and inner fulfillment.

“I didn’t like the music that was considered church music. I didn’t like hymns,” Lytingale said. “I am a spiritual non-religious person. It took me years before I would put the word ‘God’ in a song. I wanted my songs to say something about the world, about a vision for a different kind of world. I think a lot of the songwriters of the early ‘70s had that same vision.”

Her husband retired from the ministry three years ago, and that forced Lyte, as everyone calls her, to reset her musical compass. Today, at 68, she turns her creative energies to the local choir Womansong.

“I stayed in a comfortable rut,” she said. “I think that was one of the things leaving the church helped me with is to kick out the ends of my rut a little bit.”

Lytingale grew up in a musical family -- her mother played piano, and her dad took her to barn dances, where he played banjo and mandolin. She earned a music degree so she could teach, but never sought work in a classroom.

She conjured the Lytingale name and persona by blending a fictional 14th century druid priestess with the image of possessing the voice of a nightingale.

“I just felt it was a better reflection of who I was and the kind of music I was doing,” she said. “Lois Henrickson felt too serious. I’m not a very serious person.”

Credit Matt Peiken | BPR News
Lytingale rehearsing with Womansong

Lytingale sang in a folk duo in Richmond, Virginia, and moved to Nashville to pursue music for a brief time before arriving in Mills River with her husband’s job at Unity Church. With that came a paid position as the church’s music director.

“I was not comfortable with traditional religion, I was not comfortable with the sin and death and the whole focus on the afterlife instead of the current life,” she said. “I had a luxury of putting together a band, that was paid by the church, and had a steady gig every week and would sing whatever I told them to.”

Lytingale said she has evolved from feminism to humanism and, since connecting with Womansong, back to feminism. She laces her lyrics with the buoyant idealism of the women’s and civil rights movements of 50 years ago.

“If it’s a cliche, it’s a cliche, so what?” she said of her lyrics. “Some of the songs people most love to sing become cliches. I would love to have my songs become cliches.”

Lytingale’s songs dot a couple of Womansong CDs. But with her adult son is soon moving back to this area from Los Angeles and opening a recording studio here, Lytingale said she feels a long-overdue inspiration to record an album or two of her own music.

“If I’d been a single person whose only source of income was music, I’d have gone out there and hustled a lot, and I didn’t,” she said. “A lot of it was because I was not a risktaker, and I was too comfortable.

“I’ve always wanted my music to have something to of substance,” she added. “You want to change the world. There’s a part of me that still wants to enlighten and teach and help people through this life.”


Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.
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