Spotlight on new BPR announcer and host Laura Blackley
Listeners may have noticed a new voice on the BPR airwaves: last month, we welcomed Laura Blackley as an announcer and fill-in host. We’re thrilled Laura has joined the BPR team. She brings years of experience as an on-air host, the impeccable timing of a musician and the curiosity and passion of an educator. Laura plays “folk tunes with a rock n roll soundtrack” with her band the Wildflowers and is a music teacher at Rainbow Community School.
BPR listeners may recognize your voice from your days at WNCW where you were a host and producer. What attracted you to get back into live radio?
I have always enjoyed being a radio host. Mainly for me it has served me well in the areas of learning about music and musicians as well as helping me stay informed about the world--and also sharing that learning with listeners. Working at WNCW I learned so much about music and the people who make it. I think my favorite part has always been hearing the stories behind the songs. I was really able to build some skills in the areas of conducting interviews, rhythm, pacing and timing. When I saw that BPR was hiring I was excited at the thought of being able to use those skills again.
What role does radio play in your life? Do you have any favorite music shows, public radio programs or podcasts?
I am definitely an avid listener of public radio of all kinds! But I also listen to commercial radio sometimes too. And I keep thinking that I may pick up a short-wave radio system someday but I haven't done it yet. I have a fondness for classic country/honky tonk music. There is a resilience and an elegance to the songwriting/poetry in those compositions. My favorite country show is Tom Pittman's "Country Gold" on WNCW. I also love Tom Petty Radio on Sirius XM. World Cafe is one of my favorite ways of checking out new music. On road trips I enjoy true crime podcasts--particularly "Criminal" with Phoebe Judge and "Serial." And of course any radio that dedicates itself to amplifying local voices, such as the Waters and Harvey Show and "Local Color" on WNCW with Renee Denton.
When you’re not on the BPR airwaves, you’re often playing with your band The Wildflowers – how has it been for you to get back out in front of live audiences?
It's been great! I absolutely love playing music with the guys in my band and I consider them family. The world has gone through it's share of shifts over the past several years. It was really difficult not being able to play music with people, which is one of the things that helps me stay grounded. But we've been getting some great gigs and some really encouraging and positive feedback from people who have enjoyed our music. I used part of the downtime during the pandemic to write some new songs and make an album. I have a working title: "Blackley's Blues," and I hope to release it sometime this fall or winter.
How did you originally get into performing? Was there a musician or person who inspired you?
The first record I ever bought was Joan Jett "I Love Rock n Roll." It was so inspiring to see female musicians doing their thing.Laura Blackley
I have also always loved Bonnie Raitt, Allman Brothers Band, John Prine and a bunch of others. I got really inspired by Piedmont Blues artists from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia in the last several years. Particularly Etta Baker, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten, Taj Mahal. I love the singing of Buck Owens. I also play with a classic country/honky tonk band called The Old Chevrolette Set. We do songs 'from World War II to Watergate. (think: George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline)' Last summer we learned a ton of Buck Owens' material and I just kept thinking how singable it is. He really poured his heart into those songs.
You are also half of the musical duo Pixiebilly with Miriam Allen. Tell us about this group and what you love about performing in a duo.
Miriam and I started playing music together about a year ago. We have done a bunch of local farmer's market gigs which has been really fun! She and I are leaving in mid-July to do a music tour in Alaska(!) and I am really excited about it. We do a mix of our own originals plus some country, folk, rock and blues--and some kids' songs too.
Tell us about your work as a teaching artist and developing curriculum on North Carolina musicians.
My Teaching Artist work evolved out of my being inspired by Piedmont Blues musicians and also the music of Tryon, NC native Nina Simone. A lot of people may not be aware that she attended high school right here in Asheville and graduated as valedictorian at the age of 15. She performed a number of times on the campus of Highland Hospital in Montford. I got invited to Burke County schools several years ago to put together a presentation for 3rd graders for the county's 'Etta Baker Week.' I got to meet Etta's family in the process and traveled to 10 elementary schools in 5 days to share Etta's music (my interpretation of it anyway) and talk about Piedmont Blues. I took this presentation to several school districts in North Carolina before the pandemic. It was a wonderful opportunity to travel to different parts of the state and share my knowledge and skills with people. I haven't done as much Teaching Artist work lately because I accepted a position as Music Teacher at Rainbow Community School in West Asheville. I still incorporate as much blues as I can into the work I do with the kids at Rainbow.
What’s on your summer playlist?
Anything and everything by Neko Case, "Shake Sugaree" by (recent rock n roll Hall of Fame inductee) Elizabeth Cotten, Taj Mahal "Hidden Treasures 1969-1972," Waxahatchee "Saint Cloud," "Carolina Funk: Funk 45's from the Atlantic Coast, Gary Clark Jr. Live