Donna Ray Norton

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About Me

DONNA RAY NORTON is from the Madison County community of Sodom Laurel, home to what is arguably the most famous tradition of ballad singing in the Appalachian mountains. She is a member of a group of interconnected families—among them the Norton, Ray, Ramsey, Chandler, and Wallin families—who are keepers of a heritage of balladry and instrumental music that dates back hundreds of years. Despite growing up in this music-rich environment, it was not until she was in high school, and researching a senior project on ballads, that Donna became interested in singing the old “love songs,” as ballads are sometimes known. In the years since, she has learned balladry from family and neighbors, and become a renowned singer herself. She represents the eighth generation of her family known to be ballad singers. Donna has traveled widely to share her community’s music. She was featured at the 50th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC, in 2017, and has performed at the Berkeley Old Time Music Festival in California. Closer to home, she often performs at such events as the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, Mars Hill University Heritage Day, and the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival where, in 2005, she received the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Youth Award for Balladry. She has recorded two albums to date, and is featured on the Grammy-nominated compilation Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition. Donna keeps up a busy performance schedule throughout the region, but Madison County remains her home.

Teaching Style

Traditional knee to knee style

Available By

  • Zoom
  • FaceTime
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Skype

Payments Accepted

  • PayPal
  • Venmo

Link to Additional Work

Some Supplies You Might Need

Just your voice! Traditional ballads are sung Acapella.


*TRAIN is a free service offered by the Virginia Folklife Program at Virginia Humanities, which receives no proceeds from instruction. Our mission is to connect artists directly with students, and all instructional arrangements and financial agreements are made exclusively between the artists and the students. The Virginia Folklife Program does not assume responsibility or liability for these arrangements.