Lynn’s musical journey brings her home to S.D.

Dont let her love sigh
Dont let her heart slow
Dont let her love die
Dont let her love go

Jami Lynns research for a thesis while a music studies major at the University of South Dakota, combined with the songs that were a common part of her childhood while growing up on a farm in Corona have influenced her unique vocal style and repertoire of folk music. (Photo courtesy of Jami Lynn)

So pleads Jami Lynn, her voice in tight harmony with fellow vocalist Josh Rieck, accompanied only by percussion in the song, Dont Let Her Love Go, which appears on Lynns second album, Sodbusters.

Lynns presence in the folk music world is beginning to be felt in the Great Plains, and her upbringing and her studies at the University of South Dakota all play a part in the development of both her unique vocal style and repertoire of folk music that leaves listeners yearning for more.

I started out as a vocal performance major, Lynn said in a recent telephone interview. I studied classical voice for three of my four years, and eventually what I graduated with was a music studies degree because I knew singing classically wasnt what I wanted to do.

During her junior year, she participated in an exchange program at Nashville and I eventually found out that a lot of what I studied at the time wasnt exactly what I wanted to do, but the Honors Program and my thesis kind of set me in the right direction, fortunately.

In the fall of 2009, Lynn began research for her undergraduate thesis. It involved long afternoons in museums and archives that gave her exposure to a unique collection of South Dakota folk songs and stories.

While that body of research makes up a separate set of songs, a few tunes contained in her thesis are also included in Sodbusters, along with a few folk songs that are not related to the upper Midwest. Three tracks from Sodbusters turned up during Lynn's folk research.

Six of the songs on the CD are original, and five of them are folk songs, Lynn said, and three of those folk songs are included in my thesis and are related directly to South Dakota.

Working on my thesis changed my whole direction, she said. I have to admit that going into the project, I simply wanted to write a thesis and get it done. And folk music in this part of the country was just sort of an afterthought.

What I intended to do was to just pull from archived research and make a collection of folk songs, but upon looking, nobody had done the research, Lynn said. So thats what I began doing.

Her thesis may be written and her studies at USD may be complete. Lynn has discovered, however, that the research never ends as she explores the music that earlier generations brought with them as they settled the Great Plains and other regions of the United States.

For example, The Colorado Trail, one of the songs on Lynns Sodbusters album, is included in John and Alan Lomax's American Folk Songs and Ballads, published in 1934. It was collected from a dying Montana cowboy in a hospital in Duluth, MN. The song stays alive today, thanks to Lynns research and the personal touch she brings to the song.

It sort of has followed me everywhere, she said. I ended up presenting my thesis a lot during the end of my senior year and the summer following that, at different conferences. And Im still doing that.

Earlier this summer she shared her findings involving cowboy music during a presentation at the Deadwood Public Library.

This is also my first year as part of the Artists in the Schools program hosted by the South Dakota Arts Council, Lynn said, and what Ill be doing in my residencies with the students is, in a large part, the research for my thesis.

So it (my studies and research) has really followed me. It became an album and a tour, and I got a great chance to go out and share my research and my music with a lot of people, she said.

Students will likely learn the origins of The Falling of the Pine, another track on Lynns Sodbuster album. The song is a ballad from the time when square timber logging was popular during the Golden Age of Lumbering in northern Minnesota. Sung by M. C. Dean of Virginia, MN, The Falling of the Pine was collected by Franz Rickaby between the years of 1918 and 1925, and is included in Ballads and Songs of a Shanty-boy, published in 1926.

Going full circle

Lynn can trace back, with great precision, the moment that folk songs struck a chord with her personally and began to influence her taste in music.

Its a funny story the first song I ever sung on stage, when I was like 12 or 13 years old I still play as part of my folk music repertoire, she said.

Lynn said her father and grandparents are lovers of old time country music.

And in all of these small towns in South Dakota, there are jamborees and gatherings once a month or twice a month, and anybody in the audience can go on stage and play with musicians and sing any song they wanted, she said. Plus, youre singing to a very forgiving crowd.

Lynn, who accompanied her grandparents to one such jamboree, eventually gathered up enough courage step on the stage and sing You Are My Sunshine.

I enjoyed it a lot then, but when I think about where I started, and where I am now, the type of music is very similar, she said.

Lynn admits, however, that during the in-between period of her childhood and her time of research and study at USD, her musical tastes were all over the place. I just sort have come full circle, and pretty much ended up where I started, where my roots are, which I think is kind of neat. The realization was very slow in coming; it was very gradual.

The title track of Sodbusters is a song Lynn wrote about an ancestor that also found herself swept up in a personal journey on the Great Plains.

When I was doing my research, my family began telling me stories of my ancestors coming to this part of the country, and their journey, and thats what Sodbusters is all about, she said. Its the story of my great-great grandmother, Lydia, and her husband traveling to South Dakota and the isolation and the hardships that were all part of making that trip.

Lynns personal excursion as a singer and songwriter continues.

One of the reasons she briefly wound up in Nashville was the wanderlust that typically strikes many young people growing up on the plains of South Dakota the desire to make ones mark in a new, different place.

Through my research, I really found a deeper connection to South Dakota and to the Midwest, and a greater appreciation from where I came from, Lynn said. You also learn to greater appreciate the people and the history right here.

Its definitely been an interesting journey in the last two years in that respect, because it has completely changed my view on where I am and where Id like to be, and thats right here, she said.

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