Aubrey Atwater & Elwood Donnelly

Photo by Janet Moscarello Photography

To those who...deny the human spirit, I give you these chroniclers of its joys and sorrows, light and dark, hope and despair and say that they have but liberated what is in us all. Their dancing notes say, 'Here it is! Humanity's real self. Look! Isn't it wondrous? -- From "The Folk Singers" by Philip R. Pearson, Jr. in his book Poetry is to be Consumed, Vantage Press, New York


... how wonderful your performance at Providence Performing Arts Center was this morning. You really connected with the students, the ushers, and the PPAC staff members. The musical, dance, historical, and educational aspects of your program were so well interwoven and entertaining! You all are absolutely delightful ... and your combined talents are awe-inspiring ... it was one of the best Arts Showcase programs we've presented, and we will be anxious to have the Atwater~Donnelly Band back again! -- Cynthia Goldsmith, Executive Assistant & Community Outreach Coordinator, Providence Performing Arts Center


Atwater~Donnelly are marvelous musicians. Their voices blend beautifully, their instrumental work is sparkling, and they are captivating performers. I could listen to them for hours. -- Frank Dudgeon, WUMB, Boston, MA


Terrific new CD. Congratulations. It's rare to receive a CD with so many wonderful songs and ballads. Thanks, Aubrey and Elwood.  -- Gene Shay,The Folk Show, WXPN, Philadelphia, PA

Their Music

View Atwater~Donnelly
at Café Fantastique,
Worcester, MA
via YouTube

The highly acclaimed husband-wife duo, Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly, present delightful programs of traditional American and Celtic folk songs, a capella pieces, old-time gospel songs, dance tunes, and original works. Elwood and Aubrey blend gorgeous and unusual harmonies and play guitar, Appalachian mountain dulcimer, mandolin, tin whistle, harmonica, banjo, bones, spoons, limberjacks, and other surprises including Appalachian clog dancing and French Canadian footwork.

Their performance is appealing to all ages, and with humor, audience participation, and a relaxed stage presence, Aubrey and Elwood explain song origins to create a deeper understanding of the music and its cultural history. And, because they have such an extensive repertoire, special programs and workshops can be tailored for festivals, schools, colleges, libraries, women's history, plays and holidays.

Aubrey and Elwood are often joined by Cathy Clasper-Torch, who adds a deeply rich third dimension with fiddle, cello, Chinese erhu and vocals. The most recent addition to Atwater~Donnelly is Erin Lobb Mason on vocals and double bass. Erin studied bass performance at Oberlin Conservatory. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, and now living in Rhode Island, Erin also performs locally with the folk trio, The Whelks.

With the award-winning Atwater~Donnelly Band, Aubrey, Elwood are joined by both Cathy and Erin.

Their History

Stone Soup CoffeehouseAubrey and Elwood met as volunteers at the Stone Soup Coffeehouse in Providence in early 1987. Within just a few months these self-taught musicians from Rhode Island formed a duo. Married since 1989, Aubrey and Elwood perform throughout the United States and, on occasion, abroad. Their fourteen recordings receive international airplay. Highlights include airplay on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," Fiona Ritchie's "Thistle and Shamrock," and the nationally syndicated "Midnight Special" out of Chicago.

Atwater and Donnelly have performed and researched traditional folk music and dance in Appalachia, the Ozarks, New England, and other key places in the United States, as well as Ireland, England and Prince Edward Island. They have performed with or shared festival billing with folk legends Jean Ritchie, Pete Seeger, and Doc Watson.

Aubrey and Elwood lead workshops, study with traditional musicians and folklorists, play for and call contra-dances, appear on television, and regularly receive standing ovations for their concerts during trips to festivals and camps such as the Hindman Settlement School in Eastern Kentucky, the Augusta Heritage Center in West Virginia, the Old Songs Festival in New York, the Ozark Folk Center in Arkansas, and the Swannanoa Gathering, the John C. Campbell Folk School in western North Carolina and the Summer Solstice Festival in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

In 2005, Aubrey and Elwood appeared in six performances of a play called "Folktown: The Story of the Fifth Mary," which was written and produced by playwright Bob Hollis and based on twenty-two songs in the Atwater~Donnelly repertoire. This exciting community project involved approximately one hundred people and took place in their then hometown of Foster.

In 2015, Aubrey and Elwood joined forces with 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, RI to present nineteen performances of the play, “Story Theater” by Paul Sills, based on Grimm's Fairy Tales and Aesop's Fables.

Atwater~Donnelly have won Motif Magazine's Music Awards in the following categories: "Best Local Folk Act" 2006; three awards in 2007: "Best Folk Act" for the Atwater~Donnelly Band, "Album of the Year" for "The Halfway Ground,” and "Best Female Vocalist" for Aubrey Atwater, which Aubrey won again in 2009; “Best Folk Act” 2010; “Folk Act of the Year” 2011; “Americana Album of the Year” for “Each Other's Story” 2012; “Best Folk Act” 2014; “Best Americana World Music Act” 2015; Elwood won “Best Americana Male Vocalist” 2015; and in 2016, Atwater~Donnelly won “Best Folk Act” and Aubrey won “Best Americana Female Vocalist.” In 2021, Atwater-Donnelly won “Best World Music Act.”

In addition to their fourteen recordings, Aubrey has written three books of poetry and two songbooks. Elwood has written a songbook, a book of recipes and musings, and has created songbooks for "The Halfway Ground" and "The Weaver's Bonny" recordings. The duo is part of numerous compilation recording projects and albums of other musicians, as well as interviews, podcasts and YouTube videos which can be easily accessed online.

Their Recordings & Books

In 1988 and 1991 respectively, Aubrey and Elwood recorded Labor and Love and Culled From the Garden, collections of Irish, English, and Scottish songs. Aubrey released a solo recording of fourteen original songs called Simple Sentences in 1992. In 1994, they released their fourth album, Like the Willow Tree, which is a blend of Celtic, American, and original folk songs.

Atwater~Donnelly's fifth recording, Where the Wild Birds do Whistle, is a stunning collection of Appalachian, Celtic, and original work. Aubrey completed a live children's recording in 1999 called Daily Growing: Aubrey Atwater Live in the Classroom, and in 2001, Atwater~Donnelly released And Then I'm Going Home: Atwater-Donnelly Live, a wonderfully engaging project recorded live in Rhode Island Coffeehouses. Their eighth and extremely popular recording, The Blackest Crow, was released in February 2004. Their ninth recording, When Winter Calls, is an exquisite collection of winter/holiday songs recorded live at the Blackstone River Theatre, in Cumberland, Rhode Island, and was released in August 2005. Their award-winning tenth recording, The Halfway Ground, is an all-gospel project recording of their old-time gospel band, Jerimoth Hill. Their eleventh recording, The Weaver's Bonny, released in 2009, is a collection of compelling, emotionally-charged songs and ballads, exploring the archives of American folk music and dance.

Released in 2011, Each Other's Story is a collection of original songs spanning 30 years in the careers of Aubrey and Elwood. Their early influences, as well as those grafted in during their many years of research and performing, are apparent here, and hopefully illustrate their depth of commitment to traditional American folk music.

Other additions to the Atwater~Donnelly "wares" are books of poems written by Aubrey, entitled Be Careful, Don't Walk Barefoot on my Kitchen Floor and Don't Bother the Phoebe. In 2001, Aubrey published a song book called Song By Song, with songs and method for mountain dulcimer, old-time banjo, tin whistle, guitar, and voice. In 2022, Aubrey published Song By Song II, with more songs and method for mountain dulcimer. Atwater~Donnelly have also published songbooks for two of their CDs, The Halfway Ground and The Weaver's Bonny. In 2014, Elwood released a songbook, Such Singing You Will Hear: 35 songs of The Carter Family, for mountain dulcimer, backup and voice.

In 2016, The Atwater~Donnelly Trio, with Cathy Clasper-Torch, released the 13th recording, The World Is Old Tonight, a collection of traditional American and Celtic folk songs and ballads that kindle ancestral, old-world remembrances of enchanted and sacred seasons.

In 2022, Aubrey and Elwood, along with Cathy Clasper-Torch, Erin Lobb Mason and Torrin Ryan on Uilleann pipes, released their 14th recording, The Boat You Row, a collection of archival and contemporary folk songs.


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What People Are Saying

A sterling example of how traditional music is alive. -- Rich Warren, The Midnight Special & Folkstage, Chicago, IL

Just watching the two of you on stage was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life. -- Dan Bolger in the audience at the Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View, AR

CONGRATULATIONS ON AN AMAZING ACCOMPLISHMENT! -- Kimberly Newton Fusco, author of the award-winning book for young adults, Tending to Grace, in regard to the release of The Halfway Ground.

I almost fainted when you sang and danced and played the banjo at the same time! My mouth was dropped open the entire time. -- 4th graders, Chaplin Elementary School, Chaplin, CT

Chicago's nationally syndicated WFMT's Midnight Special 2016 Favorites include Atwater-Donnelly Trio's “The World Is Old Tonight:” Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly have been making music together for 30 years, quietly ascending to the peak of their craft. They specialize in traditional music with gentle harmonies and appropriately natural, deceptively sophisticated instrumental accompaniment. Their choice of material on this album rates a must hear of traditional music. This is an enchantingly beautiful recording. --Rich Warren, WFMT's Midnight Special, Chicago, IL

An absolutely beautiful handful of songs - this new album [When Winter Calls] is a real treat. For me, it's always a thrill to hear others sing my songs - your duet of 'Wintergrace' pleased me so much. Thanks for including it on this fine recording. Jean Ritchie, Port Washington, NY

I just listened to my copy of The World Is Old Tonight ~ and even though I did listen to "Saddle & Ride" first, a song I wrote for Aubrey back in The Secret Commonwealth days (1998 for that folk opera) ~ I'll have to say this entire recording is pretty much a classic. Aubrey & Elwood have gone at traditional music in the best way, playing and sharing through countless sessions and concerts, always with peerless poise, grace, and good humor. No wonder they are award-winning. I'm so very proud that they have shared my music with so many people. And just to note, their voices have reached that stage where every note is pure & perfect. I hope that everyone will give this recording a listen. Music that America can be proud of. Daniel Dutton, Somerset, KY

Just a note to acknowledge arrival of 'When Winter Calls.' I had a quick spot-through and am delighted. I expect we'll be using this several times in the run up to Christmas. Congratulations and thanks. Mitch Park, Folk on Sunday, Radio Kidnappers 1431AM, Hastings, NEW ZEALAND

Especially enjoyed the instrumental piece, "Imagine Peace;" the whistle playing nearly broke my heart, it was so beautiful. Thank you for your commitment to your craft. Your fan, Fred Ganczar

You spread joy like a farmer spreads seeds. longtime fan, Barrington, RI

Your discs arrived on Thursday - excellent! There's something about your style that can take people back to a time they may not have even lived, like a bit of country in all of us! You've also found a very special way of re-working some of the Scottish traditional standards, with a kind of American 'lift' - rather than the Celtic! I have not heard anything like it. Glen Clifford, Celtic World, DEAKIN, Australia

I thought I was going to fall asleep because of my medicine, but you guys are AWESOME!!" A New Fan, New City, NY

To those who ... deny the human spirit, I give you these chroniclers of its joys and sorrows, light and dark, hope and despair and say that they have but liberated what is in us all. Their dancing notes say, 'Here it is! Humanity's real self. Look! Isn't it wondrous?' From "The Folk Singers" by Philip R. Pearson, Jr. in his book Poetry is to be Consumed, Vantage Press, New York

Atwater~Donnelly are marvelous musicians. Their voices blend beautifully, their instrumental work is sparkling, and they are captivating performers. I could listen to them for hours. Frank Dudgeon, WUMB, Boston, MA

Your music is the only folk music I remotely like. Kate Fusco, age 14, Foster, RI

I can't thank you enough for sharing yourselves so completely from your dynamic performance on Saturday night to your workshops -- we were wowed, thrilled and awed by your work. Might you consider coming back next year? We didn't get ENOUGH of you!" Holly Foy, Folk College, Juniata, PA

... Harmonies so thick they seemed more than the sum of two voices. Scott Alarik, The Boston Globe

Vocally and instrumentally strong and very distinctive their ability to weave disparate strands together into a seamless whole ... Rock 'n' Reel Magazine, Cumbria, England

Splendid collection.....Beautiful interplay of male and female vocals with an abundance of well-played acoustic instruments. A sense of social conscience and women's strength permeates this thoroughly enjoyable and touching release. Excellent. Sounds Celebrating Resistance, Sacramento, CA

... I've been told that if we don't get Atwater~Donnelly, there's gonna be civil unrest. Crystal Flores, Codman Artisan Fair, Lincoln, MA

... To see this talented pair live is quite a moving experience, but then again, Like the Willow Tree is so enriching that I could just play it all day long. Andy McKnight, New England Performer

... A collection of excellent songs ... [Atwater and Donnelly] have sweet, clear voices, which blend beautifully together ... Dirty Linen, Baltimore, MD

My psychiatrist LOVES you guys!! -- a new fan in West Warwick, RI.

The quality of your voice and music, your rendering of traditional songs and stories, and your subtle strength in dealing with an adolescent audience were all remarkable. Sandy Townsend, The Derryfield School, Manchester, NH

What a beautiful afternoon it turned out to be -- you are wonderfully versatile and talented duo and the audience certainly agreed. I had nothing but rave reviews after the concert. Maria Poirier, Cheshire Public Library, Cheshire, CT

It was great! Maddie McCauley, 6 1/2 years old, Marshfield, MA

A dazzling duo ... the epitome of local folk music, the duo Atwater~Donnelly will wow audiences ... from sea shanties to Celtic tunes, this pair can play it all. Good Times, West Warwick, RI

The duo shows that traditional music can still be done beautifully by performers who care. Their harmonies entwine delightfully, and Atwater's solo vocals are uplifting and impressive. Stephen A. Ide, The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, MA

How DO they get their voices to weave around each other's so nicely? Laura Travis, The Nicepaper, Providence, RI

Your recording is beautifully orchestrated -- really superb. Every song is sharp and professional, lilting and diction perfect. I am stunned once again by the intelligence of your musical choices. To think you are my relatives. What a joy! Nina Dodd, Aubrey's mother.

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