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Kate Campbell Mines US Southern Memories for <i>Monuments</i>  - 2004-09-01

Born in New Orleans, singer-songwriter Kate Campbell grew up in northern Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee. After earning undergraduate degrees in music and history, she continued her education, and received a Masters degree in history, before setting off on a career as a musician.

On her sixth CD, Monuments, Kate Campbell continues to mine her memories of growing up in the Deep South during the years when black Americans were fighting for equal civil rights.

The sad song, "Petrified House", is a description of a Southern lady for whom time stopped 50 years ago. Kate Campbell uses the metaphor of an invalidated elderly woman who hides in her mansion to push away the realities of a changing world.

The album's centerpiece is a song called "William's Vision." Kate Campbell says the character in her song is part of Nashville history.

"William Edmonson was an African-American who was born on the remnants of a slave plantation, south of Nashville, right after the Civil War [in] the 1870s," she explains. "And he had no education and he essentially moved into the city of Nashville and for most of his life, he was a hospital orderly. And one day, he said that God gave him this vision to start sculpting. Of course, he had no training, but he ended up being the first African-American sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City."

Another song on Kate Campbell's CD, Monuments, was inspired by the works of Southern writer Eudora Welty. After Welty's death in 2001, Kate decided to re-read some of her favorite author's short stories.

"One night around midnight, I start reading this story called 'The Hitchhikers,' she says. "So, I'm reading it at midnight, and it's like 3 o'clock in the morning, and I sit straight up in bed. I've been dreaming the lyrics to song. And I literally got out of bed and wrote down the words as they came to me. And that's the song 'Yellow Guitar.'"

"Yellow Guitar" aside, writing a song isn't usually something Kate Campbell does quickly.

"I just think about things a long time," she says. "Sometimes I'll be driving around with a phrase in my head, or a story that I heard on NPR [U.S. National Public Radio], or read about for many years. And I kind of keep different little notebooks. There are certain phrases that I want to remember, and I can re-read those and think, 'Oh yeah, what was so interesting about that?' But once I figure out what I'm going to do with it, I sit down and then I can write the song in several hours. But it could have been five years that I was thinking about it."

Kate Campbell is the daughter of a Baptist minister, and her gospel heritage comes out in a quiet song of hope called "The Way Home," one of the 10 original tracks on Monuments.