Remembering Rachel Blanton

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Rachel Blanton passed away suddenly on December 25, 2014. She was a prolific violinist and founding member of Bourbon Baroque. The following remembrance was written by Michael Hill, a friend and fellow musician, with contributions by John Austin Clark, co-artistic director of Bourbon Baroque. Her obituary can be found here.

Louisville’s music community has been forever touched and will deeply miss the quiet and peaceful nature of one of its most diversely talented musicians. Rachel Blanton was born on September 11, 1974 and was raised in New Albany, Indiana. At the age of 7 she began playing violin in her school orchestra at Silver Street Elementary School. She continued her love of music throughout her education and completed her Bachelors and Masters Degrees at the University of Louisville’s School of Music under Peter McHugh. During this time she developed her passion for many varieties of music ranging from Irish fiddle to Baroque violin and everything in between. And so her many contributions began…

As a teacher, Rachel has influenced so many young musicians in the area, having developed the string program at Sacred Heart School for the Arts where she has taught for nearly 15 years as well as recently developing the program at Montessori School of Louisville.

Over the years Rachel has performed with countless groups; it would be nearly impossible to list them all. Throughout Kentucky and Indiana, Rachel was always willing to help and collaborate with her fellow musicians. Her giving nature meant she was constantly on her way to or from a gig, but she expressed pure joy in her endeavors. In this way, so many people’s lives have been touched by her music in live performances ranging from backyards and bars to the largest venues and festivals in the area including Headliners, Forecastle, and more. She has performed and recorded with The Porch Possums, My Darling Asleep, The Pennies, The Commonwealth, JD Michaels, Dust Radio, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. For as many lives as she touched, each experience meant so much to Rachel as well. With photos of friends and family filling her violin case, she kept and added to these memories because it made her smile each time she took up her violin.

Her long-time work with Abbey Road on the River made her an asset to their musical family, having performed and arranged string and horn parts from the festival’s beginning and going on to organizing tours with groups such as The Newbees. In 2014 Rachel contributed greatly by helping to plan a Northeast tour of a Beatles tribute concert. The twenty-something musicians that traveled together formed a special bond, forever influenced by Rachel’s kind and graceful presence. Recently, she helped to organize a set of performances in Miami, FL. The upcoming performances will surely be meaningful and heartfelt in her memory. In memory, the main stage for Abbey Road on the River has been renamed the Rachel Blanton Stage.
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Rachel served as a founding member of Bourbon Baroque: Louisville’s Period Instrument Ensemble since its inception in 2007 under artistic directors John Austin Clark and Nicolas Fortin. She played an active role in its success both on stage and behind the scenes, accepting the position as treasurer on the Executive Team of the Board of Directors in 2013. Outside of Bourbon Baroque, Rachel performed in countless musical theater productions, including most recently JCC Center Stage’s “Sweeney Todd,” Sacred Heart Academy’s “The Wiz,” and Silver Creek High School’s “The Last Five Years.” Her ability to adapt and succeed in so many styles made every experience performing with her so much fun for those around and according to Austin Clark “These musical rendezvous are what I will remember most and keep closest to my heart.”

Rachel’s contributions are many and will live on in those that enjoyed performing and collaborating with her as well as those that simply enjoyed listening. The list of musicians and bands she has played with is almost as countless as the lives she has touched with her music. Many musicians are revisiting their work with Rachel and commenting on the beauty of her playing and her sweet nature, and how much that contributed to their music. It is this joy of music and spirit of collaboration and peace that she brought with her to every task that perhaps can best celebrate to her lasting memory.

16 Responses to “Remembering Rachel Blanton”

  1. On 12/27/14 10:44 PM, Laura Lea Duckworth said:

    Rachel was a solid musician who could absolutely be counted on. I worked with her on an off since she was a student in the Early Music Ensemble at U of L. Easy to be with and so very musical. She was a joy to be with. We will miss her.

  2. On 12/27/14 11:15 PM, lisa austin said:

    I am not a musician…just a friend. She had a very gentle soul and was a world class sweetheart. I will miss her so.

  3. On 12/27/14 11:18 PM, Jack Ashworth said:

    I was extremely fortunate to work with Rachel as a student in the U of L Early Music Ensemble. She seemed born to play in Baroque style, performing difficult pieces with nonchalant ease – which, I learned, was her way with all the kinds of music she played. Mike Tunnell, another Louisville musician lost too soon, left an important message to be read at his funeral last week: To be a good trumpet player, start by being a good person. A wonderful companion, quietly industrious, and thoroughly professional from the time she was a student, Rachel demonstrates this as well as anyone I know.

  4. On 12/27/14 11:30 PM, Sarah Nettleton-Cleary said:

    I sang in many groups where Rachel was accompanying…it is a sad day indeed to lose such a tremendous musician and person as Rachel. The shoes left to fill in Louisville this month are too large for anyone to dare attempt. I feel like the best we can do is continue to pay tribute to these amazing musicians we had the privilege to play/sing alongside and never let their memory die. Rest in peace, Rachel…you will never be forgotten.

  5. On 12/28/14 12:55 AM, Jenny Hunter said:

    Our family has been blessed by Rachel’s visits to our house. We called them “Play for Supper” evenings. Rachel and our son Nathan would play beautiful music and in exchange, I’d provide supper for the musicians. Together, Rachel and Nathan filled our house with music – what a gift.

  6. On 12/28/14 1:03 AM, Joey Southerland said:

    I got to know Rachel many years ago when I played with the Underhill Trio and Susan Semple. From then on, I was graced to be the musical director for many of the shows at Sacred Heart School for the Arts – and she was my right-hand musician – always on task and never mad but always asking questions to make the music work better. What a phenomenal musician and down-to-earth woman. So at task and passionate in her playing yet able to let her hair down and smile and enjoy the company of friends. Will miss playing shows with her and enjoying the artistry and finesse she had with everything she did. Rest dear heart and know we love you and miss you.

  7. On 12/28/14 2:19 AM, Sherry Sumner said:

    Racheal and I attended the same grade, jr. and sr. HIGH schools. We played violin together from the time I was 6. As a teenager I remember hanging out at her first apartment. This news broke my heart, I knew her and had been close to her all those years. I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t smiling. To see and hear all of the stories you all are sharing are beautiful. I am grateful to have known her.

  8. On 12/28/14 11:36 AM, Mark Brogdon said:

    We will miss you, Rachel. I will see you again – on the Big Stage …

  9. On 12/28/14 2:08 PM, Stacy Price said:

    My dear colleague and friend who I taught with at Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, KY. Even though it’s been 10 years since we saw each other, she was the kind of soul who let’s you take a piece of her every where you journey. I’ll miss you Rachel!!! Wishing you the opportunity to Fly Higher than ever!

  10. On 12/28/14 2:20 PM, Rod Wooten said:

    I played with Rachel so many times at St. Edward that the count has been lost. For as accomplished a musician as she was, the one thing I remember from day one with Rachel was her lack of pretense. She was as pleasant each and every time as your best friend is. For me, all violinists and all fiddlers have been and will always be compared to Rachel. She was the standard. I’m glad I knew her and I’m glad I was fortunate to play with her.

  11. On 12/28/14 9:36 PM, Ben Sollee said:

    Rachel was always the player I called when I needed a good spirit in the room that was willing and capable of playing in every style. I’ll miss her and as will much of Louisville’s musical family.

  12. On 12/28/14 11:29 PM, Sallie Cunningham said:

    Rachel taught my daughter violin at Sacred Heart’s campus 10 years ago. As with all of her students, she had a gift of connecting with both the child and the parent. She had great patience with young, aspiring musicians while allowing her professionalism and expertise to come through the lesson. Although my daughter did not continue with violin, she still plays guitar and piano. I believe Rachel’s love for music and teaching had a lasting effect instilling the same in my daughter. Louisville lost an amazing talent and and even more amazing person. My deep condolences to her family.

  13. On 12/29/14 3:39 PM, Bob Mitchell said:

    I never got to know Rachel as well as I wanted, but my memories of her are warm and positive. She was a phenomenal musician with a beautiful smile. I was privileged to hear her perform with “My Darling Asleep,” and “Bourbon Baroque.” In our last conversation, we spoke about the “Porch Possums” being studio guests on my radio program. Our community has lost a talented young woman. Rest in peace, Rachel. We will miss you.

  14. On 01/3/15 10:20 AM, Doug Bindner said:

    Rachel and I worked together in the studio on a new CD I was producing a couple of months ago. I was inspired by her talent and grace. She moved me with her strings. Although I just met and worked with her this year, she made an everlasting effect on me and my music. I feel very fortunate to have met and worked with her. She and her family are in my prayers.

  15. On 01/3/15 9:52 PM, peter white said:

    I am so sorry for Rachel b. I was hear about her my friend he was saying she pass away What happens tell me some one kill her see her 2011 to 2009 abbey road on river

  16. On 02/4/15 10:00 AM, Catherine Krebs Rice said:

    I am truly shocked to learn that Rachel is gone from this world! I had the privilege of knowing her, working with her, and having her play for my wedding 5 years ago. She was a remarkable musician but an even more memorable person! She had the biggest heart and would do just about anything for anyone! I am so very sad she is gone but I’m sure that she playing amongst the greats in Heaven!