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“Whatever moves me, moves me to write,” explains emerging songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Donna Hughes. For Hughes, songwriting is an all-consuming endeavor, encompassing all that goes on around her. “My songs are always about something I have seen, done, or felt – or something that I saw someone else do or go through. There is always truth to every song I write, even if it isn’t my truth.” Since she first began writing songs a little over a decade ago she has composed over 250, recording over half of them. Her songs have been recorded by Alison Krauss and Union Station (“My Poor Old Heart” from Lonely Runs Both Ways) and the Seldom Scene (“Sad Old Train”. Twelve of her originals, along with two unique covers (including Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”), compose Gaining Wisdom, Hughes’ first nationally-released album. The album was produced by the legendary Tony Rice, and features contributions from an elite group of supporting musicians and harmony vocalists such as Alison Krauss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rhonda Vincent, and Carl Jackson.
Hughes cultivated a love of acoustic music born of hearing the bluegrass bands brought in to perform at her local church as she was growing up. Raised in a closely knit family in tiny Trinity, North Carolina, Hughes pursued music from an early age, picking out tunes on the family piano at age three and, in her words, “annoying my parents all through my childhood by singing all over the house!
She began writing and recording in earnest in 1996, cutting an album’s worth of songs that proved to be more of a learning experience than a career-builder. Continuing to write relentlessly, Hughes spent five years gathering material for her first album, 2001’s Somewhere in Time. That album picked up word-of-mouth buzz and won her a devoted following among both bluegrass fans and critics, and was followed by the twenty-one track collection Same Old Me in 2003. Union Station bassist Barry Bales heard a track from Same Old Me on WNCW’s bluegrass program, and brought Hughes to the attention of Alison Krauss, who quickly became a fan of Hughes’ powerful, insightful songcraft.
"Shortly before Christmas of 2003,” Donna recalls, “I received a phone call out of the blue from Tony Rice. He asked if he could produce my next album…it amazed me at the time, because my car CD changer was filled with Tony Rice albums! It was such a welcome relief to get recognition from such an extraordinary musical hero, after all of my hard work.”
Her quest to continually uncover new perspectives is what makes Hughes so remarkable as both a writer and performer, and why she has been referred to by the renowned bluegrass/country writer and producer Carl Jackson as “One of the best new singer-songwriters in the world of bluegrass…” With fellow maverick Tony Rice at the helm, Gaining Wisdom makes a powerful statement from an artist who has only just begun her career.