A Tribute to Kim Lansford (1955-2023)
In the midst of the celebrations of the Ozarks at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in D.C., we learned the sad news that Ozark musician Kim Lansford had died on Sunday, July 2, 2023. In anticipation of that day, our friend and former intern Sam Kendrick asked to write the tribute that appears below. Readers will understand why it was important for him and why we readily agreed. We share Sam’s tribute to Kim Lansford here and send love to all who miss and mourn her.
Kim Lansford photo courtesy of Suzi Lindsay Vause
A tribute to Kim Lansford (August 9th, 1955 – July 2nd, 2023)
Hello my friends.
It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you of the passing of Kim Lansford. She left us on the morning of July 2nd, around 2.30 in the morning. We lost another great musician and friend. Kim was my mama’s best, and oldest, friend. Which made Kim more like an aunt to my brother and me than anything else. They grew up together in the same neighborhood in Kansas City, two doors down from each other, starting at the age of nine. They went to school together, they shared a love of music, and generally loved getting up to shenanigans together. Their friendship endured through good times and bad, fading in and out of touch, as all long-term friendships do, but ultimately finding each other again in the past 20 years and falling back into the same natural friendship that endured through their lives. I know we all have our own stories and memories of Kim, but I wanted to share my side of the Kim Lansford we all know and love.
Kim shared her musical talent and voice with the world. She brought the joy of old-time music to people, not just throughout the country, but to people around the world. She started with the piano when she was young, but she was in college when she started making the transition to Old Time Music. Then she moved to the hammer dulcimer, and from there into rhythm guitar and singing. Her impact has been profound. Kim and her husband Jim even played a part in the movie Winter’s Bone, which starred Jennifer Lawrence. She had, and still has, friends across the country that will always remember her fondly. Friends who will always look back and say that she was a wonderful person who cared about everyone she met and played music with. She was an incredibly talented and influential musician, even to my family and me. My brother plays rhythm guitar styled off the way she played, because it was steady, reliable, and something to be trusted. My colleagues and friends remember her as an icon to Old Time Style musicians. Kim was always willing and happy to give advice and talk about different versions or names of songs and tunes. Personally, I learned more about music from her than I did in my four and a half years of undergraduate studies. For those of us who knew her, we all have stories about music, festivals, fiddle contests, conventions, or just friendly visits with her. Every moment was a joy to be around her while playing music, laughing, discussing styles and musicians, talking about how one chord fit into a song and how it might be altered so it could enhance, not just the player’s experience, but of everyone else listening. Some of my favorite moments are when she would just stop playing and listen to the universe around her and the music that echoed through it. Kim was a true musician, and everyone who ever knew her knows it.
But for my family and me, when it came to Kim, music was ancillary. Sure, we would talk about it, or play late into the night, but it wasn’t the most important thing. Through the holidays, special occasions, or even just visits, music still came second. Albeit a close second, but still second. I don’t mean to downplay her influence as a musician or a person, but playing music together wasn’t what was most important when we were all together. She was just Kim. Someone to confide in, someone who shared a love of cooking with my mama and sharing food with others, and someone who would always laugh at the absurdity of life. Even if there was nothing to be said, there was still a comfortable silence to be found. She was family. She was there when my grandfather died and was a rock for all of us to lean on. When it comes right down to it, Kim was someone to sit at the table with and just talk; about anything, everything, or even just nothing at all. Sure, things could get deep, but it often came down to seeing which one of us could make the others laugh harder, and the deeper into our cups we got, the funnier everything got. She had an amazing sense of humor that was sophisticated, yet crass, somber, yet obscene, and reasonable, but absolutely absurd. She found a way to laugh at everything. During one of the many visits, we made to her in the past few months, my family and I visited her in the care facility she was staying in in Springfield. Now, I don’t know about you, but I find care facilities to be absolutely dismal places, but even in that dimly lit room, we found things to laugh about. The quality of the food was one of the things. She called it “pre-chewed”, so she didn’t even have to work that hard to get it down. Another thing we got hysterical about was the fact that on the whiteboard on the wall above her bed had her name written in quotation marks. So of course, we started calling her “Kim” whilst using air quotes, which quickly spiraled out of control and every other subject we talked about ended up with air quotes, each time being funnier than the last. I don’t think there was a single time we ever walked away from a visit with Kim when our faces didn’t hurt from laughing so much.
Kim was also a great cook. Even if it was a lentil salad, which I am on record as being vehemently against everything lentil, I enjoyed the food. She was great with salads, likely the only person who makes a better salad than my mama (don’t tell her that, though), and while her meals often featured vegetables more than meat, she made one of the best lamb stews I’ve ever had. Even when cooking, though, she imbued the process with humor. Making fun of techniques like “massaging the kale” or something else ridiculous like that. You may not have been able to taste the humor, but you knew it was still there because as anyone worth their salt in the kitchen knows, there is emotion in food, imbued by the chef and adding just that much more to the meal. Of course, with supper, came drinks. She always had various options to offer, from cheap beer, to whisk(e)y, to fancy wine, Kim made sure to have something for everyone. Lord knows how many times my brother and I descended onto her liquor basket to sample all of the whiskeys she had; pretending to have sophisticated palates, sniffing and making noises at the expensive scotches she kept, before we inevitably turned to the Jameson, because really, you can’t beat a simple and friendly Irish Whiskey that makes no demands on your taste buds other than enjoying the moment and having a good time. Of course, we reciprocated in turn when she came to visit, making sure that we had, at the very least, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black on the counter for her, because that was her favorite. Yes, I’ll admit, we helped her once the bottle was cracked open and more often than not the bottle was empty at the end of the night, and once the next day dawned and we managed to drag our sorry butts out of bed at the crack of noon, she was always there to make fun of us while we nursed our hangovers and blearily ambled about the house. Kim was there for Thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters, always made sure to wish us happy birthday, and always up for a visit. She would help cook the holiday meals, bring food, bring drink, bring her deep interest in every topic, and bring her incredible sense of humor.
If you ask me what I’ll miss most about Kim, I don’t really have an answer for you. I could say that I’ll miss watching her and my mama laugh hysterically while they reminisced about past shenanigans, that I’ll miss sitting and talking with her in quiet moments, that I’ll miss listening to her and my brother play music together and talk about old English Folk Songs, or that I’ll miss listening to her and my dad dissect one specific piece of music that was recorded in the 1920’s. But to answer with a single thing would be impossible because she was all these things and more. I won’t miss the big things and the grand gestures, like sessions or the sudden quiet in the room when she pulled out her Gibson to start to play. I’ll miss offering her my arm as we walk up the hill on her property up to the observing platform that she had built on the highest point of her hill. I’ll miss emptying the barrels that collected rainwater in the fall, because they would crack come winter if they were still full of water. I’ll miss going out to check on sheep with her as we rambled on about things that didn’t matter, while the rest of my family moved on ahead of us with the mission to get things done. All of these are true. They are moments and memories that stand out in my mind; images that are forever ingrained into the revolving picture show that resides within my brain.
A lot of times when we lose a loved one, they become perfect in our minds. The truth of the matter is that none of us are perfect. We all have our flaws and differences within our relationships, but to love someone is to love all of them, including their flaws and imperfections. When we gloss over the sticking points in a person’s life, we lose what I believe to be the most important parts of that person’s life. They are what makes someone relatable. I loved….no, I love Kim. As does my family, as I hope all of you do who might read this. There’s this post somewhere on the internet that speaks of some guy who asked an older man about grief and the loss of loved ones. To summarize, the older man responds that grief comes in waves and leaves scars, those waves will seem overwhelming at first, but will gradually become smaller and hit softer. I held onto that idea for several years after the death of my grandfather, until I watched an interview between Stephen Colbert and Andrew Garfield. Garfield was speaking about the recent loss of his mother and said these words: “I hope this grief stays with me, because it’s all the unexpressed love I didn’t get to tell her.” It’s probably an unexpected take on loss, but also staggeringly true. Grief doesn’t come in waves, yes it leaves scars on our souls and hearts, but grief is a constant thing that we must learn to live with. There will be reminders that will bowl us over, that might feel like waves, but really we just find a place to put it while we work to assimilate it into our minds, because it never really leaves us. We just get used to the pain of the loss of someone we’ll never see again in this life.
To return to the question of what I’ll miss most about Kim, there is no single answer. I’ll miss a lot about her, but mostly? I’ll just miss Kim.
I hope that those of you who are mourning the loss of Kim are able to find a moment of peace to look back on the memories that you share with her. If you get the chance in that moment of peace, pour yourself a dram of Johnnie Walker Black and send a toast to Kim out to the universe. For now, I’ll leave you with this, words of the last song my brother and I got to sing for her, The Parting Glass.
“So since it falls unto my lot, that I should rise and you should not. I’ll gently rise and softly call, good night and joy be with ye all.”
Once again, don’t let the music stop.