For Rebecca Frazier, the answer is a precise one: 30 minutes. That is how long she held her son, Charlie, when he was born prematurely. She snuggled with the one-pound boy, sang to him, and loved him for his whole life, a half-hour flash in 2010.
You may want to stop reading now, fearing that this will be a story of heartache too great to bear. But it is about more than tragedy. It is the story of turning grief into beauty, of coming alive thanks to the power of music, of bluegrass that can cure the blues.
Frazier (née Hoggan, ’98) gave birth to Charlie at just 22 weeks, then had to return home and figure out how to get herself through each day, every day, while also raising her 18-month-old son, Jack. “I thought, I’m crying every day, I can’t get out of bed, I have to take care of this toddler. How am I going to move forward?” she says.
Before her children were born, Frazier had led the popular bluegrass band Hit & Run. She planned to take a break from the music business while she raised her kids, but realized music was one of the few things that could keep her moving after Charlie’s death.
“I decided to get started on my musical career much earlier than I had planned,” she says. “A lot of times as an artist you’re out there trying to book shows at the same time you’re trying to work on the art. I wasn’t doing any music business at the time, or thinking what are people going to think of this one, or will this be on the charts. I was solely focused on music and motherhood.”
The result of that focus is the album When We Fall, released earlier this year. The collection of bluegrass and Americana songs closes with a song called “Babe in Arms,” which she sang at her son’s memorial service. Many of the other songs began as part of her healing process but evolved into something that sounds less mournful. All of the tracks, though, are rooted in deep emotion.
“I was really raw,” she says. “I feel like it makes my record more authentic than anything I’ve ever done.”
Frazier’s album is earning her a lot of attention in the bluegrass and Americana worlds, where she was already known for playing guitar in the flatpicking style (as opposed to fingerstyle guitar) and for becoming the first female artist to appear on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar magazine.
Frazier, a Virginia native who now makes her home in Nashville, sang and played banjo in bands while attending U-M (where she also won two Hopwood writing awards, including one for the first short story she’d ever written). She realized she wanted to get better at playing guitar, so she started taking lessons from Dan Marcus (’97), who was highly regarded within the local music scene. Marcus taught her to perform slowly at first, with a metronome—and to only speed up once she had perfected the slower pace. After a while, she began arranging her class schedule around her music, making room to practice six to eight hours each day.
As a young musician in Colorado, she formed Hit & Run, which won prominent contests for its performances. The wins helped launch the band as a national touring act. Then came Nashville, then Jack, then Charlie, then When We Fall.
Now she is touring around the country, though she is doing so without her kids (“touring is crazy enough without trying to take the kids with you,” she says).
Wait, was that kids, plural? Ah, yes. In 2012, baby Cora was born, joining big brother Jack. She has perfect little round cheeks, sometimes wears a shirt that says “I (heart) California Bluegrass,” and, best of all, she has given her mother many reasons to smile.