Bulgarian singer on scholarship at WKU

Lilly Drumeva of Sofia, Bulgaria, tunes her guitar before performing a song in the Adams-Whitaker Student Publications Center. Drumeva performs bluegrass and country songs with her band Lilly of the West. She met with the folk studies department at WKU to do research for a book she is writing about the roots of bluegrass music.

Casey Downey

In a dark corridor of the Fine Arts Center sits a beautifully fair-skinned woman, adorned in coral. Lilly Drumeva, a Bluegrass artist from Bulgaria, stands for her introduction while wearing a warm smile. Her blue-green eyes glow beneath the brim of her hat. 

 She finds a better-lit area for the interview, where the sun beams down onto small couches. 

 “It will be quiet for us here,” Drumeva said, while gracefully removing the floppy hat.

 Drumeva hosts weekly TV and radio shows in Bulgaria that educate the public on Bluegrass music, and has been a member of the band Lilly of the West since 1996. Upon receiving the Fulbright Scholarship this year, she chose WKU as the place where she wanted to conduct research on the history of Bluegrass music. 

 “The Fulbright grant is an American exchange program which brings scholars from all over the world together,” Drumeva said. “This was created in the late 40s by Senator William Fulbright right after the war to bring more peace and cultural understanding. Usually this grant is given to people with outstanding achievements in their fields; and for the first time, this scholarship is given to a person from Bulgaria for Bluegrass music.” 

 The results of her work will be published in the Spring of 2014. The book, Bluegrass: More Than Just American Music,’ will be available at WKU campus libraries and book stores, as well as her broadcasting station in Bulgaria.  

 “In this book, I’m going to show that Bluegrass is much more than just American music, because it is all over the world,” she said. “There is Bluegrass in Japan, Australia, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, everywhere in Europe. Bluegrass is not just music, because the social aspect is even bigger than the music itself. The society, the camaraderie; the community around it is even more exciting than the music itself. Because everyone is so friendly, everyone wants to be part of it. Also, Bluegrass has its roots in Europe and Africa so it’s not just American music. It’s not just American and it’s not just music. It is more.”

 Dr. Erika Brady of the folk studies department offered valuable assistance in getting Drumeva to WKU. The two had met years prior at the Leadership Bluegrass Program in Nashville. When Drumeva first learned she’d received the grant, she knew Brady was the person to speak with. Brady accepted Drumeva’s application and WKU became the host institution for her studies. Dr. Brady also assisted Drumeva with her research this summer. Among other things, Dr. Brady specializes in American traditional music, particularly those associated with the Commonwealth. 

 “(Drumeva) is a delightful person to work with,” she said. “As an accomplished musician, she is very sophisticated about the musical aspect of bluegrass and other American roots musical genres. It’s been fun to fill her in on the way bluegrass music came into being, and deepen an understanding she has already has concerning bluegrass as not just a musical style, but an expression of community.”

 Drumeva aims to explore Bluegrass in a way which will help her to better understand its culture and community, as well as her personal fascination that began 20 years ago while seeing Emmylou Harris.

 “I saw a beautiful blonde lady who played a huge Gibson guitar and she sang beautiful ballads,” she said. “And when I saw this show I knew this was music I wanted to play myself. I wanted to be Emmylou Harris.”

 Since forming a band 17 years ago, Drumeva has released ten albums, the latest one incorporating 40s and 50s style swing music into classic Bluegrass tunes. 

 In ‘Swings and Heartaches,’ Drumeva and her band revamp pieces such as ‘Walkin’ after Midnight,’ by Patsy Cline and ‘Lovesick Blues,’ by Hank Williams. 

 Drumeva holds the late Patsy Cline in high regards as inspiration for her work. 

 “Patsy Cline is one of my favorite musicians; she is one of the greatest singers of all time,” she said. “When she sings, she sings every note, every phrase, every word, even to every breath she takes, her delivery is exceptional.”

 Another source of assistance in Drumeva’s research is RaShae Jennings, a member of the WKU alumni. She received her master’s degree in the track of historic preservation in the WKU folk studies department and now works as a curator of collections at the Bluegrass Museum in Owensboro.

 “I helped Lilly to explore our archives and better understand the differences within Bluegrass music,” she said. “Being the first Bluegrass musician from Bulgaria, we came across quite a large file on (Drumeva) herself. So we had a good laugh about that.”

 Drumeva has been invited to attend next year’s ROMP Bluegrass Festival in Owensboro.