Love and Song: The Musical Marriage of Don and Anna Osburn

Love and Song: The Musical Marriage of Don and Anna Osburn
By Kim Barlow

Music brought them together, and the life they’ve made has had music at the centre of it ever since. In the summer of 1972, two eighteen-year-old fellas from the States went on a road-trip to Canada. At a campground in Nova Scotia, they heard the siren call of Anna and her sister Kate, sitting by a fire singing, Kate strumming a guitar. Don and his buddy grabbed their guitars and headed over, drawn “like bees to honey,” as the girls’ mother would say it later. Don was a seasoned musician already, fronting bands and working paying gigs since ninth grade in Delaware. Anna was impressed to hear a boy who could sing harmonies, and Don’s version of “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes” won her heart.

The young couple spent some years in Delaware, started a family, and came back to Nova Scotia to raise their girls. What follows is a long list of musical achievements that have helped to make the Annapolis Valley the vibrant cultural landscape we enjoy today. Don and Anna Osburn have poured their passion and energy into making music happen here for years. They spent a summer at Upper Clements Park, where Don performed and programmed music, and which led to the formation of his long-running band the Lustre Brothers. During these years, Don and Anna organized shows at community halls, and helped start the Fundy Folk series, which is still going strong at the Evergreen Theatre in Margaretsville. They programmed the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival for several years. In 2001, Anna, her now-adult daughters, and her sister Kate, opened the Union Street Café in Berwick, which quickly became a musical hub in the province. Not busy enough yet, Anna and Don founded the Deep Roots Cooperative and started a music festival, to bring the different cultures of the Maritimes to the stage. This is a very condensed list of everything this couple has contributed musically over the years, and it is still ongoing.

During those years, Anna’s role was more behind-the-scenes. She is a fine songwriter, and co-wrote many of the songs that Don performed solo and with the Lustre Brothers. They laugh as they tell me that she is more exacting than Don, and a song isn’t finished until she is satisfied that it is so. In recent years Don has stepped back from performing, while Anna has joined a large ukulele group in Woodville, and started playing an instrument for the first time in her life. She was always a singer, though rarely on stage. Now she says that accompanying herself on ukulele has shown her a whole new relationship to her voice. It is freeing, and she sings better and more joyfully. Don is enjoying the shift, and they are writing songs together again, and belting them out, strumming side by side.

Music has been central in their lives, and its role reflects the ups and downs of a marriage. It can be a source of friction, and it can also be healing. These days Don and Anna are enjoying the new direction their musical journey has taken. In May, Anna’s ukulele group, The High Strung Stringband, will present a spring concert at the Woodville Hall. Don and Anna will get on stage together, and lead the large group on a new co-write. Their daughters Jen and Meagan, who have almost unavoidably become fine musicians themselves, will join with their band The Dearlies, with Rebecca MacDonald. Musical events often act as punctuation in a life. This will be a sweet exclamation point in a long adventure full of love and song.

The Osburns – photo left to right: Jenny, Meagan, Anna, Don.