The Burns Sisters

The Burns Sisters are an American folk music group from Ithaca, New York. The group has performed and recorded with various siblings, most recently consisting of sisters Marie and Annie. They have toured with Arlo Guthrie providing backup vocals and occasionally performing as his opening act.[1]

The Burns Sisters
The Burns Sisters perform in their hometown of Ithaca, NY in April 1987
Background information
OriginIthaca, New York, United States
InstrumentsVocals, guitar, mandolin
Years active1986-present
LabelsColumbia, Rounder

Early life

The Burns Sisters were raised as members of a large Irish Catholic family of 12 children in Binghamton, New York. Their music has been influenced by their father's political activism and their mother's background as classically trained opera singer.[1] Singing, playing, and writing music was a family tradition.[2]


The Burns Sisters' professional musical career began when several of the sisters moved to Ithaca, New York where they originally sang with the David Kent Band.[1] One of their earliest successes was when their music appeared in the Louis Malle film Atlantic City as a result of their brother Patrick who was working on the film.[3] As a quintet made up of sisters Marie (born c. 1957), Annie (born c. 1961), Jeannie (born c. 1958), Sheila (born c. 1963), and Terry (born c. 1962), the band released The Burns Sisters Band (1986), and Endangered Species (1989). In 1993 the quintet released Songs of the Heart before older sisters Terry and Sheila dropped out to devote more time to their families. Agreeing to continue as a trio, Annie, Marie and Jeannie switched their focus to acoustic music.[4]

Marie and Annie have been the primary writers and producers of the group.[1] Most performances are with a full band which includes a dobro player, guitarist, and Marie Burns on mandolin.[2]

In 1995 they signed with Rounder/Philo Records and released four albums for the label over the next several years, including 1996's holiday album titled Tradition: Holiday Songs Old and New which was reviewed for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange.[5] Their 1997 album In This World was produced by bassist Garry Tallent who added a more rock based sound.[6]

In 2004 The Burns Sisters met Arlo Guthrie at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. This meeting resulted in the sisters touring with Arlo in 2005 on his "Arlo Guthrie and Friends Ridin' on the City of New Orleans - Benefiting Victims of Katrina" tour and again on his "The Lost World Tour" in 2008-09.[7]

In 2012, the Burns Sisters released their album, The Hills of Ithaca. The title was inspired by a 1947 Woody Guthrie poem which the Burns Sisters put to music after being given the unpublished version by Woody's daughter, Nora Guthrie.[1] The album also includes Bob Childers' song, "Prisoner of the Promised Land" written in Okemah, Oklahoma, while attending the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. The album includes two songs by Jeannie Burns: "Underbelly Blues" which she co-wrote with Andrew Hardin – her partner in the duo Hardin Burns – and “Your Kiss,” which she wrote with Hardin and her sister, Marie.[8]

Jeannie Burns left the band in 2013 to study guitar and songwriting,[9] with Marie and Annie continuing to perform as a duo.


Year Title Record Label
2012 The Hills of Ithaca Sistersmusic
2006 Wild Bouquet Ithaca Records
2000 Out of the Blue Rounder/Philo
1997 In This World Rounder/Philo
1996 Tradition: Holiday Songs Old & New Rounder/Philo
1995 Close to Home Rounder/Philo
1992 Songs of the Heart Independent
1989 Endangered Species Columbia
1986 I Wonder Who's Out Tonight Sony/BMG
1986 The Burns Sisters Band Columbia


  1. McGregor, Nick. The Burns Sisters carry on family tradition of political activism and impassioned Americana music. St. Augustine Record, February 9, 2013.
  2. Grant, Rick. Sister Act: Interview with Marie Burns. eu Jacksonville, April 26, 2007.
  3. The Night Eagle Cafe. The Burns Sisters. Night Eagle Cafe website.
  4. Harris, Craig. Burns Sisters Biography.
  5. Dexter, Kerry. Tradition: The Burns Sisters. Peterborough Folk Music Society. 1997.
  6. Stambler, Irwin and Stambler, Lyndon. Folk and Blues: The Encyclopedia. St. Martin's Press, 2001. ISBN 0-312-20057-9.
  7. Sirens of the Sonic Age. Arlo Guthrie – The Lost World Tour. Washington, MA. (PRWEB). September 26, 2008.
  8. Catalano, Jim.Burns Sisters ready to release 'Hills of Ithaca'. Ithaca Journal, September 12, 2012.
  9. 16th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 10–14, 2013. (Program booklet.)
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