About the Cotton Mill Girls

The Cotton Mill Girls are Debra Chesman, Trish Engelhard, and Dannielle Spindler-Swart. The Cotton Mill Girls play traditional music about struggles and triumphs throughout our human history of living, loving and working. Their repertoire includes traditional songs and fiddle tunes that span centuries from British Isles tunes that the American settlers brought with them, right on up through old time music, and on to more recent folk-type songs written "in the tradition."

The harmonies of their three fine voices are backed up with fiddles, guitars, banjo and washtub bass. The Cotton Mill Girls take their name from a folk song recorded by the now-deceased Hedy West, describing the hard times faced by young women in the early cotton mills.

Debra Chesman

Debra has been singing since childhood, including classical choirs and chamber ensembles in the US and England, Renaissance Madrigals and a women's barbershop quartet at SUNY Albany and a cappella groups with names such as The Granola Bars and Drastic Measures at Cornell University, where she founded the Just About Music (The Jam) residential program in the mid 1980's.

Debra moved to England in the late 1980's and immersed herself in the folk scene there, for several years revitalizing and booking The Fo'c'sle, one of England's long-running weekly folk clubs. And it was in unlikely England, she discovered bluegrass with its lonesome-for-home lyrics...which she now understood. Debra attended the first-ever Sore Finger Week in England and studied bluegrass singing with Kate Brislin, Jody Stetcher and Pete Wernick.

While in England, Debra sang in a group called Fire on the Mountain at the Winchester Folk Festival with fiddler Jock Tildesly (then of the Flatville Aces, now of The New Rope String Band) and guitar/vocalist Simon Sprott, before having to move back to the States.

Since returning to the US, Debra has performed at the Forksville Folk Festival and the Southern Tier Bluegrass Association festival with The Mountain Dusky Gang. Debra is once again adding new life to a folk concert series--Valley Folk Music in Elmira, NY, where she handles the booking and volunteer coordination. Besides the Cotton Mill Girls she sometimes performs with the Seneca Moon String Band.

Debra plays a home-made washtub bass, guitar, and banjo. She is learning to play the fiddle along with her daughter.

Trish Engelhard

Trish Engelhard comes from a music-loving family in Fairmont West Virginia, where her brother, Richard Pollack, also became a performer, traveling the ‘70’s NYS coffeehouse circuit  as one of  Keen, Kimmel and Co. and later in Cabin Fever Stringband out of Wheeling, WV. Trish sang in several choirs in high school, but it was at the University of West Virginia she started teaching herself guitar to accompany her singing voice. She became involved with square dancing and old time music through her involvement with a group called, 'Friends of Old Time Music.

Trish participated in contra dances, concerts and many music jams through the Spokane Folklore Society after a move to Washington State in the early 1980’s. It was during that time she got her first fiddle--from her brother. She also had a couple of kids, who became the inspiration for her collection of children’s songs, and her introduction to the joy of entertaining young children with music, stories and silliness. In 1990 she brought her family back East to the hills of Candor, NY and formed a duo with fellow home-schooling-mother Sue Smith-Heavenrich. They were listed in the NYS Arts in Education catalogue for several years as the story-telling, musical performers Dos Madres.

In 2000, Trish became connected with the “Your Friends and Neighbors” Ithaca contra dance scene and further refined her repertoire of fiddle tunes. At the same time, she started the bi-weekly Candor Jam for people who were interested in singing as well as playing--it still meets every other Thursday in Candor. During this time she was also a part of Mountain Road, a band which included Harry Lawless, (now of the Irish band Traonach) Bill Mutch, Deb Clover, and local music celebrity Bernie Upson.

Besides fiddle, Trish also plays guitar, banjo, mandolin, and bones.

Dannielle Spindler-Swart

Dannielle Swart has been strumming her guitar long enough that if we told you how many years, you'd say she looks much younger than that. She also adds some tasteful banjo sounds and vocals to the Cotton Mill Girls. As if she didn't already have enough to instruments to carry, she is also playing fiddle these days. She has performed with numerous musicians in some really fun local bands such as Gaskill Road, Susquehanna River Basin Band, Last Minute Ramblers and the Java Joe Jammers. Always one to encourage musicians and collaborations, Dannielle leads a monthly jam session at the Vestal Public library. A natural net-worker, she is an active member of the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance and has helped people find back-up musicians for their recording projects.

Dannielle has a successful partnership with fiddler Hope Greitzer, providing the "Fiddling with Books" program to libraries and schools, featuring books for all ages where fiddles, fiddlers, or fiddle tunes are an integral part of the storyline. Currently, they present 11 books and 15 fiddle tunes and songs in a way that gets the audience to laugh, clap, sing along, and dance with them. They have also performed for Sen. Hillary Clinton in Binghamton, introduced ASL interpretation at their last formal gig at the Cyber Cafe West in Binghamton, and accompanied accordion virtuoso Alastair Brown for the English Barn Dance at Old Songs in 2005. Dannielle made her fiddle debut on the stage at the NYS Olde Tyme Fiddlers' Hall of Fame in 2006.