Annie Wilson - Kansas "FLINT HILLS BALLADEER"
Tallgrass Express founding member Annie Wilson was named Kansas' "Flint Hills Balladeer" by the
Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism  on January 11, 2013, and received a Certificate of Recognition
for her "honorable endeavors to share the beauty of the Kansas Flint Hills through words and music,
to inspire an abiding love for the Kansas Flint Hills, and to enhance and elevate the quality of life for
those who call the Flint Hills home."
From Topeka Capital-Journal Feb 16, 2013:

Elmdale singer-songwriter celebrates Flint Hills
history, culture

Tallgrass Express String Band member turns poetry into
Posted: February 16, 2013 - 3:40pm

Singer-songwriter Annie Wilson, of Elmdale, recently was recognized  
as a Flint Hills Balladeer for her efforts to share the beauty of the Flint  
Hills through words and music. Wilson, who performs with Tallgrass
Express String Band, also is a language arts teacher at Emporia High
To learn more about the Tallgrass Express String Band, its CDs and
performance schedule, go to
By Jan Biles
EMPORIA — When Annie Wilson and her dog go hiking in the Flint
Hills, she takes along index cards and a pen.
As she hears the killdeer calling, sees the bluestem blowing in a gentle
wind or smells the spring burning, she jots down her thoughts and
feelings. Once home, she begins to write the poetry that will eventually
become lyrics for the songs she performs with the Tallgrass Express
String Band.
Wilson, who co-owns Five Oaks Ranch near Elmdale and teaches
language arts at Emporia High School, recently received a certificate  
recognizing her as a Flint Hills Balladeer for her efforts to share the
beauty of the Flint Hills through words and music.
"I was surprised," Wilson said of the recognition. "I am just totally
amazed by it, and it's a dream come true."
The Flint Hills Balladeer concept originated with Cottonwood Falls
residents Jim and Elaine Adkins and Sue and Monty Smith, owners of
the Emma Chase Cafe in Cottonwood Falls, where Wilson and the
others members of Tallgrass Express — Charlie Laughridge, fiddle,
Carl Reed, bass, and Jim Versch, mandolin — often perform.
Wilson, who grew up in Wichita, said she was introduced to the Flint
Hills as a child when she would spend summers at her grandparents'
ranch west of Madison.
"I was so enchanted with the Flint Hills," she said.
After high school, Wilson left Kansas to complete an undergraduate
degree at Tufts University in Massachusetts and then returned to earn
a law degree from The University of Kansas School of Law. She and
her husband, John Wilson, moved in 1978 to the Browning Ranch near
Madison. She joined Shewmaker Law Offices, a law firm practicing in
Eureka and Madison.
It was during her appointment as a guardian ad litem that she decided
she wanted to work with young people. She enrolled at Emporia State
University to complete requirements for a teaching degree. In 1993,
she and her husband moved to Five Oaks Ranch, where they raised
three daughters.
After teaching at public schools in Burlington and Madison and Butler
County Community College in El Dorado and working as business
manager for Tallgrass Beef in Elmdale, she was hired in 2000 to teach
language arts at Emporia High School.
Wilson, who doesn't read sheet music, began playing guitar when she
was 11. However, she didn't perform professionally until her late 20s
because she suffered from stage fright.
At the Emma Chase Cafe’s Friday night jam sessions, she said she
found a "nurturing atmosphere" where she could overcome her stage
fright and develop her skills.
"I've been doing (the jam sessions) for 10 years," she said.
Wilson said she began writing poetry in the early 1980s after she
enrolled in a Kansas literature class taught by Washburn University
English professor and author Tom Averill. Kansas poet Steven Hind
also has mentored her through the years.
She began using the poems inspired by her hikes in the Flint Hills as
song lyrics about eight years ago, when she joined Tallgrass Express.
Her topics range from ranching to the weather to wildflowers to
American Indians.
"I don't write the typical song about love, but I have endless material, "
she said. "I try to get a melody that fits the mood. I write simple folk
melodies that anyone can follow or play."
Since 2004, Wilson and Tallgrass Express have delivered more than
200 performances of Flint Hills music. Wilson has written more than 40
songs about life in the Flint Hills, many of which have been recorded
on the band's three CDs: "Music of the Emma Chase" (2005),
"Tallgrass Express Comes Back" (2007) and "Clean Curve of Hill
Against the Sky: Songs of the Kansas Flint Hills" (2010).
For the most recent CD, Wilson contributed 15 original songs and
helped create a 20-page booklet of Flint Hills photographs and song
notes for it. The CD was selected to promote the annual Symphony in
the Flint Hills.
Wilson said she hopes her music helps to celebrate and create
awareness of the Flint Hills.
"The Flint Hills — the land and the people — is a good thing in a
troubled world," she said.

Jan Biles can be reached at (785) 295-1292 or
Read Jan's blog.
From Emporia Gazette Jan 19-20, 2013:

Elmdale's Annie Wilson "Flint Hills Balladeer"

“The Flint Hills are worth singing about!” claims singer-songwriter
Annie Wilson of rural Elmdale, who was named “Flint Hills Balladeer”
in a Certificate of Recognition presented to her Friday at the Kansas
Flint Hills Symposium in Rock Springs.  The certificate states the
award is in recognition of her “endeavors to share the beauty of the
Kansas Flint Hills through words and music, and to inspire an abiding
love for the Kansas Flint Hills.”
As part of the growing culture of live music in the Flint Hills, Wilson
and her band Tallgrass Express have delivered over 200
performances of “Flint Hills music” in the area since 2004, and she
has written over 40 songs about life in the Flint Hills, many of which
have been recorded on the group’s three CDs.  
Song titles include, “Clean Curve of Hill Against Sky,” “Last Stand of
the Tallgrass Prairie,” “My Diamond Creek Cowboy,” “Big Bluestem:  
King of the Prairie,” “Stopping by the Homestead Ruins,” and
“Runaway Nell.”  
Of the Flint Hills Balladeer designation, Wilson says, “I am absolutely
thrilled to receive this honor,” and she thanks all those who
spearheaded this effort.   In a letter of support, author and Flint Hills
expert Jim Hoy wrote, “Annie’s music goes deep into the soul of the
Flint Hills…and carries others along with it.”  Director of the Flint Hills
Discovery Center Bob Workman claims, “Annie is truly a treasure of
Kansas and the Flint Hills.” Marty White of Symphony in the Flint Hills
stated Wilson “articulates the Flint Hills ranching culture” and
“conveys life and love in our rural communities.”
Elmdale Mayor Josh Simmons wrote, “Annie has a rare ability to
translate her love of the plants and animals, the weather, and the
people, into songs,” and he said Wilson and her band are
“exceptional ambassadors of the Flint Hills.”  Lynn Smith, Director of
the Pioneer Bluffs Foundation, thanked Wilson for writing “The Story
of Pioneer Bluffs,” a ballad about the history and mission of that
historic ranch near Matfield Green.
Other endorsements came from the Chase County Commission, the
mayors of Cottonwood Falls and Strong City, and the Chase County
Chamber of Commerce.  
Instead of seeking a broader, national market by writing songs with
more generic features, Wilson says, “I find it more interesting to first
seek out the fundamental messages of this particular place—the
Flint Hills, and then discover the universal themes contained here.”  
She says “those who appreciate the Flint Hills are exactly the people
I hope to reach” and claims this audience is expanding, as “more
people discover this region and its fascinating stories.”  
Also in the Tallgrass Express String Band are Charlie Laughridge of
Council Grove on fiddle, Carl Reed of Manhattan on bass, and new
member Jim Versch on mandolin following recently retired banjo
player Loren Ratzloff.  Wilson said she “deeply appreciates” all her
band members’ support of her songwriting and their “incredible
talent” in creating and performing musical arrangements.  After a
brief transition period, the group looks forward to producing another
CD of original Flint Hills songs.  
Linda Craghead, Assistant Secretary of the Dept. of Wildlife, Parks
and Tourism, organized Friday’s Flint Hills Symposium including the
governor’s awards presentation ceremony.   The “Flint Hills
Balladeer” proclamation effort was originally conceived and
implemented by James and Elaine Adkins, and Sue and Monty Smith
of the Emma Chase Café, all from Cottonwood Falls.  Wilson has
been a long-time participant in the Emma Chase’s Friday night jam
sessions - now named one of the “Eight Wonders of Kansas
Customs.”  Wilson says it was as a direct result of the energy and
networking of these gatherings that the band was formed and her
songwriting began.
Wilson and her husband John operate the Five Oaks Ranch west of
Elmdale, where they raised their three daughters Katie, Emily, and
Julia. Wilson is also a Language Arts instructor at Emporia High
School and earlier managed a Flint Hills rancher-owned grassfed
beef marketing cooperative.
For more information, see the band’s website, www.tallgrassexpress.
VIDEO Dave Kendall
interviews Annie about
Ranching and Prairie
Preservation (2015)

See more Flint Hills interviews for
Dave's "Tallgrass Prairie Preserve:  
a Flint Hills Love Story"
even-time in the Walnut Valley Festival  NewSong Showcase:
2014:  1st Place in  Humor for "Dung  Beetle Bill" and 2nd place in Other for
"Wife Who Works in Town"
2015:  1st Place in Children's Song for "Doggie  Paradise" and 2nd place in
Feelin Blue for  "Stopping  by the Homestead Ruins"
2016:  1st Place in Religion or Spirit:  "Pocket World"
2017:  1st Place in Humor for "Turkey Buzzard Bob"
2018:  2nd Place in Love Songs "Honeysuckle Morning" & in Children's Songs
"Whisper Lullaby" (co-writer Jerilynn Henrikson)
2019: 1st Place in Better World "Country Wave" see VIDEO
2020: 1st Place in Other "Coyote Serenade" and 1st Place in Better World "Land of the
Great Osage." 2nd Place in Children's Songs - "Daisy the Bucket Calf"
Annie's song "Trail to Santa Fe" has been  chosen as the
Official Song of Santa Fe
Trail Association.
In addition to her music, Annie served as Coordinator of the
Flint Hills Map & Education Program from 2014 to 2018.  
This project designed large educational maps of
Flint Hills Tallgrass Prairie
with accompanying art &
information.  They raised money and placed these in
184 Flint
Hills schools
and colleges to "deepen students’ knowledge,
pride, and commitment to their special place in the world - the
Flint Hills."  In addition, the project created a
of lessons and activities for all grades in all
subjects, relating learning to students own home and place.  
Special focus was placed on
Native Studies with the Osage
and Kaw Nations.  These resources are available to all at: