Meagan Gipson really loves her home state. As a fifth-generation Arizonan, her roots in the Grand Canyon State are well established. Her great-great-grandfather, William Wallace Bass, is credited with constructing a cableway across the Colorado River, establishing the first school at the Grand Canyon and creating trails throughout the Canyon, including the Mystic Spring Trail.
To Meagan and her mother, Debbie, the history and stories from their family were too interesting to keep to themselves.
Over the past few years, the two have researched the Bass family history, using just about every resource available: letters, diary entries, trips to cemeteries and libraries, phone calls to historical societies and more. They worked to find all the details — or “sparkly bits,” as Debbie calls them.
The result of their investigations: the Grand Canyon Project.
“The whole concept of Grand Canyon Project is multi-sensory. It’s multimedia-based; it’s driven by all of the senses coming together to truly feel the experience and feel the journey of past meets present,” Meagan says.
Debbie’s book, Stories the Canyon Keeps, tells tales of life at the rim and shows what it was like to live in Arizona 100 years ago. Bass' wife, Ada — Meagan’s great-great-grandmother — wrote in a diary for much of her life and detailed life at the Canyon.
“She wrote in the diary how she would hold an umbrella over the stove when she was cooking, because rainwater would come through the cracks of the cave [they lived in],” Meagan says.
But when Ada wrote, it was to the point, Meagan says. She didn’t write with a lot of emotion, anguish or joy.
Meagan found inspiration for her album, 100 Years Away, in Ada’s diary.
“I was starting to read through the diary, and it was just so fascinating," she says. "There were so many clips and phrases that, as a songwriter, you can work with. All of a sudden, you have a splash of an entire story line. I started putting those pieces together and writing the album."
The unique aspect to Grand Canyon Project is the relationship between Debbie’s book and Meagan’s album. While writing the book, Debbie noted parts where Meagan’s songs work. For example, during one part of the story, when Bass is gazing over the Canyon watching a monsoon move in, readers will see a note about Meagan’s song Monsoon.
“Each piece enhances the other,” Meagan says.
For Meagan, who has synesthesia, the connection between song and text is special.
“It’s like this blending of everything, just like what my brain does with my every day," she says. "I think that heightens it, too, for me with the memories. I can just taste them; they’re right there. It makes it feel like I’m sitting there having coffee with Ada while I’m writing a song about her, or I’m talking with Bert and Edith about their love letters. We’re all present again.”
In the end, Meagan and Debbie hope Grand Canyon Project helps to bring the Bass family to light and share their voices again, as well as inspire others.
“The idea that Grand Canyon Project really speaks to is that everyone has family stories and how rich and wonderful that is, and taking pride in that, learning from your roots,” Meagan says.
— Kirsten Kraklio