Lori Brandon-Rainwater was well-known for her powerful singing voice, remarkable ability to remember song lyrics and irrevocable smile.
The 56-year-old Tuolumne County musician died at her home in Jamestown on Tuesday, after a three-year battle with cancer.
Brandon-Rainwater was born on New Year’s Day in 1956, in Torrance. She grew up in Simi Valley, but has lived in Tuolumne County since the late 1980s.
She regularly performed folk and pop songs from the 1960s to 1980s at various local spots. She was frequently seen at the Josephine Room at the Gunn House, Sonora Inn, Jamestown Hotel, National Hotel, Eproson House and Sierra Railroad trains in Oakdale. She also performed in musicals at local theaters and at forest campground programs.
“She loved music ... it was a vibrant part of her soul and personality,” said her husband and fellow musician, David Rainwater.
Brandon-Rainwater made a living as a musician in the county for more than 20 years, which is a huge accomplishment for an entertainer in a rural area, according to Rainwater.
“People fell in love with her just because of her spirit and love of the music and love for her audience,” he said.
While performing a show at a restaurant in downtown Sonora in the early 1990s, she invited audience member Chris Miller to join her onstage and he became her duet partner for the next 20 years.
Miller owned a bed and breakfast in the area at the time and was scoping out restaurants to refer his customers to.
“She was playing and I couldn’t help but sing a harmony with her, so she invited me to come up and play with her,” he said.
The two began playing local shows and weddings together, and Miller came to know her as his “music sister.” He said music was the energy she thrived on and that they not only had great harmony in their songs, but in their friendship as well.
The pair was recruited in 1998 by the New Christy Minstrels — a Grammy Award-winning folk music group founded in 1961 by Randy Sparks, who has been a resident of Mokelumne Hill since 1970.
The Minstrels discovered the duo after Rainwater, a member of the band, suggested they check out the Tuolumne County singer to fill their need for a female vocalist. She joined the band and met Rainwater.
The couple spent eight years with group, touring the United States and appearing on a PBS-TV special entitled, “This Land is Your Land.” Rainwater said the TV show was a highlight of their music career.
Sparks called Brandon-Rainwater “a beloved member of our musical family.”
Brandon and Rainwater were married in April 2009, and Brandon-Rainwater was diagnosed with cancer a month later. She took a break from music while undergoing treatment, and returned to the stage when she entered remission in early 2011. She relapsed shortly after.
Mona Mollring, Brandon-Rainwater’s mother, said her daughter performed in school shows and talent contests in Simi Valley but that her career blossomed after she moved to Tuolumne County.
Brandon-Rainwater and her former husband, Ron Brandon, owner of Live Oak Music in East Sonora, raised their son, Jaron, in Tuolumne County.
“I think she was very-well loved up there and it’s overwhelming to hear how beloved she was,” Mollring said.
Mollring said her daughter sang around the house so often as a little girl that her brothers would tell her to shut up.
The musician inherited the musical gene from her father and grandmother, said her half sister, Kim Mollring. Lori could pick up almost any instrument and play it by ear, she said.
“The way she sang, there was something that just moved people,” Kim Mollring said, adding that her older sister would make their mother cry when she sang Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
Knowing Brandon-Rainwater had little time left, Mona and Kim Mollring recently visited her to say goodbye.
Miller sang to her during her final moments, and Rainwater said she died with a smile on her face.
“She left us with a gift and she found relief from her pain,” Rainwater said.
Brandon-Rainwater is also survived by her sister Teri Bissonette, brothers Todd and David Kanteman and stepfather Bob Mollring.
Rainwater said a service will be announced at a later date.
Weekly Arts and entertainment guide for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties