THOSE WHO LED THE WAYDON FIRTH
By Bob Nelson
In these articles titled “Those Who Led The Way,” I want to bring to you the stories of five folksingers who were very influential in the Seattle folk music scene of the 1950’s and 60’s. The first article presented Walt Robertson and now I present Don Firth as I know and love him.
I first met Don at a crafts show held on the U.W. campus in November of 1953. This fortunate meeting happened because Walt Robertson, who had a weekly television show on KING TV, had made an open invitation for his viewers to come down and enjoy a live concert. He was also spearheading the founding of what was to become The Pacific Northwest Folklore Society.
When I arrived at the show, I found this very large building that was crowded with many people and display booths. After some searching, I found a booth labeled The Pacific Northwest Folklore Society and sure enough, there was Walt Robertson shaking hands and working the crowd. Seated behind a table I also noticed a strikingly handsome man who turned out to be Don Firth. Little did I know then that we were to become lifelong friends
Don’s classical guitar playing was featured in the opening and closing of each show...
While the series included several prominent singers and guests, such as Ivar Haglund and James Stevens, the show held true to its library roots by promoting the literary side of folk music roots.
Don Firth “Wandering Angus”
Later that same year, Don and I took our guitars and traveled to the San Francisco Bay area looking for fame and fortune. We performed in clubs, bars, speakeasies, strip joints and various concert venues. Fortune eluded us, but our adventures, and misadventures, became the stuff of legend. We were often invited to parties and gatherings that included many of the best of the touring folk musicians of the day. As Don often said, how can you NOT learn things when you’re swapping songs with the likes of Rolf Cohn and Bob Gibson.
It was in 1962 that Seattle made its mark on the world with the Seattle World’s Fair. One of the more memorable events from the fair was the weekly public concerts that were held at the United Nations exhibit. Every Sunday, for the six month run of the fair, many of the best of the Seattle Folksingers would gather at the pavilion and sing to crowds of fairgoers. Here is Don singing at the World’s Fair...
Don FIrth singing "The Swapping Song"
Over the years Don’s trained voice led to radio work as an announcer and program host with KING F.M. the premier classical music station of the day. From there he went on to many years employment with “Ma Bell.”
He was also an early supporter of the Seattle Song circles, back in the days before the dreaded “blue book” was allowed to dominate the music. Here is a fun example of Don leading a group song in the early 1970’s
Don Firth leading "Clear Away In The Morning"
This is followed by Frances James Child’s ballad #10, “BINNORIE”
To this day, Don Firth remains the finest example I have ever known of tenacity and perfection.