Beethoven and Banjos – Cross-Genre Musicians, by Stewart Hendrickson

Classical music and folk music may seem like two opposing ends of the musical spectrum, yet many folk musicians today have started out with classical training and many classical musicians have crossed over to the folk music genre. Beethoven and Banjos is a collaboration between members of Decoda (Carnegie Hall’s affiliate classical musical ensemble) and folk musicians, creating and performing music together. Evan Premo, a member of Decoda and a native of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, is the artistic director and founder of this collaboration. Together with his sister Laurel Premo, a Michigan folk musician, fiddle and banjo player, and their parents, they produce an annual series of cross-genre concerts and workshops in the UP. Here we profile some of the artists and show how they span cultural and musical boundaries in their music. Continue reading “Beethoven and Banjos – Cross-Genre Musicians, by Stewart Hendrickson”

Andy Blyth “Banjo Andy” (June 7, 1945 – July 27, 2017)

It is with sadness that I share with you the passing of another member of our great musical family. I first met Andy Blyth at Rainy Camp (Seattle Song Circle) when I moved to Seattle about twenty years ago. I recorded two songs he sang for our CD, “Songs of the Pacific Northwest”- Frozen Logger, and Apple Pickers Reel.  He also participated in Victory Music open mics in the Seattle area, and with his wife, Sue Peterson Blyth, formed the Raging Zephyr band of musicians. And he was a founding member of Tickle Tune Typhoon, “a playful troupe of magical musicians, colorful dancers, and creative arts educators.” But Andy was much more than that – he was the most positive, upbeat, friendly person I’ve known, in spite of  health problems endured throughout his life. In 2008 Andy and his wife retired to Berea, KY, where he continued to play music and spread joy in his community. Andy Blyth’s Memorial video is here. And here is his obituary. – Stewart Hendrickson. Continue reading “Andy Blyth “Banjo Andy” (June 7, 1945 – July 27, 2017)”

What Is A Folk Song? by Stewart Hendrickson

What is a “folk song”? This is a question that has been raised over many years with no agreed-upon answer. Here we explore the origins of this term, and the collection of these songs. Continue reading “What Is A Folk Song? by Stewart Hendrickson”

If You Know Who Wrote It, It’s Not A Folk Song, by Michael Cooney

The late Kenneth Goldstein of Philadelphia was one of the great American folklorists. (He was also a generous man who shared his knowledge and vast library of recordings, books, etc., and his home, with people like me. I will be ever grateful to him and his gracious wife Rochelle for their hospitality.) Every couple of years I’d ask Dr. Goldstein his current definition of “folk music”. It was ever-changing. The first time I asked him, he told me that folk music was “anything sung by a small group of people for the entertainment of those people at that time“. Continue reading “If You Know Who Wrote It, It’s Not A Folk Song, by Michael Cooney”

What’re You Rebelling Against, Malvina? by Ross Altman, Ph.D.

Reprinted with permission from FolkWorks March-April 2017

Mildred: What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?
Johnny: Whaddya got?
~ Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”, 1953

 Marlon Brando’s reply to Mildred’s question suits Malvina Reynolds to a T: but unlike Johnny in The Wild One, Singer-songwriter Malvina Reynolds (August 23, 1900—March 17, 1978) was a learned rebel. She got her Ph.D. the old-fashioned way—she earned it, in the UC Berkeley English Department in 1938. She never used it to teach, however, because her first act of rebellion was to refuse to sign the California loyalty oath when she was accepted for a teaching position at Berkeley. Faced with Robert Frost’s life-changing choice at the fork in the road she took the one less travelled by—“of whom it could be said: She was an artist, and a red.” (MR) Continue reading “What’re You Rebelling Against, Malvina? by Ross Altman, Ph.D.”

Paul Clayton – Unsung Hero of the Early Folksong Revival, by Stewart Hendrickson

Paul Clayton, 1953, Paul Clayton Estate

There is one name that is not well known in the history of the folksong revival beginning in the late 1940s and 1950s. Paul Clayton was a folk music scholar, a collector and field recorder of traditional folksongs primarily from Appalachia and New England, and America’s most-recorded young folksinger – some 17 albums between 1954 and 1961, mostly traditional folk songs and later commercial recordings – bringing hundreds of obscure folk ballads and songs into the American folk music scene. He was a mentor to David Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, and other emerging folksingers of that era, but became eclipsed in the emerging commercial folk scene of the 1960s. He was a genius with many talents, but also many demons that led to his tragic death in 1967 at the age of 36. Continue reading “Paul Clayton – Unsung Hero of the Early Folksong Revival, by Stewart Hendrickson”

The First NW Folklife Festival – 1972 – A Modest Beginning, by Stewart Hendrickson

Washington Old Time Fiddlers performing at the Plaza of the States, NW Folklife, 1972

As the 46th  Annual Northwest Folklife Festival gets ready for a new run this Memorial Day weekend it is interesting to look back to its beginning in 1972. Today with a budget of $1.3 million and over 5,000 artists performing on 25 stages it’s hard to realize that this festival had a very humble beginning. From some early Journals from the Seattle Folklore Society we can appreciate its roots and history. Continue reading “The First NW Folklife Festival – 1972 – A Modest Beginning, by Stewart Hendrickson”

Stan James (1935-2008) Legendary Seattle Folksinger, by Percy Hilo

Stan James at NW Folklife. Photo by Paul Dorpat

Note: A continuing look at Seattle folksingers of the past. Reprinted with permission from the Victory Review, August, 2006, p. 18.

When we think about influences in the area of folk singing, we most often think of celebrities who’ve enjoyed a long-standing national audience. We hear our peers refer to the first time they heard a Pete Seeger recording, the first time they saw Utah Phillips on stage or some political documentary or news story w/Joan Baez singing and they were off and running: Soaking up songs, attending open mics and eventually bestowing upon us their literary/musical creation. This is all well and good, but it only takes one so far. To make genuine progress on this path, we need local and personal influences who demonstrate the viability of folk music and culture as a functional part of life on the physical/visible plane in our community. This is where someone like Stan James comes in. Continue reading “Stan James (1935-2008) Legendary Seattle Folksinger, by Percy Hilo”

Soul of a Fiddle, by Stewart Hendrickson

Some years ago I was given an old fiddle by a friend. It was his mother’s violin, but it had a sad and traumatic history. His mother was not always sane and used the instrument to punish and put fear into her children. It was painful for my friend to even talk about this, and he wanted to be free of it, but also give it to someone who might love it and bring new life back into it. Continue reading “Soul of a Fiddle, by Stewart Hendrickson”

Seattle Coffeehouses during the “Folk Revival” of the 1960s, by Don Firth

Pamir House (1960), University District, Seattle

According to legend, coffee was discovered in Ethiopia in the ninth century, first roasted, ground, and brewed by the Turks, then brought to Europe by Venetian traders. Coffee quickly spread throughout Europe and the first coffeehouse in England opened around 1650. Coffeehouses became known as “penny universities” because one could get a fairly good education sitting with a cup of coffee (a penny a cup) and listening to learned men as they discussed matters of great import. Not many years later, coffeehouses opened in Boston and Philadelphia, and were frequented by artists, poets, philosophers, and revolutionaries—like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine. Continue reading “Seattle Coffeehouses during the “Folk Revival” of the 1960s, by Don Firth”