Jean Ritchie–singer, scholar, songwriter, activist, Kentuckian, “The Mother of Folk”–passed away June 1 at the age of 92. We wanted to share some images of Ritchie in remembrance of her life and in honor of her vitally important contributions to the promotion and preservation of traditional music in Appalachia, America, and beyond.
Ray Sullivan of the Photo Sound Associates team in New York City documented Ritchie in the late 1950s, recording herself in a small space on an open reel tape machine and performing at a concert of the Folksingers Guild. From the look on Ritchie’s face, it must have been a good session. Following are a few images from the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project–including SFCRP founder Anne Romaine, Mike Seeger, Doc Watson, Rosa Lee Watson, Bessie Jones, and more–with whom Ritchie would occasionally tour.
Finally, for listening we pulled out a special recording of Ritchie from the Artus Moser Papers (20004). Ritchie was a senior at the University of Kentucky in April of 1946 when she attended the Renfro Valley Folk Festival and sang a number of ballads for Artus Moser collecting for the Library of Congress. The following, “Lord Grumble,” “I Married Me a Wife (Gentle Fair Jenny),” “Foggy Dew” and “The Little Old Woman” come from a 12″ acetate disc FD_0501. Thank you Jean Ritchie. Peace to you, your family, your friends, and your fans.
Father Grumble_FD0501_Artus Moser Papers_20004I Married Me a Wife_Gentle Fair Jenny_FD0501_Artus Moser Papers_20004The Foggy Dew_FD0501_Artus Moser Papers_20004The Little Old Woman_FD0501_Artus Moser Papers_20004
A couple of weeks ago, friend of the Southern Folklife Collection, Bob Carlin, brought in a few reels of 16mm film, 35mm negatives, and open reel tapes from the Fred Gerlach estate. More on the film on a future date, but Bob’s visit had me looking into the music of Fred Gerlach. A remarkable and innovative 12-string guitar player I first heard on volume 2 of Tompkins Square‘s brilliantly curated multi-volume guitar series, Imaginational Anthem, Gerlach released only three albums throughout his career: Twelve-String Guitar – Folk Songs and Blues Sung and Played by Fred Gerlach (Folkways, 1962), Songs My Mother Never Sang (Takoma, 1968), and a cassette, Easy Rider (Eyrie, 1993).
An active participant in the 1950s New York folk scene, Gerlach spent time playing with and learning from Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Tiny Ledbetter (Leadbelly’s niece). Along with Tiny Robinson, Gerlach made recordings Reverend Gary Davis in 1957 that later became the album Pure Religion and Bad Company (77 Records, 1961). Knowing he spent time in Washington Square Park and the Folklore Center, it was no surprise to find images of Gerlach in the Photo-Sound Associates images in the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Photo-Sound Associates photographer, Ray Sullivan documented this concert by Gerlach, on his 12-string, and Reverend Gary Davis at Town Hall on 8 March,1958. For more images seeImage Folder PF-20239/007_02 in the finding aid for the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Gerlach moved to California in the early 1960s and lived there until his death in 2009. He became well known woodworker, luthier, craftsman (he was reportedly building an airplane in his attic) and musician. He continued to play, if sporadically, around town, often at Los Angeles laundromats, and was a regular at McCabe’s Guitar Store where Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal likely picked up a few pointers.
We would love to have been at this concert in 1958. You can hear at least one tune by Gerlach online, his version of “Gallows Pole.”
It’s not Boston, but here in North Carolina we’ve had an unexpected, late winter, one-two punch the past couple of weeks with ice and snow. The amount of school and work that has been cancelled has certainly fueled some cabin fever creativity in our own households, but not sure if anyone has gone so far as Paul Clayton, Bob Brill, Dave van Ronk, Lee Hoffman, and their friends did at this party in New York circa 1959. We’re really not sure what’s going in these images–a game, a collaborative sculpture, a ceremonial practice, building a diorama? Let us know if you have any ideas. All images in this post were photographed by Ray Sullivan, a partner in Photo-Sound Associates along with photographer Aaron Rennert and sound-recordist Joel Katz, a team dedicated to documenting the folk scene in New York City in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Over 4000 images from the Photo-Sound Associates have been digitized and can be viewed through Ron Cohen Collection (20239) finding aid via the Southern Folklife Collection.
No matter what’s going on, it looks pretty fun. And Bob Brill is providing musical accompaniment on the kazumpet while Dave van Ronk and Paul Clayton harmonize accompaniment. We hope you had at least as much fun during your last “weather event.” Looking forward to Spring!
20239_pf0101_01_0002. Lee Hoffman and John Schuyler “Jock” Root at the races. Photo by Aaron Rennert, ca. 1957-1960. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
It’s hard not to get drawn into the Photo-Sound Associates images in the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). My intention is always to grab a quick photo to share on the blog and before I know it, I’ve grabbed six. I started off with the image above including the Caravan magazine founder and renaissance woman Lee Hoffman (ed. note: I recommend reading her website, Ms. Hoffman led a remarkable life) at some car races. I was looking for a different Washington Square Park photo when I saw the image below with the enormous crowd on a spring day. I can’t imagine the sound of that environment in the middle of the city. The street scenes documented by Rennert and photographer Ray Sullivan provide a fascinating look into New York City in the late 1950s. Framing musician Eric Weissberg and his Puch/Allstate 250CC two-stroke motorbike in the distance allows for a wonderful view of the architecture and 1950s automobiles. Finally, the image of Izzy Young through the window at the Folklore Center seemed the perfect way to end the tour along with this tired cat, so sleepy. The folk scene in NYC was a happening place to be in the late 1950s.
20239_pf0102_02_0003. Car races. Photo by Aaron Rennert, ca. 1957-1960. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
20239_pf0082_01_0006. Crowd in Washington Square Park, 5 May 1959. Photo by Aaron Rennert. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
20239_pf0082_01_0010. Listeners, small boy playing harmonica, Washington Square Park, 5 May 1959. Photo by Aaron Rennert. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
20239_pf0098_01_0013. Eric Weissberg and his Puch/Allstate 250cc two-stroke motorbike. Photo by “LH,” ca. 1957-1960. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
20239_pf0100_0015. Izzy Young looking in the Folklore Center, 27 July 1959. Photo by Aaron Rennert. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
Tired Cat.Photo by “LH,” ca. 1957-1960. Photo-Sound Associates, Ron Cohen Collection (20239).
Stunning photographs made by Aaron Rennert for Photo-Sound Associates, from the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Shot in New York City, in the late 1950s, the images document a party attended by members of the famed Ballet Español de Ximenez-Vargas. Dancers include (from top to bottom): Carmen Rivas, an unidentified man, Maria Alba (Flamenco dance star who studied with Mariquita Flores and by 1957 or so was dancing with Ximenez-Vargas), and Antonio Hector de Jesus.