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!
Pete Seeger performing at Folk Festival at Town Hall, 8 March 1958. Photo by Ray Sullivan for Photo-Sound Associates. 20239_pf0002_0022. Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Southern Folklife Collection.
We were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Pete Seeger early this morning. Certainly the Southern Folklife Collection could not exist without the singular vision and dedication of remarkable individuals like Pete Seeger. His efforts to collect, preserve, and celebrate the musical heritage of the peoples of the world reflects the core of our mission. We consider it an honor to be able to contribute to the celebration of Seeger’s life and legacy with the resources we hold at Wilson Library and we encourage anyone interested in more research to visit us Wilson Library where the Southern Folklife Collection has hundreds of images, publications, recordings, and manuscript materials documenting Pete Seeger. With such a diverse and extensive career, it was difficult to choose what to share, however these images from the Photo-Sound Associates materials in the Ron Cohen Collection (20239) immediately came to mind.
The first four were made by Ray Sullivan in the late 1950s, after Seeger’s 1957 indictment for standing up to congress and the House Un-American Activities Committee. They all feature Seeger at the heart of the early folk revival in New York City doing what he loved, singing and playing music for people. The final image shows Seeger, Rambling Jack Elliot (in the top hat) and a crew of musicians on the deck of the Clearwater, the sloop Seeger built to advocate for clean water on his beloved Hudson River. We hope you find these images as joyful and moving as we do. Sing a song today for Pete.
Pete Seeger with the Drexel Singers (front row: Lela Royster, Edith Drexel, Elizabeth “Liz” Dargan, and unknown male singer). Folksong ’59 at Carnegie Hall, 3 April 1959. Photo by Ray Sullivan for Photo-Sound Associates. 20239_pf0079_01_0028. Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Southern Folklife Collection.
Pete and Mike Seeger. Folksong ’59 at Carnegie Hall, 4/3/59. 20239_pf0079_02_0028.Photo by Ray Sullivan for Photo-Sound Associates. Ron Cohen Collection (20239).Southern Folklife Collection.
Pete Seeger, presumably hootenanny at Carnegie Hall, 22 February 1958. Photo by Ray Sullivan for Photo Sound Associates. 20239_pf0132_02_0006. Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Southern Folklife Collection.
Pete Seeger, Jack Elliott, and crew performing for children on the Clearwater, ca. 1969. Photo-Sound Associates. 20239_pf0201_03_0015. Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Southern Folklife Collection.