Monday, June 08, 2015

Ronnie Gilbert – 1926-2015

Ronnie Gilbert, whose crystalline, bold contralto provided distaff ballast for the Weavers, the seminal quartet that helped propel folk music to wide popularity and establish its power as an agent of social change, died on Saturday in Mill Valley, Calif. She was 88.

Weavers reunion – Pete Seeger, Lee Hayes, Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman
Ms. Gilbert had a résumé as a stage actor and later in life a career as a psychologist, but her enduring impact was as a singer.

The Weavers, whose other members were Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman, started playing together in the late 1940s. Like-minded musicians with progressive political views, they performed work songs, union songs and gospel songs, and became known for American folk standards like “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Goodnight, Irene” (first recorded by the blues singer Lead Belly), Woody Guthrie’s “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” and “The Hammer Song” (a.k.a. “If I Had a Hammer”) by Mr. Seeger and Mr. Hays, as well as songs from other cultures, including “Wimoweh” from Africa and “Tzena Tzena Tzena,” a Hebrew song popular in Israel.

“We sang songs of hope in that strange time after World War II, when already the world was preparing for Cold War,” Ms. Gilbert recalled in “The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time,” a 1982 documentary about the group. “We still had the feeling that if we could sing loud enough and strong enough and hopefully enough, it would make a difference.”

In 1951 The Weavers were blacklisted; invitations to perform and record dried up, their recordings were removed from stores, and the group disbanded. With her husband, Martin Weg, a dentist, Ms. Gilbert moved to California, where they started a family.

Then, in 1955, the Weavers’ manager, Harold Leventhal, arranged a concert at Carnegie Hall. The show sold out, perceived by many ticket buyers not just as a musical event but as an act of defiance against the McCarthyist cold war hysteria.

More at New York Times

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