Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ronnie Gilbert 1926-2015

The Weavers, circa 1950

The very sad news came through last night that Ronnie Gilbert has passed away at age 88.

Along with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman, Ronnie was a founding member of the Weavers, the folk music group founded in the late-1940s that inspired and paved the way for all who followed.

The Weavers recordings occupy a valued place in my music library. So, too, do other recordings Ronnie made over the years in a duo with Holly Near, and as a member of HARP with Holly, Arlo Guthrie and Pete.

I got to meet Ronnie and hear her perform a number of times over the years at folk festivals. I particularly remember a delightful time having breakfast with her at the hotel during the Winnipeg Folk Festival sometime in the 1980s. She was very encouraging when I started the Folk Roots/Folk Branches radio show in 1994 and often responded graciously when I'd let her know that I was playing her music on the show.

The last time I saw Ronnie was September 17, 2004 when I was invited to the world premiere of the film, Isn’t This a Time! A Tribute Concert for Harold Leventhal, at the Toronto International Folk Festival. The film was a documentary on the tribute concert held the year before at Carnegie Hall for Harold Leventhal and told the story of Harold’s lifetime involvement in folk music and how he defied and masterminded the end of the McCarthy-era blacklist.

After the screening, there was a brief concert by the surviving members of the Weavers –  Ronnie, Pete, Fred and Erik Darling (who replaced Pete when he left the group in 1958) along with Eric Weissberg, who played bass and sang Lee’s vocal parts. A once-in-a-lifetime occasion for me to experience the Weavers live.

Ronnie was also an actor and practiced as a psychologist for several years. The New York Times has published a good obituary.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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