Category Archives: Blog

Rest In Peace Ronnie Gilbert

Ronnie Gilbert, the female voice in the influential 1950s folk quartet the Weavers, which also included Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman, has died at age 88. Gilbert died of natural causes on Saturday, at a retirement home in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Mill Valley.

The four, with Gilbert singing contralto, came together in 1948 and are credited with a folk revival that helped spawn such performers as Bob Dylan, the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary. But the group’s leftist political views put them on the radar of the McCarthy-era anti-communist movement and the group lost their recording contract in 1951.

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

Read More: Ronnie Gilbert, Clarion Voice Of Folk Band The Weavers, Dies At 88 : The Two-Way : NPR

The Child Ballads

child-ballad-illustrationOur gathering on January 8th, 2015 will be an introduction to the songs documented by Francis James Child.

Child was the first professor of English at Harvard University. He had already edited several influential volumes of English poetry when he turned his attention to English and Scottish Folk Ballads (and their American variants) in the 1880s.

Although Child wasn’t the first to gather such a collection, The Child Ballads were organized in such a way that they became seminal  to the new generation of American Folk musicians who came of age in the 20th century. Child helped us to understand the Folk Process by placing newer variants of songs in the context of their roots, and like the work of folklorists John and Alan Lomax who came after him, he offered a treasure trove of material and inspiration to the Folk Revival.

You can download some of Child’s volumes for free at Project Gutenberg.

Our First Song Circle

We gathered at FEED on the evening of International Workers’ Day for our very first singalong.

Michael Costanza had asked that I say a few words at the onset about the idea behind what we were doing there, so here is what I said (more or less).

The main idea behind what we are doing is pretty plain. It’s a joy to raise our voices together in song! We used to do more of it before the days of mass media, but over the last century, for more and more people, music has become just another commodity to be bought and sold, like a pair of sneakers. It’s something that we pay 99 cents for on iTunes, or it’s something that some people get rich making or selling, or something that people dream of getting rich making or selling. Our very sick society tells us that if we don’t place a monetary value on something, that it has no value. So this beautiful, rich, ancient tradition of singing together has been stolen from us.

“What we’re doing here tonight,” I said “is stealing it back.”

We began with Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land and ended with John Tams’ Rolling Home. In between we went around the circle each in turn, singing everyone from Graham Nash to Pete Seeger to Jeff Tweedy to James Taylor. We even spent a little time with Pink Floyd.

Dylan, of course…

Also, we sang a few traditional songs, like Old Joe Clark and The Farmer In The Dell – and a couple of old union songs, too, in honor of the day.

It was nice that everyone who wished to do so had an opportunity to choose or to lead a song. We were a mess on some, but it was fun anyway. There were some beautiful harmonies, great energy and lots of smiling faces throughout the evening. Some of us brought lyric sheets to share. Some of the songs we looked up in songbooks or on the Web. Some, we simply sang along with the leader as best we could.

Future singalongs may be conducted differently, with a little more structure at some times and a little less on others, but however we structure things, I hope that the spirit of our first singalong will remain.

Because on the night of May 1st, 2014, thirty-one souls in Kankakee (from toddler to senior citizen) remembered and proclaimed that the music belongs to all of us.


P.S.: If you’re on Facebook, you can find some photos of our first gathering here.

Singalong Song Ideas

In preparation for our first gathering, I’ve been keeping an ear open for song ideas. Once we get together and get comfortable, of course, we can all have a say in choosing what we’ll sing. Figured it might be good to at least have an initial list of ideas so we don’t sit around staring at the floor wondering what to do next. Also, maybe this way we can have some lyrics and chords handy in case anybody needs them.

What would he on your list of songs to share and sing? Hit me by email and let me know.

Anyway, here’s my list, such as it is so far. I’ll try to put links to lyrics, chords or tabs and maybe some recordings or videos of these as I find them.

Amazing Grace
Banks of Marble
Black Velvet Band
Blowin’ In The Wind
Bread and Roses
Deep Blue Sea
Do Lord
Down By The Riverside
Five Hundred Miles
Give Me That Old Time Religion
Go Tell It On The Mountain
Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad
Goodnight, Irene
He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands
I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore
I Am A Pilgrim
I Don’t Want Your Millions Mister
I Saw The Light
I’ll Fly Away
If I Had A Hammer
Kisses Sweeter Than Wine
Leaving On A Jet Plane
Lonesome Valley
Michael, Row The Boat Ashore
Midnight Special
No More Auction Block
Peace Like A River
Roll The Union On
Sixteen Tons
Somebody Touched Me
Teach Your Children
The City of New Orleans
This Land Is Your Land
This Little Light Of Mine
The Times They Are A-Changin’
The Water Is Wide
The Wayfaring Stranger
Union Maid
We Shall Not Be Moved
We Shall Overcome
Where Have All The Flowers Gone
Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Write Me Out My Union Card
You Are My Sunshine

Here’s a YouTube playlist of most of these songs by various artists.

Folk Music By and For Real Folks

Pete Seeger was fond of saying that if the human race survives another hundred years, music will be a big part of the reason.

His passing has prompted me to think a great deal about the role of music in our lives and in our world. I believe, and Pete certainly believed, that music can be something other than a commodity.

I made my living playing music for several years (many years ago). As much as I enjoyed being a “professional musician” I can tell you that much of the downside of doing it had to do with the often inherent conflict between the marketplace and the muse. I can also say without any doubt that some of the most enjoyable and rewarding moments of my life singing and playing music have been impromptu jam sessions with other musicians, singing at church, singing in the car with my kids and other such situations where no money changed hands.

There ought to be opportunities in every community for regular people to come together and sing for the joy of singing. Before the days of mass media, people did more of that. People sang together while they worked, they sang together in their homes, they sang together (and for each other) at parties and other community gatherings. They didn’t need the constant intervention of an electronic device to keep them entertained and engaged.

There is a rich tradition of Folk Music in the United States, with songs that tell the story of our country and that help us better understand our history and heritage. I think that Folk songs can also help us better understand what’s going on in the world today, and help us better understand each other.

It’s with all of this in mind that I am working to organize the Key City Singalong. I hope that you’ll join in.