Ronnie Gilbert, an original member of the legendary folk group, the Weavers, died today (June 7) at the age of 88. While the prodigiously talented Pete Seeger was clearly the most noted member of the group (Fred Hellerman and Lee Hays were the other two members), it was Ronnie Gilbert who gave the Weavers their lyrical elegance.
Although before my time,the Weavers are known by all folk song lovers. I first heard Irene when I was a boy, my mother used to sing it around the house. Great song, great singers, RIP Ronnie Gilbert.
I went to Newport in the Sixties, as a teenager, and in one of the festivals, maybe 1965 or '66, Ronnie was there as a solo performer, at least when I saw her sing.
It was a daytime “workshop”- usually these were more informal concerts than workshops but sometimes both- on a low platform stage, so the audience was close and almost at the same level as the artists. Fifty or maybe a hundred listeners, not a big crowd, were gathered round on the grass at the crest of that hill in Newport where the festivals were.
She sang a song called “Which Hat Shall I Wear?” and I can still hear it in my mind, that clear voice, singing:
"Which hat shall I wear?
The red one? The blue one?
Which hat shall I wear
To the P.T.A.?
The red one’s becoming…
But the blue one’s a new one;
Mary, come here- tell me, what do you say?"
That was, I think, the whole song.
But short as it was, it was perfect, brilliantly satirizing the '1950’s American housewife with her 1950’s neuroses… or so I interpreted it.
That was fifty years ago, and she was already world-famous then, since before I was born; and long an icon of the folk music “revival”.
Thank you, Ronnie Gilbert, for singing for people.
It does so much good.
It does more good than almost anything.
My husband and I were so fortunate to have attended several of their concerts. Great musicians and speakers of the truth! What a powerful combination.
Honor and blessings to you, Ronnie Gilbert. You have made a difference and we will always love you and the rest of your marvelous partners in song and truth.
This is a succinct example of how the US dived into its now steep decline through collective radical self-destruction:
"Anyone conversant in Cold War history and its attendant “Red Scare,” is aware of what happened to the Weavers (formed in 1948). Suspecting this folk group of being too “leftwing,” the merchants of hatred and fear, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, smeared them as “Communists” and had them blacklisted.
“Despite their hit songs (Goodnight, Irene, Wimoweh, On Top of Old Smokey, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, et al), they were banned from appearing on radio or television, and their recording contract with Decca Records was abruptly cancelled. They went from being one of the most popular post-war groups to being almost totally ostracized, all the result of America’s ideological ignorance and hypocrisy.”
The game is still the same, only now the stakes are not mere banishment from public airwaves. Now the charge is treason and without trial, banishment from global intercourse of any sort - solitary isolation. In foreign countries.
Without dialogue of the roughest sort, there is no healthy democracy, there is no republic at all.
I was lucky enough to hear her once in concert. She was singing with Judy Small to an overflow audience, and their voices in harmony made it an enchanting evening.
Jean Ritchie the other day and now Ronnie Gilbert. I’m glad they had good long lives, but damn.
All my honor to this great lady; I loved her, “Goodnight Irene.” What a voice. I am so sorry for all the pain and suffering this great talent had to endure in the hands of the American government.