In our next concert — a livestream this Sunday — John McCutcheon will celebrate the music of several inspirational and influential folk musicians. They include Hazel Dickens (1925-2011), Janette Carter (1923-2006), and Ola Belle Reed (1916-2002), pictured above clockwise from upper left, plus Jean Ritchie (1922-2015), Lily May Ledford (1917-1985) “and more.”
If you listen to recordings of those five women, you’ll hear examples of heartfelt singing, string-instrument virtuosity and powerful songwriting. McCutcheon displays all those talents himself, and has planned Sunday’s show, “The Women Who Made Me,” to share his admiration for artists who guided his musical growth. It’s his second in a four-show series this season in collaboration with the Pasadena Folk Music Society and other organizations.
Meanwhile, our all-volunteer Board of Directors is working on steps to resume in-person concerts of remarkable folk music. If you’re on our email list, we’ll keep you alerted to those and other listening opportunities.
This Sunday’s online concert will begin at 4 p.m. Pacific Time. Ticket-holders can shift it to another start time using unlimited replays within 48 hours after the live show. You can get tickets at links from this page. Standard price is $20 plus a $4.60 processing fee. Other pricing options, in the drop-down menu, are discounts for students or unemployed people and premiums for a family/household ticket or music supporter ticket. A portion of ticket revenue goes to our Pasadena Folk Music Society, which will help with presenting in-person shows.
Ritchie, Reed, Dickens, Ledford, Carter
Jean Ritchie could sing about 300 old songs from memory by the time she left her native Kentucky in her mid-20s to work as a social worker in New York. She brought her mountain dulcimer to the city and “is credited with almost single-handedly reviving interest in that instrument,” according to her New York Times obituary. Ritchie performed at the first Newport Folk Festival, in 1959, and several later ones. With her distinctively plaintive voice, she sang the heck out of those old ballads and also topical songs she wrote. Her “The L and N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” has been recorded by at least 30 singers. You can watch a 1996 documentary about Ritchie here on PBS.org.
Thanks to revived popularity of clawhammer-style banjo and a couple of her hard-hitting songs (and even a talented folk band named for her), Ola Belle Reed is probably better known now than when a stroke ended her music career in the 1980s. Still, many who’ve heard younger artists perform I’ve Endured or High on a Mountain may never have heard Reed’s haunting original versions.
When Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard recorded a series of great albums together in the 1960s and ’70s, they weren’t yet called “pioneering women of bluegrass.” That label came with repackaging in the 1990s and a reissue last year. As the Folkways blurb says: “Hazel and Alice’s influence on music – and not just roots music – is hard to overstate. They’ve been acknowledged by artists as diverse as country superstars Naomi and Wynonna Judd, champion flat-picker Molly Tuttle, and proto-feminist punk rocker Kathleen Hanna.” Hear their driving harmony on Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia. Although that song is by Bruce (“Utah”) Phillips, Dickens wrote at least two heart-rending anthems of her own about her home state: West Virginia, My Home and Black Lung.
Lily May Ledford, like Reed, excelled at clawhammer-style banjo playing, such as in this early recording of Little Birdie. Like McCutcheon, she could set down her five-string and fiddle up a storm, such as on this Cacklin’ Hen clip from Newport. Her band, Coon Creek Girls, played at the White House in 1939 for Franklin Roosevelt and the King and Queen of England. What do you reckon those royals thought of this spirited Banjo Pickin’ Girl and her sisters?
Janette Carter was with a different royal family. By 1939, she and her brother were performing as part of the Carter Family with their parents, A.P. and Sara; their aunt Maybelle; and Maybelle’s three daughters, including June. McCutcheon must have had opportunities to learn some good Carter Family stories from Janette Carter, as well as some autoharp tips, family songs, and other music. Through the decades, she often performed and recorded with her brother, Joe. In 1976, she and community members built an 880-seat amphitheater, the Carter Family Fold, at Maces Springs, Virginia.
The McCutcheon series will continue on Sunday, April 16, with “Hammer Dulcimer!”; and on Saturday, May 13, with “Jackpot!” Those shows will begin at 4 p.m. Pacific, with two days of replay availability. McCutcheon will play his hammered dulcimer for the entire April concert. For a teaser, check out his Leviathan. The May concert will mix some old favorites with some songs, stories and instruments he hasn’t showcased previously.
Dulcimers and St. Patrick
If Jean Ritchie’s mountain dulcimer or John McCutcheon’s hammered dulcimer tickle your fancy, you should know about QuaranTUNE. It’s a group that began organizing live-online music festivals, featuring mostly dulcimers, during the first year of the pandemic. Its 10th QuaranTUNE Dulcimer Festival will run June 1 through June 4 this year. For information about how to register for it in May, subscribe to the organization’s e-mail list. These virtual dulcimer fests combine lessons, concerts “and more importantly,” says QuaranTUNE, “an opportunity for the dulcimer community to come together and enjoy the unique fellowship and sense of kin so typical of dulcimer gatherings.”
Five musicians who offer lessons during the QuaranTUNE Dulcimer Festivals have something special scheduled this week: A QDF St. Patrick’s Jam Session on Thursday, March 16, from 4:30 to 6 p.m Pacific Time. It will be free via Zoom for up to 500 participants, and the instructors are even distributing a song list and sheet music in advance so you can play along with them. To receive a message with details about logging on, get on the QuaranTUNE email list or check this link. The jam leaders will be Katie Moritz, Mark Alan Wade, Lorinda Jones, Stephen Seifert and Randy Clepper. Two other QuaranTUNE teachers, Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly offer recorded videos of past festival workshops from this link.
To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday, March 18, Bob Stane has booked The Merry Wives of Windsor to sing and play their favorite Irish songs in a matinee concert beginning at 3 p.m. at Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena. The “Wives” perform as a group of about a dozen women from the Pasadena area who blend elements of folk music from the British Isles and the Americas. In their nine studio albums recorded since Heather Greene organized the band in 2001, they combine rich vocal harmonies with traditional and contemporary folk instruments.
Folk Alley is ready to help if you can’t wait until later this week for some Irish folk music. The folks there have strung together a new “Irish Stream” with more than 10 hours of tasty performances by a broad range of Irish musicians. If you like having Folk Alley available, visit the donor page, too.
Live In Concert: Deirdre Ni Chinnéide
Presented by the Celtic Arts Center, Celtic music composer and singer Deirdre Ni Chinnéide will be performing live on Sunday evening, March 19th, at the Mayflower Club in North Hollywood. Deirdre will be accompanied by Harpist Dennis Doyle. You can check out her CD, Celtic Passage, here.
Roots Music and Western Swing
A check of Mary Katherine Aldin’s folk music calendar at the Roots Music and Beyond Facebook page for the KPFK show (7 to 9 a.m. on Saturdays, 90.7 FM) brought to our attention to a live show in Pasadena that we didn’t know about: a western swing dance festival from 4 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, March 18. The event, “Dave Stuckey’s Barndance Boogie,” will fill the newly renovated Crown City Dancehall. Besides headliners Dave Stuckey and the Hoot Owls, the lineup includes Deke Dickerson and his Whippersnappers, Southwest Biscuit Company, and the Soda Crackers, with each band augmented by guest vocalists Kierra Brie, Shannon McDonough and Susan Barrera. If you like western swing, and especially if you dance, find more information here.
Have a look at the Roots Music and Beyond Facebook page, with lots of other interesting links and news. Check it out every week or so. Scroll through and you will find the calendar with lots of upcoming shows of interest, such as Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands at McCabe’s in Santa Monica on March 25. And listen to the show on the radio!
FolkScene is a syndicated music program established in 1970. On Sunday nights from 6 to 8 pm on KPFK 90.7 Los Angeles or via streaming the program features recorded music and in studio live performances. Replays of the shows are available two weeks after broadcast on the KPFK Audio Archives. FolkScene guests can be heard a week or two later at the FolkScene Soundcloud and Apple Podcast sites.