This compilation explores four pioneers of the first wave of the American folk movement.
Today is ‘International Women’s Day’ so when better than to give you this excellent compilation featuring five of the greatest ever folk music artists to have ever lived. Sadly three of the five are no longer with us and only one is still performing but this music represents the pioneers of the folk music movement in America. These women went on to influence the likes of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Judy Collins directly as well as all who those who followed in their footsteps.
From Odetta considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century to Jean Ritchie the mother of Appalachian folk music, responsible for exposing us to a treasure trove of material passed down from her ancestors that have since become staples of the world-wide folk scene. Carolyn Hester invited Bob Dylan to play harmonica on her first Columbia record which led to him signing with the label while Barbara Dane raised the bar for all singers when she burst onto the scene in the early 1950’s and a little lady from the Southern Appalachians named Etta Baker set the standard for folk guitarists everywhere.
So five amazing artists that refused to compromise and became legends in their own lifetimes. We salute them and offer you a free download of this great introduction to their work. If you are interested in similar music then why not get yourself over to Zero G Sound (here) and check out the outstanding selection of free album downloads available.
Odetta Holmes (1930–2008) was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a civil and human rights activist, often referred to as ‘The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement’. Born in Birmingham, Alabama she grew up in Los Angeles and her musical repertoire consisted largely of folk music, blues, jazz ans spirituals. An important figure in the American folk music revival of the 1950’s and 1960’s, she influenced many of the key figures of the folk-revival of that time, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin. Time magazine included her song ‘Take This Hammer’ on its list of the All-Time 100 Songs, stating that “Rosa Parks was her number one fan” and that Martin Luther King Jr. called her the “queen of American folk music”. . Before Odetta no solo woman had ever toured the world singing. Known for her incredibly powerful stage presence and her ability to command the simplest instruments, from voice to clapping hands, as well as her mastery of acoustic guitar.
Born Etta Lucille Reid (1913–2006) she was an American Piedmont blues guitarist and singer from North Carolina. Piedmont blues (also known as East Coast or Southeastern blues) refers primarily to a guitar style, which is characterized by finger picking. She played both the 6-string and 12-string forms of the acoustic guitar, as well as the five-string banjo. Taught by her father, who was also a long time player of the Piedmont Blues on several instruments, Etta first recorded in the summer of 1956 and over the years shared her knowledge with many well known musical artists including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Etta received multiple awards and went on to have nine children sadly a son was killed in the Vietnam War.
Born in Detroit in 1927 but arrived in Arkansas soon after Barbara Dane is an American folk, blues and jazz legend. Time magazine said of her that “voice is pure, rich and rare as a 20 karat diamond”. At high school she began to sing regularly at demonstrations for racial equality and economic justice. While still in her teens, she got an offer to tour with Alvino Rey’s band, but turned it down in favour of singing at factory gates and union halls. Moving to San Francisco in 1949, Barbara began raising a family and performed regularly on radio and early TV. In 1966 she became the first American musician to tour post-revolutionary Cuba. She once said
“I was too stubborn to hire one of the greed-head managers, probably because I’m a woman who likes to speak for herself. I always made my own deals and contracts, and after figuring out the economics of it, I was free to choose when and where I worked, able to spend lots more time with my three children and doing political work, and even brought home more money in the end, by not going for the ‘bigtime’. I did make some really nice records, because I was able to choose and work with wonderfully gifted musicians.”
Jean Ritchie (1922-2015) was an American folk music singer, songwriter, and Appalachian dulcimer player. Born in Perry County in the Cumberland Mountains of south eastern Kentucky Jean came from one of the two ‘great ballad-singing families’ of Kentucky celebrated among folk song scholars. The youngest of 14 siblings Jean recalled later in life that when the family acquired a radio in the late 1940’s they discovered that what they had been singing all their lives was called hillbilly music, a word they had never heard before. Jean became known as ‘The Mother of Folk’ performing work songs and ballads as well as hymns. Some of her late 1950’s/early 60’s songs on mining she published under the pseudonym “‘Than Hall’ to avoid troubling her non-political mother. Her album ‘None But One’ was awarded the Rolling Stone Critics Award in 1977 and in 2002, Ritchie received the National Endowment For The Arts National Heritage Fellowship, America’s highest honour in folk and traditional arts.
American folk singer and songwriter born in 1937 in in Waco, Texas. She was a figure in the early 1960’s folk music revival. Her first LP was in 1957 and she made her second album for Tradition Records, run by the Clancy Brothers, in 1960. Dubbed ‘The Texas Songbird’ Carolyn was politically active, spearheading the controversial boycott of the television programme Hootenanny when Pete Seeger was blacklisted from it. She became famous for ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ as well as multiple albums and TV and radio appearances throughout the 1960’s and subsequent decades. She continues to perform regularly with her daughters.
1. Sail Away Ladies- Odetta
2. Railroad Bill- Etta Baker
3. When I Was A Young Girl- Barbara Dane
4. The Bashful Courtship- Jean Ritchie
5. Go ‘way From My Window- Carolyn Hester
6. Midnight Special- Odetta
7. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad- Etta Baker
8. Nine Hundred Miles- Barbara Dane
9. The Old Grey Goose Is Dead- Jean Ritchie
10. The Water Is Wide- Carolyn Hester
11. He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands- Odetta
12. John Henry- Etta Baker
13. The Danville Girl- Barbara Dane
14. The Blackest Crow- Jean Ritchie
15. House Of The Rising Sun- Carolyn Hester
16. Take This Hammer- Odetta
17. One Dime Blues- Etta Baker
18. Ramblin’- Barbara Dane
19. Wonderous Love- Jean Ritchie
20. Summertime- Carolyn Hester
Part of the ‘Classic Album Reviews- London Celtic Punks Steppin’ Stones’ series (click here for the entire series) where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re use to. Lost gems that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.
- Interesting article appeared recently on ‘Come Here To Me!’ a fantastic web-site on Dublin life and culture. ‘Lonnie Donegan – My Only Son Was Killed in Dublin’ features some info on Odetta that has passed me by. Check it out here.