The Weavers were known for American folk standards
Group had big influence on folk music boom of the 1960s
Singer Ronnie Gilbert, a member of the influential 1950s folk group The Weavers, died Saturday in California at 88.
Her death was confirmed by her partner Donna Korones, several media outlets reported.
Folk singer Arlo Guthrie mourned the death of a “great and talented gal, noting that only her passing leaves only one living member of the the Weavers, Fred Hellerman.
“She was one fourth of The Weavers, which in and of itself would have qualified her with a badge of courage, but she also continued throughout her life to stand as a beacon for anyone hoping to make the world a little more equal and normal for those too often told to stay on the fringes of society,” he said in a Facebook post.
Born in Brooklyn in 1926, Gilbert was singing on the radio by 12, according to a biography on her website. After performing in choral and vocal groups, she started playing with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman in the 1940s, and together they formed the Weavers in 1947.
They became known for American folk standards, including “On Top of Old Smoky” and “Goodnight, Irene.” They also played songs from other cultures, including “Wimoweh” from Africa and “Tzena Tzena Tzena,” which was inspired by a Hebrew folk song.
Their powerful voices and distinctive harmonies laid the groundwork for the folk music boom of the next two decades, paving the way for the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary and later, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Phil Ochs, according to The New York Times.
Despite the group’s commercial popularity, the Weavers were blacklisted during the McCarthy era because of Seeger’s connections to the Communist Party earlier in his life, leading the group to disband. Then, in 1955, a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall renewed interest in the group, and they continued to perform until 1964.
By then, Gilbert had made a name for herself. She continued recording albums and appeared in plays off and on Broadway. She earned an master’s degree in clinical psychology and worked as a therapist.
The Weavers performed one last time in 1980 at a sold-out reunion concert in Carnegie Hall. She also teamed up with folk singer and activist Holly Near to perform and record three albums on Near’s record label. The two of them toured with Seeger and Arlo Guthrie in a group called HARP.
Gilbert stayed busy in the 1990s by releasing more albums and performing her own one-woman show “Mother Jones,” inspired by labor organizer Mary Harris. She reworked an autobiographical production, “Ronnie Gilbert: A Radical Life in Song,” into a book scheduled for publication by the University of California Press this fall.
After divorcing her husband, she married Korones, her longtime manager, in San Francisco in 2004 during a brief period when same-sex marriages were first legal in California.