Folk heaven has gained a new star, who is, I’m certain, shining red and bright in the skies.
Ronnie Gilbert has died of natural causes Saturday at the age of 88 at a retirement community in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Mill Valley, said her longtime partner, Donna Korones.
Ronnie is best known as being one quarter of the Weavers, whose other members were Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman The Weavers helped spark a national folk revival by churning out hit recordings of “Goodnight Irene,” ”Tzena Tzena Tzena,” ”On Top of Old Smokey,” ”If I Had A Hammer,” ”Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and “Wimoweh.”
The group was extremely popular before they were targeted by anti-communists and blacklisted during the Red Scare. In 1950 Pete Seeger, one of the members of the Weavers, was targeted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee as a communist and later three of the four members of the Weavers were accused of being communists.
The History Channel writes: “The Weavers enjoyed a significant comeback in the late 1950s, but the group never shook its right wing antagonists. On the afternoon of January 2, 1962, in advance of a scheduled appearance on The Jack Paar Show, the Weavers were told by NBC officials that their appearance would be canceled if they would not sign a statement disavowing the Communist Party. Every member of the Weavers refused to sign.
Besides being a symbol for the Left and Labor, Ronnie Gilbert was a feminist and lesbian icon. I saw Ronnie Gilbert perform with Holly Near in the 1980’s when she was in her 50’s and she was amazing. She and Holly filled the space with electric energy.
The way the story goes, in 1974, Holly Near, who had grown up with the Weavers’ music, released A Live Album, which she dedicated to Gilbert. “I had never heard of Holly Near,” Gilbert told interviewer Kate Weigand in 2004. “One usually asks permission of somebody when they’re going to do that. Holly Near never asked me for permission. Later, when I asked her, ‘How come you never asked me?’ she said, “Well, the truth is, I didn’t know you were alive.” Once Near found out Gilbert was alive and well, the two women began performing together frequently, starting in the 1980s. Their 1983 concert tour was recorded for the album Lifeline Extended, and a series of shows they did with Seeger and Arlo Guthrie is on the album H.A.R.P.: A Time to Sing
Ronnie Gilbert’s memoir, “Ronnie Gilbert: A Radical Life in Song,” which is the same title of a one-woman show she performed for years, will be published in the fall.
She is survived by her daughter, Lisa, and Korones, her partner of 30 years.