Club News

Musical Meetings

Musical meetings of the San Francisco Folk Music Club are held every other Friday at 885 Clayton Street, between Carl &Parnassus Streets in San Francisco. Singing and jamming in three separate rooms start at 8:00 p.m. Snacks are provided through $1 food kitty donations or finger food contributions. Guests are always welcome, no one is expected to “perform”, and there is no charge.

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
Date January 4 January 18 February 1 February 15 February 29
Setup Debbie Klein Stephen Hopkins Ken Hayes Kathy Lutes Melissa Sarenac
Bulletin Board Faith Debbie Klein Debbie Klein Yvette Tannenbaum Faith
Host/ess Joel Rutledge Pazit Zohar Melissa Sarenac Debbie Klein Faith
Host/ess Al Goodwin Laura Goldbaum Al Goodwin Marisa Malvino Tes Welborn
Singing Room Estelle Freedman Neal Margolis Tes Welborn Marlene McCall Yvette Tannenbaum
Theme Time Elder Years Spring and Hope Heat & Passion Ladies' Choice (leapyear special)
Cleanup Morgan Cowin Dave Sahn Paula Joyce Dave Sahn Marlene McCall

Board Meetings

 The SFFMC board meets on the second Tuesday of each month — potluck at 6:30 p.m., meeting at 8:00 p.m. All Club members are welcome to attend the potluck dinner and the Board meeting.

NEXT FOLKNIK FOLD-IN/FOLK SING: Sunday, February 24, at
Abe and Joan Feinberg’s (510) 451-1122.

Club News

Sam Hinton has moved to a different board and care -- Raksha Lovingcare Homes, 906 Cornell Ave, Albany, CA 94706. Sam loves getting letters, and loves visitors. Feel free to visit Sam any time. If you are so inclined, bring your instrument and sing a song or two with him.

Bob Choderker wrote to our editor: Hello, Phyllis, I left the Bay Area and SFFMC in '77 and moved to the forests of Oregon. Are there any members left from those old days, e.g., Dick Holdstock, Carlo Calabi, etc? Congratulations on keeping the muse alive. Say hello to Faith for me. Bob Choderker, Shanteyman ( )

Remembering Shirley Baker

Her favorite grace was “Bless our hearts to hear, in the breaking of the bread, the song of the universe.” It was a lovely memorial, held at the American Youth Hostel in the Marin Headlands on Saturday, November 17. Shirley’s many friends of almost half a century—about fifty or more— filled the huge friendly room. They came from the original American Youth Hostel group, from the American Welsh Society, from the opera house, from the San Francisco Folk Music Club, and of course included her long-time companion, John Bako, and celebrated her life in both song and spoken word. We who knew her will always remember her singing songs that no one else knew. And we remember her, with thanks, for her generosity in bequeathing to the SFFMC the magnanimous gift of fifty thousand dollars. Good-bye, Shirley, and if there’s a folk music heaven, we look forward to seeing you there.

Who Was Dink (of Dink’s Song)?

If I had wings like Noah’s dove; I’d fly upriver to the one I love
Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.

I had a man; he was long and tall, moved his body like a cannonball.
Fare thee well…

I ’member one night, it was drizzling rain. ’Round my heart I felt a pain.
Fare thee well…

One of these days and it won’t be long, you’ll call my name and I’ll be gone.
Fare thee well…

If I had listened to what my mama said, I’d be at home in my mama’s bed.
Fare thee well…

This traditional song has been recorded many times (Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Jeff Buckley, Carolyn Hester, Leon Bibb, The Limeliters and Odetta, among others), but I recently became curious about the origins of the name, so I did a little bit of research. Initially, I read that Bob Dylan had told Bonnie Beecher (in whose house he recorded his version of the song) that he learned the song from a woman named Dink, a claim whose inaccuracy became evident when I dug a little further. My search took me to McGuinn’s Folk Den, a site I had visited several times before. Yes, that is Roger McGuinn of Byrds’ renown. (And it is a site with a great wealth of information about a large number of traditional folk songs: http://www.ibiblio.org/jimmy/folkden-wp/.)

The one who actually collected the song from Dink was the respected folklorist John Lomax, in 1908. Lomax tells the tale in his remarkable book, Adventures of a Ballad Hunter, published by Macmillan in 1947: I found Lomax’ comments, which are reprinted on the Folk Den site, to be so interesting that I decided to share them in the folknik:

“A few miles away from College Station (i.e. the Texas A&M College, where Lomax first began collecting folk songs) runs the Brazos River. The broad bottom lands of that river were covered with large cotton plantations. There, one day in 1908, behind lowered curtains in the home of a bachelor overseer, I first saw jazz danced between the sexes. Even this rough man was unwilling to allow the public to know that he permitted young Negroes to dance in the postures now accepted as a matter of course in barrel-houses and honkytonks in cities of the South. I discovered at this time the Ballet of The Boll Weevil, Dink’s Fare You Well, Oh Honey and many ‘blues’. Carl Sandburg, whom I place first among all present amateur folk singers, uses regularly the first two songs on his programs. He says that Dink’s song reminds him of Sappho.

“I found Dink washing her man’s clothes outside their tent on the bank of the Brazos River in Texas. Many other similar tents stood around. The black men and women they sheltered belonged to a levee-building outfit from the Mississippi River Delta, the women having been shipped from Memphis along with the mules and the iron scrapers, while the men, all skilful levee-builders, came from Vicksburg. A white foreman said: ‘Without women of their own, these levee Negroes would have been all over the bottoms every night hunting for women. That would mean trouble, serious trouble. Negroes can’t work when sliced up with razors.’ The two groups of men and women had never seen each other until they met on the river bank in Texas where the white levee contractor gave them the opportunity presented to Adam and Eve—they were left alone to mate after looking each other over. While her man built the levee, each woman kept his tent, toted the water, cut the firewood, cooked, washed his clothes and warmed his bed.

“The shouts of the muleskinners sometimes grouped themselves into long-drawn-out couplets with a semi-tune—levee camp hollers:

I looked all over the corral,
Lawd, I couldn’t find a mule with his shoulder well,

Lawd, they won’t ’low me to beat ’em,
Got to beg ’em along.

“But Dink, reputedly the best singer in the camp, would give me no songs. ‘Today ain’t my singin’ day, ’ she would reply to my urging. Finally, a bottle of gin, bought at a nearby plantation commissary, loosed her muse. The bottle of liquor soon disappeared. She sang, as she scrubbed her man’s dirty clothes, the pathetic story of a woman deserted by her lover when she needs him most—a very old story. Dink ended the refrain with a subdued cry of despair and longing—the sobbing of a woman deserted by her man.”

When Lomax returned for a second visit a year later, Dink was dead. And it would be twenty-five more years before Lomax and his son Alan returned with some extremely primitive portable recording equipment to capture the sound of the blues.

You can hear Roger Guinn’s recorded version of Dink’s song at www.ibiblio.org/jimmy/folkden-wp/?p=6927.

We Shall Overcome

Faith Petric

Here’s some information about the history of “We Shall Overcome” in which some readers may be interested.

Guy and Candie Carawan, folk musicians and writers of We Shall Overcome, Freedom is a Constant Struggle, and Sing for Freedom, wrote:

“The anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, ‘We Shall Overcome’, was originally ‘I’ll Be All Right’ and came out of the Negro church. It began to evolve as a ‘freedom song’ as early as 1945, during a strike of the Food & Tobacco Workers in Charleston, SC. It was a nasty strike, 5½ months of a rainy and cold winter It began with 500–600 people, mostly Negroes, picketing every day from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eventually people got tired and morale became low. Many people went back to work.

“To keep up morale, the remaining pickets would ‘sing themselves away’. We sang ‘I’ll be all right … we will win our rights … we will win this fight … the Lord will see us through … we will overcome.’ We sang it with a clap and a shout until sometimes the cops would quiet us down.

“Eventually, the strike was won on a national level. We were relieved to see the spring of 1946 finally come, and we went back to work. Two of the picketers from Charleston took the song to Highlander [Highlander Folk School, a leadership and activist training school and cultural center located at that time in Monteagle, TN—Ed.] where it became the theme song. Zilphia Horton carried it all over the south and introduced it to many labor unions. Pete Seeger later took it north and sang it on college campuses. In 1960, Guy introduced it to the sit-in movement at the first SNCC conference in Raleigh, NC: ‘I’ll be all right, I’ll be all right, I’ll sing my song…, I’ll be all right some day…, I’ll overcome…, If in my heart, I do not yield, I’ll fly away…, I’ll be all right someday…, I’m going home…

“A slightly different version comes from a lady from Wagoner, South Carolina: ‘I’ll be all right, I’ll be all right, I’ll be all right someday. I’m working to be all right…, All of my troubles will be ever, and I’ll be free at last…, I’m singing to be all right…, Well, I’ll be all right someday…, I’m struggling to be all right…’”

Pete Seeger, folk singer and political activist, wrote this in Carry It On, Songs of America’s Working People:

“This famous song is descended from a fast rhythmic gospel song, ‘I’ll Be All Right.’ I have no proof, but after a lifetime of songsmithing, I believe that this song was in turn inspired by the chorus of a 1903 hymn by Rev. Charles Tindley, ‘I’ll Overcome Some Day.’

“In any case, we know that in 1946, 300 workers, mostly black and mostly women, were on strike at the American Tobacco Co. in Charleston, SC. One of the workers, Lucille Simmons, loved to sing it ‘long meter’ style, that is, extremely slowly. And she made an important word change to ‘We will’. Zilphia Horton, of the Highlander Folk School, learned it and taught it to me. I taught it to Guy Carawan and Frank Hamilton in 1951. We all added verses. In April, 1960, Guy Carawan taught it to young civil rights activists, who gave it the slow soulful pulse, and started the custom of crossing hands and swaying while singing it.

“For me, the most important word is still ‘We’, and when I sing it, I think of the whole human race, which must solve problems of poverty, fear, ignorance, of health and population if we are to survive.”

New Members Join Board

A hearty welcome to new SFFMC Board members Hali Hammer and Donna Hyatt, and to Marlene McCall, Treasurer. Other officers and members of the SFFMC Board are: President – Ed Hilton, Vice President – Phil Morgan, Recording Secretary – Thad Binkley, Corresponding Secretary – Marian Gade, and members Charlie Fenton, Ken Hayes, Jerry Michaels, Faith Petric and Melissa Sarenac. As always, all are welcome to attend the potlucks and Board meetings the second Tuesday of every month except August. The times and places are announced on page 2 of each issue of the folknik.

The Magic of Story, the Magic of Music

Robert Rodriquez

Ever since there have been storytellers to spin their marvelous tales and eager listeners to hear them, music has been an integral part of the narrator's art. World folklore abounds in tales wherein musical instruments play a major role, but it is with one particular instrument with which I wish to deal, and that one is perhaps the simplest and yet the most complex instrument of all, mainly the human voice.

In times long past, storytellers often sang or chanted their tales to the accompaniment of instruments (Finnish kantele, Japanese biwa, Russian/Serbian gusle, West African kora, or the Celtic harp used in Ireland and Wales.) Story-tellers were known as cuentistas in old Mexico, bards in the world of Celtic lore, skjalds in northern Europe, griots in West Africa, or ashiks among the Turkic peoples of Asia Minor and Central Asia. Epics or heroic ballads or tales of quest and adventure were often the subject of these masters of the narrative art, and the singing of these tales could be found from ancient pre-Colombian America to the imperial courts of Persia, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, and in each case, the human voice reigned supreme.

But if the human voice could bring joy and wondrous entertainment in the telling of tales, it could just as easily be used to bring pain, destruction, and despair to those unfortunate enough to be within range of malicious entities bent on the downfall of hapless mortals. The Sirens of ancient Greek myth lured sailors to their destruction with seductive songs. In tales from the Brazilian rainforest, young men, even powerful and brave warriors, could be lured to their doom by the malevolent female Yara, while the Roussalka of Slavic legend and story could and often did the same to hapless men who came too close to their aquatic dwelling places. Magicians and wizards caused storms by chanting magic musical spells, as in the case of stories found in the Finnish Kalevala. It was said that the ashiks of Central Asia could ward off ghosts and other evil spirits by simply singing certain powerful charms that effectively interposed themselves between the mortal world and that of the world of demons and wicked non-human entities.

Someone harming one of the bards of ancient Ireland could be punished by death, and even the kings themselves feared the anger of bards who could, so said the ancient tales, cause blisters to appear on the bodies of monarchs who raised their ire. The shamans of the Amor River Valley along the Russo-Chinese border could literally command even the deities of air and water to do their bidding by invoking powerful songs of summons and command. The griots of West Africa could sing the histories of entire families and the mighty deeds of kings going back centuries.

In modern times, ballad singers telling their tales through music have become part and parcel of the folk music revival, including such modern bards as Shiela K. Adams, Norman Kennedy, Louis Killen, Gordon Bok, Martin Carthy, Moira Cameron, and Tony Barrand. The inextricable relationship between music and the storyteller's art is just as powerful, wondrous, and magical as it has been since the first tale was told and the first song was sung. May it always continue to be so, for now and for all time to come.