Gilbert, Ronnie. “A Radical Life in Song”, (Foreword by Holly Near), University of California Press, 2015.
A Singer, a Playwright, a Therapist and an Independent Woman
Ronnie Gilbert, along with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Fred Hellerman was one of the founding members of the folk singing group, the Weavers. In the late 1940s, she became a performer and an activist on behalf of social change. Her credits include the book and stage presentation “Face to Face with the Most Dangerous Woman in America”, detailing the life and work of Mother Jones; “Legacy”, a play based on the writings of Studs Terkel; and many recordings with the Weavers, Holly Near, and others. Her career was long and full— she was a singer, actor, playwright, therapist, and independent woman. Her lifelong work for political and social change was central to her role as a performer.
Gilbert was raised in Depression-era New York City by leftist, working-class, secular Jewish parents, Gilbert is best known as a member of the Weavers, the quartet of the 1950s and ’60s that survived the blacklist and helped popularize folk music in America. She possessed a beautiful contralto voice and had a vibrant stage presence that enriched the group and propelled Gilbert into a second singing career with Holly Near in the 1980s and ’90s. As an actor, Gilbert explored developmental theater with Joseph Chaikin and Peter Brook and wrote and performed in ensemble and solo productions across the United States and Canada. This book tells is about the political, artistic, and social issues of the times and does so through song lyrics and personal stories and through sixty years of collaborations in life and art that span the folk revival, the Cold War blacklist, primal therapy, the back-to-the-land movement, and a rich, multigenerational family story. It is so much more than a memoir— it is also a unique and engaging historical document for those interested in music, theater, American politics, the women’s movement, and left-wing activism. Unfortunately Ronnie Gilbert died before it was published.
“What an extraordinary, well-lived, lefty/Jewish life, complicated and engaged, a glorious weaving of art and politics: hootenannies to Red-haters, Carnegie Hall to Mother Jones, women’s music and love for a woman to the bombing of Gaza. Sing now to the heavens, dear Ronnie!” —Penny Rosenwasser, author of Hope into Practice: Jewish Women Choosing Justice Despite Our Fears
“A Radical Life in Song is an uplifting, bold, and adventurous journey with the resilient Ronnie Gilbert as she goes from challenge to challenge, from strength to strength, with gusto and heart.” —Clare Coss, playwright and author of Emmett, Down in My Heart and Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington
“Ronnie Gilbert approached her memoir as she lived her life: with love, compassion, and forthright courage. Vividly written, this splendid book presents a life of stunning surprises, harmony and struggle, and the enduring realities of political and personal activism, from the Weavers to Women in Black.” —Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt, vols. 1–2
“For those of us who thought that Ronnie Gilbert was JUST part of the legendary Weavers, this autobiography in an eye opener. Far from just being part of the Weavers, Ronnie Gilbert’s life has been a series of stepping stones, leading to new adventures in the arts and living”.
“She was part of the early protest song movement before the Weavers, and then came the Weavers, a group that burst on the music scene in the early 50s, only to be hurt by the McCarthy scare of the 50s – one of the dark periods in American history”.
“Yet her life didn’t end with the disbanding of the Weavers; instead, she became an actress and knew and worked with many of the famous directors and playwrights of the era”.
“She became a Primal Scream therapist out of her own need for help and renewal; lived in worked in British Columbia for a number of years, before returning to a more activist life”.
“Her activist life, begun with her mother’s devotion to social justice, is till not over – this is an amazing revelation for me, and demonstrates just how one can lead the active, socially conscious life well into old age”. Below is a look at the Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations
Foreword by Holly Near
- Songs Are Dangerous
- Making My Own Way
- The Weavers
- Moving On
- Heading West
- British Columbia
- The Winter Project
- The Weavers’ Last Concert
- Women’s Music
- Women in Black
- Learning to Be Old