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Ronnie L. Gilbert

Performer
( b. Sep 07, 1926 Brooklyn, New York, USA - d. Jun 06, 2015 Mill Valley, California, USA ) Female
Also known as: Ruth Alice Gilbert [Birthname]
Ronnie Gilbert's crystalline, bold contralto provided distaff ballast for the Weavers, the seminal quartet that helped propel folk music to wide popularity and establish its power as an agent of social change. Ms. Gilbert had a résumé as a stage actor and later in life a career as a psychologist, but her enduring impact was as a singer.

The Weavers, whose other founding members were Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman, started playing together in the late 1940s. Like-minded musicians with progressive political views, they performed work songs, union songs and gospel songs, and became known for American folk standards like "On Top of Old Smoky," "Goodnight, Irene" (first recorded by the blues singer Lead Belly), Woody Guthrie's "So Long, It's Been Good to Know Yuh" and "The Hammer Song" (a.k.a. "If I Had a Hammer") by Mr. Seeger and Mr. Hays, as well as songs from other cultures, including "Wimoweh" from Africa and "Tzena Tzena Tzena," a Hebrew song popular in Israel (though it was written before Israel was established in 1948).

Their voices, especially Ms. Gilbert's, were powerful, their harmonies were distinctive and their attitude was an enthusiastic embrace of the listener. Together those elements created a singalong populism that laid the groundwork for a folk-music boom in the 1950s and 1960s and its concomitant earnest strain of 1960s counterculture.

After the Weavers broke up in 1964, Ms. Gilbert spent much of her creative energy in the theater. She worked with the director Joseph Chaikin and the Open Theater; she worked with the experimental director Peter Brook in Paris. In 1968, she appeared on Broadway in The Man in the Glass Booth, Robert Shaw's drama about the trial of a man who may or may not be a Nazi war criminal, directed by Harold Pinter. She earned an M.A. in psychology in the 1970s and worked as therapist.

In 1980, the Weavers performed one last time at a sold-out reunion concert in Carnegie Hall. Beginning in the 1980s, Ms. Gilbert also recorded and performed often with the folk singer and activist Holly Near. The two of them toured in 1984 with Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie in a group they called HARP, melding the first letters of the performers' names.

In the early 1990s, Ms. Gilbert appeared in regional theaters, performing her own one-woman show about Mary Harris, the labor organizer known as Mother Jones. Her solo recordings include "Come and Go With Me," "Alone With Ronnie Gilbert" and "Love Will Find a Way."

Source: The New York Times obituary 


ProductionsDate of Productions
The Man in the Glass Booth
[Play, Original]
  • Performer: Ronnie L. Gilbert [Mrs. Rosen]
Sep 26, 1968 - May 17, 1969
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