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Ronnie Gilbert

Ronnie Gilbert

American musician

Ronnie Gilbert (Ruth Alice Gilbert), (born Sept. 7, 1926, Brooklyn, N.Y.—died June 6, 2015, Mill Valley, Calif.), American folk singer and actress who was the hearty contralto singer in the Weavers, the seminal vocal quartet whose hit songs sparked the 1950s folk-music renaissance and popularized that genre as an agent of social change. In her teens Gilbert began singing informally in New York City homes and union halls. She and Fred Hellerman, Lee Hays, and Pete Seeger came together formally as the Weavers in 1949. Their enthusiasm, wide-ranging repertoire, and unique sound made their recordings American favourites, including “Goodnight, Irene,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” and “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You.” At the height of the politically liberal group’s success, they were accused of being communists, blacklisted, and boycotted, and in 1952 they disbanded. However, a capacity crowd attended their 1955 reunion concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and the outpouring of affection reignited their career, which lasted until 1964. Gilbert then appeared on and off Broadway and in Paris, and in the 1990s she created and toured in a one-woman show—Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America—about the prominent American labour leader. In addition, Gilbert worked as a psychotherapist, practicing in California and British Columbia. She continued to perform onstage, including at concerts with fellow singer Holly Near.

John Litweiler

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