Fleeting and Forgotten Female Folkies — Women’s History Month

Lately, whilst reading about unfamiliar folkies popping up on my Pandora folk station, I sometimes feel like I’m reading the same thing over and over when it comes to a handful of female artists. I doubt that the reasons were the same, but several new (to me) discoveries had similar careers involving under-recognized talent, followed by disappearance/retirement and then, several decades later, new interest. Among these chanteuses are:

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Bridget St. John — Bridget St. John learned guitar from John Martyn. St. John began touring the folk circuit and recording for the BBC and on John Peel‘s Dandelion label with members of Jethro Tull and King Crimson. In 1974, she recorded Jumble Queen and was voted the fifth most popular female singer in the Melody Maker readers’ poll. In 1976, St. John moved to Greenwich Village and retired from music. She re-emerged in 1999 for a Nick Drake tribute concert and toured Japan in 2006.

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Diane Hildebrand — Hildebrand started out writing for Screen Gems alongside Boyce & Hart, Carole King & Gerry Goffin as well as other Brill Building alumni, including her frequent partner, Jack Keller. Together they wrote several songs for The Monkees as well as the theme to The Flying Nun. Whilst living in Beachwood Canyon, she signed a one record deal with Elektra, for whom she recorded her sole album, Early Morning Blues and Greens.

*****

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Isla Cameron —  Cameron was a Scottish actress and singer who grew up in Dorset and Somerset. In the 1950s, she often sang with Joan Littlewood, then the wife of Ewan MacColl. In 1966, she released her sole solo recording, Isla Cameron. After that, her acting career had took off more than her music and she focused on that until she died in an accident in her home in 1980.

*****

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Linda Perhacs — Perhacs made one album, Parallelograms, in 1970, which failed to gain much attention. She then disappeared and her label spent two fruitless years trying to relocate her. After her album was re-released in 2005, her reputation began to grow, with Daft Punk including her music in Electroma and Devendra Banhart enlisting her for background vocals on some of his Tyrannosaurus Rex-indebted compositions.

*****

Closeup Portrait of Songwriter Ruthann Friedman
Ruthann Friedman in 1969 (source: Henry Diltz/CORBIS)

Ruthann Friedman — Friedman was born in the Bronx but grew up in the Valley. After first picking up the guitar at eight, her first song earned her a spot on a televised talent thow when she was twelve. Soon she was playing the Troubadour in West Hollywood where she made several acquaintances. Living in David Crosby‘s guest house she wrote “Windy” which she gave to Van Dyke Parks, who, with the Association, made it a hit. Her only album, Constant Companion, was released in 1969 although she also wrote and performed the soundtrack for (future Baywatch creator) Doug Schwartz‘s hippie/biker exploitation film, Peace Killers, in 1971.

*****

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Shelagh McDonald, 1970

Shelagh McDonald — McDonald released two albums featuring folk heavy-hitters like Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Danny Thompson and Keith Christmas before disappearing in 1971. In 2005, public interest was renewed when her two albums were re-released and she was the subject of several new stories. At the end of the year, the mystery was solved when Shelagh came forth and told the Scottish Daily Mail that a bad acid trip had left her paranoid and unable to sing. In the twenty plus years since, she’d lived with her parents and lived on the dole and then in a tent with her bookseller husband.

*****

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Sibylle Baier — Baier was a German actress/singer who made several home recordings between 1970 and 1973. After appearing in Wim Wenders‘ 1974 film Alice in den Städten, she decided to pursue neither career and moved to the US to raise her family. In 2004, her son Robby lent a copy of her recordings to J. Mascis, who released them as Colour Green in 2006.

*****

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Vashti Bunyan — After being expelled from the Ruskin School of Fine Art and Drawing for spending too much time writing songs, Vashti Buynan went to New York where she immersed herself in the music scene. Back in London, she met Andrew Loog Oldham who gave her a Jagger/Richards song. After recording a few singles for Immediate, she hit the road for the Hebrides in a horse-drawn cart. After recording an album with guests including members of Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band, she dropped out of music and moved to Ireland to raise a family until renewed interest in the 2000s brought her out of retirement.

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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