Fred Hellerman — an iconic folksinger, guitarist, songwriter and producer, and a longtime Weston resident — died a year ago this month.
Yesterday, a galaxy of musical stars gathered at Lincoln Center to honor his memory. Among the participants was Westporter Frannie Southworth. She writes:
It was an honor to participate in a musical memorial at Merkin concert hall yesterday for Fred Hellerman.
As an original member of the Weavers — along with Pete Seeger — he was a social activist who sang about and stood up for our rights and peace.
He lived through the McCarthy era, when the Weavers were blacklisted — along with many other creative artists.
I recently received a call from my friend, Westport filmmaker Martin West, who had included me in his 2003 film, “A Gathering of Glory,” which explored the arts legacy of Westport and Weston.
Martin was a close friend of Fred’s, and had recommended me to Fred’s wife Susan to sing a song at the memorial.
I met Susan at her home. She gave me a tour of Fred’s studio — with fabulous photos and clippings on the walls — and played me a couple of Fred’s songs that she had picked as possibilities for me to sing.
I was immediately drawn to “Lonely Girl Blues,” a different genre than most of Fred’s other songs. It was more likes a 1940s bluesy ballad, which I love to sing. It had lots of accidentals, sort of like jazz horn lines but for the singer, and interior key changes. Exciting and challenging to learn!
An old friend, Tommy Mandel, who played with Bryan Adams for years, said he would join me on piano. I was off and running.
Fabulous performers from our area represented at the concert included Emma Kiara, a beautiful young Weston singer.
In the green room I was warmly greeted by one of Fred’s son’s, Caleb, and musician friends and family who helped coordinate the event.
I met the most wonderful, warm and talented performers, including Peter Yarrow and Noah Paul Stookey from Peter Paul and Mary, and Tom Chapin.
Then there was David Amram, a composer and conductor, multi-instrumentalist and author. I fell in love with him. 87 years young, he performed magnificently, has an incredible zest for life, a love for music and people, and a huge heart.
Singing there was magical. The sound was fabulous, the audience appreciative and the hall quite beautiful.
Watching Peter and Paul perform songs promoting harmony — not divisiveness — and one called “The Children Are Listening” (about how our children learn from us what they hear and see) was a real treat.
The finale of “Good Night Irene” — the Weavers’ classic song — singing along with all of these compassionate and loving people was the icing on the cake.