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Bess Lomax Hawes Brought Folk Music to a Wider Public

This is the VOA Special English Education Report, from Bess Lomax Hawes was an American folk musician, singer and teacher who died in November at the age of eighty-eight. She came from a family of music historians. She helped her father and brother, John and Alan Lomax, collect folk music. John Lomax developed an Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. In the nineteen forties, after college, Bess Lomax joined the Almanac Singers, a group that sang social protest songs. Other members included Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and "Butch" Hawes, who became her husband. The family later moved to California, where Bess taught music, including guitar and banjo. She also became an anthropology professor at what is now California State University, Northridge. In the nineteen seventies, she worked at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Later, she directed the folk arts program at the National Endowment for the Arts. She received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton in nineteen ninety-three. Daniel Sheehy is acting head of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian. He worked with Bess Lomax Hawes and remembers how she worked to keep folk traditions from being lost. He said she found ways to help those voices, songs, stories and craft traditions make it into the lives of a much broader public. Bess Lomax Hawes may be best remembered for a song from nineteen forty-nine. She and Jacqueline Steiner took old music and wrote new words for a campaign song. The song was to support Walter O'Brien, a Progressive Party candidate for mayor of Boston, Massachusetts. One of Mister OBriens promises was to fight a fare increase on the transit system then known as the M.T.A. The song is about Charlie, a man who does not have enough money to leave the train, so he has to ride forever. Here is part of this funny song: Did he ever return, No he never returned. And his fate is still unlearn'd. He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston. He's the man who never returned. The candidate lost. But the "M.T.A." song later became a huge hit with a version by the Kingston Trio. And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. You can find transcripts, podcasts and archives of our programs -- and links to our social media -- at (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 10Dec2009)
Length: 04:02


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