Today is Scottish folk singer Jean Redpath‘s birthday. She was born in Edinburgh on April 28th in 1937. She is (has?) an M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire), which is an exalted title that carries some weight but mostly what it tells us is that everyone agrees she’s the best there is at what she does. The Edinburgh Evening News put it this way:
“To call Jean Redpath a Scottish folk singer is a bit like calling Michelangelo an Italian interior decorator.”
I would have issues with Michelangelo as my decorator, just as I’m sure he would have issues with my interior. I’m not so sure about painted ceilings, but can we talk about the color of the couch?
When Jean Redpath fills a room with a song there is a clear connection to the ancient and ongoing tradition of the Scottish people – their history and poetry come alive through her voice and she taken this all over the world in person and through the airwaves on “A Prairie Home Companion” and other broadcasts.
She has done 40 albums and has recorded at least 180 Robert Burns songs – wonderful tunes that are full of strange Scottish words that sound like throat clearing exercises but they connect to essential human experiences and emotions that cross all cultural barriers.
Perhaps she would like to sing a Lady Gaga tune every now and then, but my guess is that Jean Redpath is completely happy and engaged in the rich artistic realm she inhabits. It must be a great comfort to know so clearly what you are about and to have such success sharing it with other people.
Imagine that you have been anointed as an ambassador to the world of a great cultural tradition. Which one would suit you best?