Happy Birthday, Jean Redpath

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?

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100 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Jean Redpath”

  1. Given my lack of performance skills I think I am best suited to address bacterial cultures. I look forward to learning about the cultural skills of my fellow baboons.

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  2. Good morning. If could become a cultural ambassador I would follow the example of Nick Spitzer, the host of the radio show American Routes, and become an ambassador for American roots music: blues, jazz, rock and roll, spirituals, soul, cajun, and other related music.

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  3. Gee, it’s a quiet day here. Everybody must be at PJ’s, pulling weeds in the rain. I had the pleasure of meeting Jean Redpath in 1966. You’ll not be surprised to hear that she is just the person she is on stage: gloriously musical, impish and utterly charming.

    The only great cultural tradition I could represent without pretension (not counting American popular music) would be Irish. That’s my ancient heritage, and I’ve listened enthusiastically to Irish music for nearly half a century. Americans have such a warped view of Ireland: green beer, leprechauns, John Wayne in “The Quiet Man”, Danny Boy and all that cliched claptrap. It is a culture composed of equal parts beauty and tragedy.

    For beauty we might start with the Chieftains’ version of “The Women of Ireland”:

    For tragedy it is hard to know where to start: the tragedy of poverty, the tragedy of oppression by England, the tragedy of “The Troubles” or the tragedy of the way Ireland’s leading export has been its most talented young people. Let’s stick with that one, as it gives me the chance to share one of my current favorite melodies: Karan Casey and John Doyle performing “The Exile’s Return.”:

    Have a wonderful weekend, Baboons. It’s been a fun week.

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    1. i have oa fond memory of the time i was in new orleans alone and out wnadering in the french quarter fairly early in the evening 730ish and i ran into a little irish pub, the opposite of pat obriens just a small dark joint . i thought id go get a black and tan and relax for a spell. the lady at the door stopped me and said 20 dollar cover charge tonight. i was ready to turn and leave and i said there are only a couple of people i would pay a 20 dollar cover charge to listen to tonight. she said tommy makum? i said sold and sat 15 feet away from him for 2 shows and a couple of black and tans. a great night.

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    2. Steve, as I said yesterday (probably too late) you should head south to West St Paul and help PJ supervise the crew and share in the conviviality. If you’re interested we can send particulars.

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      1. You won’t see this, Lisa, but I do plan to come. I’ll try to get details of when and where from someone. I’m not able to do much work, but I could cheerlead and take a few photos to commemorate an unusual gathering.

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  4. I think it would have to be multicultural – folk dancing, but not for any of the regions of my ancestry or where I live! The dances that draw me are from Armenia and Albania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Israel, Macedonia… go figure. I now understand that the ancient Scandinavian dances, somewhat preserved on the islands off Scandinavia, were line dances, before the southern European infuence reached north, with the couple dances in waltz tempos. I would love to learn some of those, I believe they’re doing some of those on Sundays at Tapestry.
    Will think more on this topic…

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  5. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    This clip brought unexpected tears to my eyes. I used to attend many of these PHC shows in my well-spent days of young adulthood (In the World Theatre, not the Fitz). I saw Jean there several times and loved the spine-tingles she sang into me. The Stuarts in my family tree sprang to life under the spell of her voice.

    I could be an ambassador of Midwestern Pioneer Culture and Heritage a middle-aged woman (OK well within AARP range) trained to be a farm wife in the best Iowa tradition. This culture is the residue of the 19th Century American Frontier. I can demonstrate hanging laundry on an outdoor clothes-line; growing and preserving tomatoes, making wild grape jelly; flower gardening, cutting, and arranging; pie-baking–lard crust only thank you very much; and chicken raising, slaughtering, and frying–warning-this can be gruesome. Egg-gathering is a side benefit. I also have a stash of prairie quilts to display, a wagon box from the family covered wagon serving as my living room coffee table, and antique canning jars to give me real Midwestern Prairie Cred.

    So Ambassador of 19th Century American Pioneer Woman Heritage and Culture. I believe there is a limited need for such a post.

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    1. Jacque and Renee, don’t forget the fiber crafts–spinning, dying, knitting, quilting demos–as well as soap making. I’ll be happy to assist. This is the way I’d like to spend my “retirement”.

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      1. I can demo knitting/quilting. I missed the spinning/dying instruction. But–I can make butter from cream!

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        1. I can sing better than that! NOT.

          I spent years 4-6 truly believing I was Annie Oakley, galloping around town with my 6-shooters, red cowboy hat and stick horse.

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  6. I want to be the ambassador of cooking from scratch in whatever cuisine takes a person’s fancy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the number of fast food restaurants cut in half and replaced with an equally flourishing industry that would support healthy food choices? I like Jacque’s idea, too. I would help her as an assistant ambassadress for preserving disappearing skill sets.

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    1. Renee, I could help with the Regional Norwegian slow food restaurant (I’m just not sure the name of the region) – learned from my grandma (she was from Bergen) to make kringla (cookies best served warm with butter), lefse (not the potato kind), and kumla – a potato dumpling cooked in ham broth.

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  7. I have two of her CDs. Her music ;like Black Mumbazo, of which I also have two CDs, I prefer in a shuffle. Neither works well for mew for an hour stright but works well mixed in with other acoustic music.

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    1. Clyde, I think you’d make a great ambassador for “Northeastern Minnesota Rural History and Culture of the mid-Twentieth Century.” I’ve learned so much from you already!

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  8. Oh, that’s so lovely! I wish I could sing like her. Alas, I only sing like me. Absolutely lovely!

    I’d have to join Jim in being an ambassador for American folk, roots and blues music. My only talent is to repeat back songs that I have heard and loved and most of those are American folk and roots. I know a smatterin’ of Irish folk songs, but only enough to make me look silly. Even calling myself a folksinger these days sounds a little silly, since it’s been several months since I played anywhere. But that’s what I know and it was sure easy to play along with Jean Redpath this morning on my mandolin.

    It was a fun day yesterday. I took the day off to do yard work and didn’t get any done. I did increase my level of blogular verbosity, though, and had a great time doing it!

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    1. Krista, if you’re still planning on coming to my house tomorrow, why don’t you bring your instrument(s) and give us a small house concert? Planting a garden, breaking bread and singing together is a wonderful combination.

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      1. I don’t know whether or not you’ll see this, PJ, but I will come. It’s almost 75 miles to your house from mine, though, so I won’t be there right away. I’ll get there before 11, I hope.

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  9. I have a fairly wide interest in culture, especially the folk culture that most of you seem to like: folk dance, Irish music, early farm life, and others already mentioned that I might have missed. I could be follower of those that all of you have mentioned. I am even interested in bacteria cultures.

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  10. Today is a two pot of French Press coffee morning. We are practicing several lost cultural skill sets. Husband is grinding, stuffing, and smoking kielbasa. Iit is prom and I am demonstrating how to press out a ball gown without melting the netting and stiff petticoats and carefully removing scratchy spangles around the bodice so she is not scratched raw, and also baking French bread for the before-prom dinner daughter is having with her friends. Her date from Toronto had to cancel about a month ago, too late to snag another date, but she is more excited about getting all gussied up and looking beautiful than having an arm to grab onto. She is going with a group of friends, some of whom have dates, some of whom do not, and she is as happy as can be.

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    1. I love how the current generation goes to prom with friend if there is no “date.” More power to them.

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    2. i wish we could have you put the pictures up. there must be a way to set up a side deal where pictures and such can be posted.

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      1. I have tons of pictures from the dinner, and I will E-mail some to Dale for him to post if he so chooses. There were 17 prom goers at the house of one of the girls’ grandfather, with a beautifully set table, and parents bringing food and taking pictures. Daughter is the only Grade 11 student; all her friends are seniors. some are gay, most are straight, all are happy. The plan is the after-prom party and breakfast at Perkins at 4:00am. It was so funny to see all theses girls in strapless dresses hoisting sail, as it were (with all the subtlety of someone hauling hay bales) every 2 minutes, to pull up bodices, none of them accustomed to showing so much shoulder and cleavage.

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  11. Afternoon all. Ran a bunch of errands since I ended up having a free morning. I’d love to represent an ancient culture — maybe the folks who built the library at Ephesus or the Parthenon. Not that I’d want to LIVE in any of those ancient cultures, mind you.

    Or maybe skip ahead… and be an ambassador for the United Federation of Planets (lots of Star Trek stuff on tv today == must be some anniversary or something!

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  12. Some of these ambassadorships suggest uniforms/costumes. “Uniforms” sounds too formal to be much fun though. Jean Redpath always wears long flowy robes which suit her to a T. Barbara might like some of those ankle bells that tinkle like ice crystals when she dances. I don’t know how Anna sees her ambassadorship, but the red polyester jacket and droopy bow tie definitely have to go.

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  13. I love a day with lots of music here, esp. when it’s rainy and you have indoor time to listen. Also loved the Jean Redpath, Dale, and seeing her face up close while she sings is a joy!

    I could really be an Ambassador for Amtrak (and/or Via in Canada) – in America, it’s what we have left of the great cultural tradition of Train Travel, long distance anyway. I’m one of their biggest fans, more to come on that in a guest post.

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  14. Well, I think all the Babooners should declare that are available as ambassadors for Trail Baboon. I think I would like to be the Ambassador to Scotland from Trail Baboon. I don’t know how this can be arranged, but since we are talking about a singer from there and I like Scotland, I will volunteer to be the Trail Baboon Ambassador to Scotland.

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        1. We got to see him live in the big Chautauqua tent in Bayfield, WI, up near my cabin. We loved it when he came off the stage and strolled around the audience, fiddling and singing. He was a free spirit.

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  15. i have always thought we are the ambassadors of these different arts. if i dont get my fix of theater, museum music classical jazz blues folk etc painting sculpting poetry creative writing singing guitar piano playing dance artistic vision then i start to get cranky. it is impossible to be as into sync with the universe through these eyes and not be an ambassador i used to say stuff like.: in my opinion and i think at the beginning of sentences today to the embarrassment sometimes of my children i say it is the most beautifully done movie on the planet. that is one of my favorite paintings, singers guitar players sculptor poet composer keyboardists with an interesting perspective on this life thing i would never have even pondered had it not been for their vision and presentation. yeah i can talk hats and bob dylan with the best of them, i enjoy talking and doing cooking garden stuff and snappy patter conversations with whatever and whoever is at hand but if i had to pick one id be in trouble. i am thinking about the beer connoisseur who was asked if he had to pick only one beer which one would it be. he responded that if he had to choose only one beer hed just have to kill himself. i get it. people have always asked me why i dont focus on something and become an expert on it? how do you keep coming up with new stuff to get excited about. i always say that i cant pick one area of life to the exclusion of others and i dont know how to stop getting revved in on direction or another. some past some present some future passions and loves. thats why i enjoy this group. we all cover the width and bredth of the celebration of life and check in daily. as for a chain of restraunts that would take away the fast food mania america is teaching the rest of the world, go for it renee, ill come.

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  16. I’m avoiding the question for the moment because I recently had a discussion about whether Scottish women wear kilts? Isn’t a female version of a kilt a skirt? Is there a difference besides ‘only men wear kilts’??
    So as long as we’re on a Scottish woman, I fully expect this group will be able to answer this burning question for me.
    Thanks!

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    1. In my yoot, classmates would wear kilts. Besides the plaid, the thing that distinguished them from skirts was that there was an overlap of fabric held together with what looked like a giant diaper pin. As far as I know, they didn’t go commando. That would probably have been against school rules.

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  17. If I could, I would be an ambassador for the skalds of old Scandinavia – I would love to be able to channel their poetry and skill at story telling. Wish I had the talent and the chutzpah to stand up and tell stories off the cuff, fitting a saga or retelling of a myth to fit the mood of the gathering and events of the day. Don’t know that I’m cut out to go viking (which is, I learned, a verb, not a noun)…nor would I want to attempt being a woman for too long in that era…but to tell stories and pass along the traditions of the skald, that would be grand.

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        1. Mine have arrived to nest on a balcony above and to one side of me. The maintenance people tried last year to drive it off. I hope not this year. They are my friends outside my window.

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  18. In general, I enjoy the audience side of the cultural scene.
    I’d choose to be an ambassador for poetry. But I would not be comfortable having that announced or revealed in public. I’d prefer to continue as an undercover rep and operating outside any formal office. Poetry can be as hated as anchovies or lite beer. Poets and poetry can be
    dismissed with a roll of the eyes, my youngest brother does this. I think that forcing the same poem on a whole classroom or group does not contribute to a love of poetry. The best approach is more subtle and takes individual interests into consideration—grassroots instead of top down.

    Sorry for the late post, busy weekend, but I had this in my head and thought I might as well send it.
    and now it is later because WP and/or my computer are having issues w/my post.

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