Barbara Dane’s Circle of Riffs

December 31, 2016

 

CADENCE MAGAZINE

 

In her own words Barbara Dane’s legacy spans cultures and continents. “I’m probably the only singer you’ll ever come across who was invited to tour with America’s Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong, as his latest dis- covery on the one hand and Mikis Thedorakis, Greece’s greatest composer, on the other. Thedorakis wanted me to be his English language singer on a tour of Australia.


“I was in Europe at the time the invitation reached me, and I had come down with pneumonia, which the doc- tor thought was tuberculosis. He sent me home to the states and I had to cancel all my engagements. I didn’t get to do the Armstrong tour because of State Department censorship.
You can see what a wide cultural spread those invitations spanned. Not to boast, but I really don’t think you can find anyone else who would have been capable of handling both genres.” 

 

Barbara Dane’s complete discography contains well over 40 entries, dating back to 1957. In August of 2016 she released THROW IT AWAY in collaboration with renowned Bay Area pianist Tammy Hall. We asked her about the origin of her musical pairing with Hall.
“You know, she was playing with a group in Berkeley called Upsurge! Poets Raymond Nat Turner and Zigi Lowenberg with Richard Howell on saxophone. They’re a terrific group that is always coming up with poetry right on the mark, whatever the current issues happen to be. The way they handle poetry and lyrics and the musical end of it is so exciting. I’ve been to many of their shows. One time in particular I went and there was this woman on piano who just knocked me out. I said to myself that I’m going to work with her someday. So the next time I had a chance to do something, I called her and she said, ‘I’d love to work with you.’ So we did. She’s really one of the best. Whatever she touches is great. She’s such a sensitive accompanist, with tremendous empathy. She knows what you’re singing about, cares about it and illustrates it in very specific ways. She’s remarkable. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with Tammy Hall.” 

 

Dane is currently writing her biography and, while she acknowledges the joy of performing and her love of the audiences, as is her style, she is totally up front about the sordidness of show business that she has encountered. In her conversation with Cadence, she reminisced about the notoriously mob-connected booking agent, Joe Glaser, and his attempts at representing her at the time she was pulled off the Armstrong tour.


“Anybody who is in the music business needs to study him. He was the sort of person who lurked about the back rooms of our country’s cultural life wreaking all sorts of havoc. His most valuable clients were Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. I knew Flo Kennedy, who was Billie’s lawyer, who told me that when Billie was on her deathbed, Glaser was trying to get her to sign the rights to her life story over to him. Billie refused. Flo said Glaser was probably one of her enablers as far as drug use goes. I imagine that Louie decided at some point early in his career to let Joe Glaser handle everything so that he could concentrate on the music and not have to worry about business. Glaser made sure that Louie didn’t speak out too much on racial issues because his image as a ‘happy old darkie’ needed to be projected. I’m sure he also kept him from getting hit by numerous charges of marijuana possession too. But the Little Rock crisis of 1957 prompted Louie to break out of Glaser’s control and speak out in the press, telling Eisenhower he should go down there and walk the kids into the high school himself, if he had any guts. At that point, Louie was very valuable to the State Department, even publicized as Ambassador Satch. They were trying to convince the world that the U.S. didn’t have a race problem by sponsoring Black musicians to travel abroad. So when the State Department looked up my track record and saw that I was very outspoken on the race question, they pulled me off the tour. Why would they want to let me loose as Louis’ latest discovery, the blue eyed blonde girl who would certainly speak up on these issues, making every reporter in Europe keen to interview her? I know this to be true, but I can’t prove it. Louis’ biographer, Jazz writer Gary Giddins, agrees with me that this is probably what happened. 

 

“I also was denied work in Las Vegas because I had Wellman Braud in my band. He was then one of the most respected bassists in Jazz and a New Orleans Creole who worked closely with Ellington for years. This was a strange thing because the agent who proposed the job was Charlie Barnett, formerly a highly regarded White band leader who, had been one of the first to hire Billie Holliday. He told me point blank that, ‘A White woman could not front a mixed band in Las Vegas because those high rollers from Texas won’t buy it.’ So I literally told him, “F*&% you” and walked out the door.”

Barbara frequently performed material that was central to the African-American experience and also frequented Blues & Jazz clubs, but as an unescorted White woman this sometimes prompted unsavory and inaccurate opinions of what her line of work was exactly. Musicians as well sometimes assumed that sexual favors might be part of the plan. Knowing part of the story beforehand, we asked Ms. Dane if, for example, Lightnin’ Hopkins ever hit on her.

 

“Of course he did. Why wouldn’t he? I was a friendly woman who was also a musician. He was a gentleman too, though. I understood culturally that flirtation was part of the game. I should also say that I knew I had to be very careful about walking and talking the music business and nothing else. I’d have to make it clear that I was a singer and was there for the music. I ran into a lot of situations where people made the other assumption. I didn’t find it insulting. That was what people were trained to expect. The funniest time was with Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau, the bass player from New Orleans for the George Lewis band and one of the most well-known sights, dancing in front of a band coming away from a funeral, the guy you see in the opening theme of ‘Treme’ on TV. Slow Drag had this really heavy French Creole accent and no teeth, making it hard to understand him. He was a little short guy, a really wonderful bass player. I used to come around a lot and sit in with the George Lewis band and one day we were at a reception of some sort; a social situation at a hotel, I believe. Slow Drag whispered in my ear, ‘I give you $5 if you go upstairs with me!’ So what did I do? I invited him to go fishing with my family the next week. That was my method of letting him know that I wasn’t the kind of woman he thought! My husband at the time, Byron Menendez really loved fishing and was really good
at it so we took Slow Drag out to fish for striped bass in the sloughs of the California delta. I think he had a really good time!” 

 

Though born in pre-depression era Detroit in 1927, Barbara Dane’s family migrated there from Arkansas earlier in the decade. Her development as a singer coincided with her evolution as an activist. Blessed with an indomitable revolutionary spirit and a voice to match, she began by sitting in with any group that would invite her to the bandstand. She found her activist voice by singing at union halls and factory gates, recognizing early on that the poor and working class were getting the short end of the deal, seeking a way to support and encourage their organization. 

 

“My parents were a couple of youngsters who came up to Detroit to get out of the small town poverty pit in Arkansas. Growing up in Detroit, I remember at five years old my childhood friend Gloria, who lived across the street. Her dad just sat in a chair all the time wheezing because he had been poisoned with mustard gas in World War I. I reasoned right then that well, war is a terrible thing. 

 

“Everyone around me was out of work and poor. I saw that. My dad had been a barefoot farm boy but somehow obtained a pharmacy degree and my parents struggled hard to get their business going. I would watch the children come to the candy counter in the drugstore and try to figure out how to split a penny’s worth of candy three ways.  I think children have kind of a built in thing about fairness. You can always hear kids saying, ‘that wasn’t fair, that wasn’t fair.’ As a child, I saw that much of life wasn’t fair. People were not always fair to each other. During the depression some would band together but others would try to get over on the other ones. There was a group in Detroit called the Black Legion which was actually a northern version of the KKK. They were down on Blacks, Jews and Catholics. So that hate stuff was all around me. My neighborhood was White, everyone I knew was White and I didn’t know anybody that wasn’t White. Most were kind but I also saw that some were mean-hearted. Even the Sunday school teacher wore an America First button, the symbol of a group that was affiliated with the Black Legion. 

 

“Then there was this racist Catholic priest, Father Coughlin, on the radio every Sunday preaching anti-Semitism. Much of the political rhetoric of the day was framed by Henry Ford, who owned a newspaper that was tailored for different neighborhoods. It would be anti-Catholic over here, anti-Black over there. Ford was a huge manipulator of the populace. That then, was the atmosphere in which I grew up. When I was about 11 years old, I had a friend named Bill Hall, whose father must’ve been some kind of a union man because one day Bill explained, ‘There’s three ways of organizing society; Capitalism, socialism and communism.’ When he defined 

the three I realized that capitalism sounded terrible and I became immediately interested in finding the communists, people with socialist ideas. As soon as I got out of high school, I joined the American Youth for Democracy as well as the Michigan Communist Party.

“In Detroit’s Cadillac Square there was a hotel called The Barlum that had denied Paul Robeson access, some years before we youngsters decided to do a test case there in 1946. We put together an interracial group to sit down at a table in their coffee shop, where we were denied service. We recruited some churches and unions to join us and started picketing the Barlum Hotel every Saturday. We made a big fuss. That was actually where I found out what my voice was for. 

 

“I knew I was going to be a singer and was singing all the time, every form of music I could find. My voice teacher specialized in Bel Canto opera singing. I knew I wasn’t going to be an opera singer but classical music teachers were the only kind I could find. He taught me to throw my voice out there, as if to the back of a huge hall. In that way I could lead the singing to encourage and support the pickets. 

 

“Right next to the music school where I was studying singing, there was a record
shop where I discovered the Blues on 78 rpm records. Lil Green with Big Bill Broonzy, singing ‘Romance In The Dark’ and ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’? And Joe Turner singing ‘Piney Brown’s Blues.’”

 

Barbara Dane’s ability to interpret the Blues and Jazz stems from her affinity with poor and working class people. “I try to understand the lives of the people who made the songs I’m singing. Why are they saying this? Many singers are too focused on how they look and sound, worrying about whether people think their voice is great, etc. None of that really matters. You have to lose yourself in the song. Choose songs that talk about things that you care about. Then let the song take over and forget about self. That is how to put veracity in your singing.” 

Feature: Barbara Dane 

In 1949, Ms. Dane migrated west and landed in San Francisco. “I won a contest in San Francisco sponsored by KGO/ABC in 1951 called Miss U.S. Television. The prize was a 26 week television series." There she was able to showcase her talents on those little black and white screens of the day. The producer of the show suggested she form a West Coast version of the Weavers, the popular Folk quartet which, by that time, had been blacklisted. 

 

“After my son Pablo Menendez was born, I took up the challenge. We called ourselves the Gateway Singers, made up of myself, Lou Gottlieb, Jerry Walters and a fourth member whose name escapes me now. Right after our first exposure, a fund raiser for some then-current progressive cause, Gottlieb called a serious meeting, to tell me that I could not be in the group anymore because they had just discovered I had been expelled from the Communist Party and as loyal members they were not permitted to associate with me. That had happened in 1949 when the FBI was actively infiltrating and trying to break up the party clubs, possibly targeting the Hunter’s Point (San Francisco) chapter I was in. As I was leaving the meeting, Gottlieb had the nerve to call me back into the room and ask if I knew anybody I would recommend to take my place. I said, ‘Sure, I know exactly the right person. Elmerlee Thomas. She knows the repertoire and her vocal range is similar to mine. Call her.’ And they did. That changed the Gateway singers into the first group that was 3 White guys and a Black woman. They had a pretty nice career.


“For me, there was nothing to do then but remake my life. I began listening to the bands that made up the traditional Jazz revival which was then raging in San Francisco and fell in love with that world. I had the opportunities to sit in with some of the greats who came to town, like George Lewis and Kid Ory. That is when Blues became central to my musical life.” 

 

She landed her first Jazz gig with Turk Murphy’s Band in 1956. Her first album, TROUBLE IN MIND, was released in 1957 and is now considered a classic. By the end of the decade Barbara Dane was garnering national press and appearing on radio and TV. Leonard Feather in Playboy likened her to “Bessie Smith in stereo.” Time magazine declared her voice “rare as a 20 karat diamond.” And Louis Armstrong famously told Time, “Did you dig that chick? She’s a gasser.” 

Of course her ascension also garnered controversy in its wake. Ebony Magazine
in 1959, published a lengthy spread which showcased the “startlingly blonde” songstress photographed amid brilliant African American musicians from the worlds of Gospel, Blues and Jazz. Muddy Waters, Clara Ward, Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, Benny Carter, Earl “Fatha” Hines and others. Dane states that despite the article’s groundbreaking foray into the subject of interracial entertainment, Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon were somewhat mystified at the acclaim accorded Dane. 

 

“They were both great to work with, however in his biography, Willie lets on that he and Memphis Slim were upset because ‘that White girl’ got the featured article in Ebony Magazine. Apparently he and Memphis were smiling in my face but pissed that I was featured instead of them. No question that they deserved it, but that would have been a different story.”

Pressed more on working with Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon, Dane states obvious and not so obvious facts about them both. “Well, I remember Willie Dixon being very excited because both of his wives’ had babies the same week! I loved working with him because he was a great player and I could always get him to take up the slack when I was running out of gas. I could toss the ball to him and he would sing one of his compositions and liven up the show. He got the job with me because of Memphis Slim. When I first went to Chicago to work, I didn’t know who to hire, but had heard Memphis Slim play in a little dive in 1947. I said to myself, ‘One day I’m gonna work with that guy.’ When I did hire him he asked if I thought the club owner would hire a bass player too. So I went to the club owner and he said okay. Up until that time, I didn’t know Willie Dixon from a hole in the wall, but he was already a mover and shaker in the Chicago Blues scene. Memphis Slim though, used to rag on him for selling his tunes to Leonard Chess for $25, trying to make Willie mad and he would respond by saying, ‘I’m a lover, not a fighter.’ 

 

We further queried Ms. Dane on her work with Benny Carter and Earl “Fatha” Hines. “The way the album I did with them, LIVING WITH THE BLUES, came about was because the producer thought I should be a Jazz singer. He said, “You’re noted as a Folk singer, you’re a Blues singer, but I think you should be a Jazz singer and I want you to record that way.” So Dane and the producer then started mulling over what musicians to use. Earl “Fatha” Hines was chosen because despite his artistic importance in the formation of Jazz, at the time he was not being utilized for his strength as an innovator. The producer chose Benny, one of the greatest session players on reeds, because he knew that Benny also loved to play trumpet. We made the album with no pre- planning at all. I had just come off the road and didn’t even have a list of tunes 

I wanted to do. I would just call a tune and because Benny and Earl were so knowledgeable, they would put their heads together for about two seconds, briefly discuss intro and outro and they’d be ready to go. Bang, bang. We cut the album in about 3 hours. When you work with top people, that’s what you can do. As great as he was, Earl Hines should have been presented more as a solo artist. I always like to say that as Louis Armstrong was to the trumpet, Earl Hines was to the piano. He was a very important piece in the puzzle of how Jazz came about.” 

 

Despite her adeptness at Blues and Jazz, Dane never abandoned her affinity for singing and playing Folk music. She loved the coffee house circuit and played the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959. Despite her popularity, she never was invited to play it again because of her public criticism of the business practices of promoter George Wein. She also supported her friend and Folk icon Pete Seeger when he was blacklisted, boycotting the popular Hootenanny TV show along with Joan Baez and others, which of course led to further blacklisting, but it did not deter her. 

 

“Blacklisting is a very subtle thing. You don’t always know it’s happening to you.
You don’t know who or what or why. In fact, one of the things you do when you’re blacklisted is blame yourself first. You ask yourself, ‘What did I do wrong?’ Sorry mister, but I didn’t believe that anything I had done was wrong. So I didn’t have that burden. But, I have been surveilled off and on since I was 18. They finally give up when you get too old and they figure you are no longer any danger. I have been getting my FBI files through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) and have quite a stack of them now. I know people want to know how I lived through that. Truthfully, I just paid it no mind. I was told by Daniel Ellsberg’s lawyer Leonard Boudin, that the reason I was never arrested was probably because I was always totally out front with my activities, so there was nothing there to use as coercion.

“You know, it seems that I’ve always had opportunities to be one of those performers whose name becomes a household phrase, but then, I would come up against a situation that involves betraying my own ethics, something I couldn’t do. Once, a big agency booked me to tour with comedian/actor Bob Newhart in about 1960. He was just starting out so this was before his TV show. It was his first big concert tour and I was the other half of the bill. When they were putting the thing together, Jerry Perenchio, one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood held a planning meeting to discuss the material that would be presented. At the time, I was featuring an Ida Cox tune entitled Last Mile Blues. It vividly describes the execution of a Black man and his lover’s lament, condemning the judge for his sentencing. The reason I featured that song was that the issue of capital punishment was about to come up again in the legislature in California.
When I sang that song at the planning meeting, Newhart just about had a heart attack. He said, “You can’t do that. How can I do comedy after a song like that?” Perenchio interceded though and said, “Let her do it. It’s one of her strongest songs.” So we went ahead with the planning and they asked what musicians I was bringing. At the time I was working with Kenny Whitson, a fabulous Blues piano and cornet player who hated the system so much that he never recorded on his own. His only recording was with me on Capitol and when they offered him a solo project after that he wouldn’t do it. My bassist, Wellman Braud, was one of the early members of the Ellington Band. He was with Duke for many years and people thought of him as the ‘Father of the walking bass.’ Kenny Whitson had this great ability to comp on piano with his left hand while playing these wonderful cornet solos with his right. I told him, ‘Kenny, we need to get a bass player to free you up to play more horn.’ At first he resisted saying, ‘They all give me a stomach ache!’ Then he thought of Braud, who had retired and was living near L.A.
Kenny started courting him in a musician’s way. He would go was over to Braud's house and Braud would cook up some Blackeye peas while they talked. Maybe Kenny would bring over some greens to cook. Eventually Kenny convinced Braud to play again and that’s how he became my bass man. So, getting back to the Bob Newhart tour, when I told them what musicians I was using, Jerry Perenchio says, “Oh no, you can’t bring a Black bass player.”
I said, “What are you talking about?” I was ready to tell Perenchio to kiss my backside. The Ellington guys were always faultlessly professional. The way they carried themselves, the way they dressed, they were perfect gentlemen, not to mention Wellman’s legendary reputation as a player. I went to talk to Papa Braud, who was very hip to the workings of the music world. He argued hard for his opinion, which was that I should go ahead and do the tour without him because when it was done, I’d be able to write my own ticket, use whomever I pleased, because by then they would know my value. It was the only time in my life that I made that kind of compromise but I did go ahead and do the tour.


“So we head out on tour, playing all these big theaters across Canada and along the coast. When we pull into Sacramento, the capital punishment issue is slated to go before the state legislature the next day and I’m really primed to do that Ida Cox song. As I’m being announced and start to walk on stage, Newhart comes running over to me and literally gets down on his hands and knees and begs, ‘Please, please don’t do that song!’ My brain goes click, click, click and I respond by saying, ‘Okay, if I don’t do the tune, I want my regular bass player back.’ I realized it wouldn’t change a thing as far as the way the legislature voted. So the next day, I have Braud back in the band and he played the rest of the tour with us. 

 

“We didn’t travel with Bob Newhart on the tour and he didn’t hang out with us. That was possibly the only time he gave a thought to what the musicians were doing. What really finally turned me completely off from him was one night when I took the time to hear his routine. He did this thing where he receives a phone call and the audience hears his side of the conversation. 

‘Hello? Oh, oh, oh. Really? Oh, Patrice Lumumba has been killed? Well who was she, anyway?’
I could have strangled him in that moment. Such ignorance. It seemed so emblematic of American popular culture. It takes you completely over to this know nothing realm, disconnected from the real world. To say something like that when a man like Lumumba had just been assassinated through a CIA plot, a man who was the hope of the Congo.” 

 

In May of 1961 Barbara Dane opened a nightclub in San Francisco’s fabled North Beach, on Broadway.

“I called it Sugar Hill, Home of the Blues, the first Blues club anywhere that wasn’t located in the Black Community per se, where the faint-hearted White public was afraid to go. It was in North Beach, right across the street from the Jazz Workshop. I only had it for about a year and a half before (and I’m tempted to use the B word, but I won’t) the investor, whom I didn’t know very well, took it away from me. In my naiveté, I thought a handshake was a contract. I thought a person’s word was their bond. I didn’t have any paper on the thing. So since she put the money up, she was able to put her name on the licenses and took the club away from me. It was a really great room, a club that I’d planned to keep all my life. A way to give all those old Blues legends a place to be heard, maybe for their last time, and a way to have a base where I could make my music and raise my kids without the constant absences. 

 

“Big Mama Thornton would come in often with her posse of girlfriends. They’d have a table in the corner and she would get up and sing her heart out because, if Big Mama is gonna sing, you gotta let her. She also liked the music of Whitson and Braud a lot. I’ll tell you something else that people don’t realize. She was a great ballad singer. She really sang some beautiful ballads at my club. I was really thrilled with that. That’s why we had jams, so the artist could experiment and do stuff that they couldn’t necessarily do at a regular gig. 

 

“On one occasion, when I had booked the great T-Bone Walker at Sugar Hill for a couple of weeks, I didn’t get to spend much time with him. He did however, stay at my home during the engagement and spent the time working out arrangements on the piano. My twelve-year-old son Nicky, now known as Jesse, kept him comfortable, bringing him his scotch and orange juice all day as he worked, and actually got to know T-Bone better than me! Carman McCrae made a great album at the club after I lost it entitled, Carmen McRae: Live at Sugar Hill - San Francisco.” 

 

Dane made many appearances at the famed Ash Grove in L.A. and recorded a live album there on New Year’s Eve 1961-62. Here she relates stories of Reverend Gary Davis and working with the Chambers Brothers during that period. 

 

“I used to work opposite Reverend Gary Davis at the Ash Grove. The Rev was quite a character. He was one of the greatest guitar players that ever lived. He created kind of a ragtime style on the guitar. They might have called it Piedmont Style, but to my ear it was based on ragtime piano. He was a genius. Here’s this old blind guy, probably hard pressed to have a good pair of shoes when he first went to New York as a street preacher. He became teacher to all these young White guys who wanted to play that kind of guitar. They had to go to him because he was the only who could play that way. People talk about the fact that he liked to touch the girls. Well a blind man doesn’t have any way of knowing what you look like unless he can touch you. I’m sure he touched boys too. He touched things to know what kind of world he was in. So I don’t put much stock in the criticism of him for that. It’s nobody’s business but his own. I think his contribution to the music world was enormous, in fact irreplaceable. 

 

“The Chambers Brothers and I made one album together for Folkways. They were a great Gospel quartet in L.A. at the time that I met them. I discovered that I felt very comfortable singing with them one New Year’s Eve at the Ash Grove. Later, when they became a Rock band, I realized that I actually preferred them with the washtub bass format that they were doing when I first heard their Ash Grove Show before they became one of the first well known African-American Rock bands. I could tell you a lot about recording the Folkways album with them and it is not all nice. The first time I flew out to San Francisco from New York where I was living at the time. I was determined to do it with them because I thought that the cultural message of us working together was important at that time especially. The Freedom songs lent themselves well to the way they sing and came from the same culture. I arranged for them to drive up from L.A., had the hall booked and the equipment in place. When they showed up 2 hours late, they were so hoarse that they could not sing a note. Someone had offered them a deal to record a single and they had worn their voices out for 2 days getting that produced. So I went back to New York trying to figure out how to get it done and realized the Newport Folk Festival was coming up. I called Pete Seeger and he arranged a Chambers Brothers appearance right away. When they got to New York, in my opinion they got kind of star struck, playing and jamming here and there and the record went out the window until I finally said to a couple of the brothers. ‘Look, we’re gonna make this record and we’re making it tomorrow in the studio.’ Moe Asch, owner of Folkways, engineered it. That was another one of my albums we did in 3 hours. We didn’t need to rehearse. We just fell into it, hummed the songs for a minute to get the keys right, then cut it. It was a natural fit. It’s a beautiful album, released in 1966 and is still available from Folkways. After Newport, they got all kinds of offers because of their originality and skills. I didn’t want to be there manager, I just wanted to do the album and wasn’t interested in anything else. A friend by the name of Carroll Perry, who was instrumental in the evolution of the Ash Grove
in L.A. and the Cabale Creamery in Berkeley, eventually did become their manager. My oldest son, then a teenager named Nicky Cahn, became their first drummer after being their roadie. Nicky later became Jesse, and fronted his own group, the Goodnight Loving Band.”

 

In 1966, Barbara Dane became the first American artist to tour post-revolutionary Cuba, after which she met and conversed with Fidel Castro, who came to her hotel to thank her. Ever bold, she asked “El Comandante” about the possibility of one of her children studying music at the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana. Castro readily agreed, making it possible for her second son, Pablo Menendez to study in Cuba from age 14. He has remained there ever since, becoming in the process, one of the most loved musicians in Cuba along with his band, Mezcla. 

 

Cuba has also not forgotten Barbara Dane. On December 22nd, 2016, she received an honorary membership to the UNEAC (Cuban National Union of Writers and Artists) presented to her by famed Cuban author Miguel Barnet. Then, on December 28th, Havana’s Casa de las Americas celebrated Barbara’s upcoming 90th birthday and commemorated the 50th anniversary of her historic concert tour of the country. Barbara performed at the Casa de las Americas with her accompanists, renowned pianist Tammy Hall and bassist Ruth Davies and several noted Cuban guest musicians, including her son Pablo with members of Mezcla and her grandson, Osamu who is known in both Havana and Miami as a pioneer of Cuban rock and inventor of the genre he calls Rock con Sabor.


In February of 2017, Barbara Dane will receive the Spirit of Folk Award at the Folk Alliance International’s 29th annual conference in Kansas City, Missouri. Continuing festivities for her 90th birthday, which is on May 12th, she and special guests will perform at SFJazz Miner Theater on July 16, 2017 and at UCLA’s Royce Hall on October 21, 2017. 

 

Always a torchbearer for freedom, Dane still offers sage advice for activists, musicians and any given career path in times such as these.

 

“You can’t let that scary stuff bother you. It’s all about controlling your own agenda. If that one doesn’t work, make a new one. Keep going. If they kick you out of one career, find another one. Everybody has a lot more talent than they realize. Some people make music, but others cook well, grow good vegetables, build solid yurts, clean their own houses well, cure their bodies or even their minds. As long as you’re alive and walking, you can always do something else. People have to realize this in these times we are facing now, they are trying to set the agenda. You have your own agenda. Keep your eyes on the prize. Your precious little career is only a blip in the history of the world. If they mess with you, walk off and get another one so you can keep on following what your gut tells you is the right thing to do. Then when you get to be 90 you can be like me, an ancient relic with a peaceful heart.” 

 

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