|2017 LAA Nominees|
Each year during the Awards Gala at the Folk Alliance International Conference, three Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Awards are presented alongside other awards. Named after the organization’s co-founder, a Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to a living recipient (Living), a memorial recipient (Legacy), and an active organization or recognized academic (Business / Academic).
In the past a select list of 100 industry members voted on the final recipient. This year (and moving forward) we are inviting all voting members to participate in this process by reviewing the biographies of the three finalists in each category and then selecting one as this top choice for this year’s awards.
This years nominees are:
Living: David Amram, Janis Ian, and Fairport Convention
Legacy: Oscar Brand, Malvina Reynolds, and Chavela Vargas
Organization: The Ashokan Center, Estonian Traditional Music Centre, and Helen Creighton
David Amram is an American composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and author whose integration of jazz with folk and world music has led him to work with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Willie Nelson, Langston Hughes, Charles Mingus, Pepper Adams, and Levon Helm, among others.
Amram is the author of three books, has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works, written many scores for Broadway theater and film, two operas, and the score for the 1959 film Pull My Daisy, narrated by novelist Jack Kerouac.
Amram is considered a pioneer of jazz French horn. He also plays piano, numerous flutes and whistles, percussion, and dozens of folkloric instruments from 25 countries, as well as being an improvisational lyricist. He has been one of BMI's twenty most performed composers of concert music of the last thirty years, and some of his recent orchestral works include Giants of the Night, a concerto for flute and orchestra (commissioned and premiered by Sir James Galway); Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie, (commissioned by the Woody Guthrie Foundation); and Three Songs: A Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (written for and premiered by pianist Jon Nakamatsu).
Amram appears in Andrew Zuckerman's book and feature film documentary Wisdom: The Greatest Gift One Generation Can Give To Another, as one of the world's 50 Elder Thinkers and Doers, and his instructional video, Origins of Symphonic Instruments, released by Educational Video, is shown in over 6,000 schools throughout the United States and Canada.
The Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has acquired the complete archive of Amram's manuscripts, scores, recordings, videos, photographs, and artwork. This archive provides the opportunity for scholars and the general public to study his work. A regular folk scene attendee he is renown for his generosity of time and talent, and for his boundless energy.
Janis Ian is an American singer-songwriter whose most widely recognized song, “At Seventeen”, was released as a single from her album Between the Lines, which reached number 1 on the Billboard chart.
Born in New York, Ian entered the American folk music scene at the age of 14 when she wrote and recorded her first hit single, “Society's Child", about an taboo interracial romance, which led to the song being banded by some radio stations. Produced by George "Shadow" Morton and released three times from 1965 to 1967, "Society's Child" became a national hit upon its third release after Leonard Bernstein featured it in a CBS TV special titled Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution. In 2001, "Society's Child" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which honors recordings considered timeless and important to music history.
"Society's Child" stigmatized Ian as a one-hit wonder until her most successful US single, "At Seventeen", was released in 1975 as a bittersweet commentary on adolescent cruelty, the illusion of popularity, and teenage angst, as reflected upon from the perspective of a 24-year-old. The song charted at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
"Fly Too High" became her first international hit in 1979, reaching number one in many countries, including South Africa, Belgium, Australia, Israel, and the Netherlands, and going gold or platinum in those countries as well as in the UK.
From 1982–92, Ian continued to write songs, often in collaboration with then-songwriting partner Kye Fleming. She released Breaking Silence in 1993 and also came out as a lesbian. Her album, Folk Is The New Black, was released jointly by her own Rude Girl Records label and the Cooking Vinyl labels in 2006, her first in more than two decades. She continues to tour and has won two Grammy Awards with a total of ten nominations in eight different categories.
Fairport Convention formed in 1967, and are widely regarded as a key group in the English folk rock movement.
Their seminal album Liege & Lief is considered to have launched the electric folk or English folk rock movement, which provided a distinctively English identity to rock music and helped awaken much wider interest in traditional music in general. A few British bands had earlier experimented with playing traditional English songs on electric instruments, but Fairport Convention was the first English band to do this in a concerted and focused way. Fairport Convention's achievement was not to invent folk rock, but to create a distinctly English branch of the genre, which would develop alongside, and interact with, American inspired music, but which can also be seen as a distinctively national reaction in opposition to it. Liege & Lief was launched with a sell-out concert in London's Royal Festival Hall late in 1969 and reached number 17 in the UK album chart, where it spent fifteen weeks.
The large number of personnel who have been part of the band are among the most highly regarded and influential musicians of their era including Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Iain Matthews, Sandy Denny, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol, and Dave Pegg among many others.
They received a "Lifetime Achievement Award" at the 2002 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. At the 2006 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards they received an award when Liege & Lief was voted 'Most Influential Folk Album of All Time' by Radio 2 listeners. At the 2007 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Fairport Convention received an award recognizing the late Sandy Denny and the band for ‘Favourite Folk Track Of All Time’ for Who Knows Where the Time Goes?.
Since 1979, they have hosted the Cropredy Festival, the largest such annual event in England. In 2020 Free Reed Records, an independent label, released Fairport Unconventional, a four-CD boxed set of rare and unreleased recordings from the band's 35-year career to that date. As of 2016, they continue to record and tour.
Oscar Brand (1920-2016)
Oscar Brand was a Canadian-born American folk singer-songwriter and author. In his career, spanning 70 years, he composed at least 300 songs and released nearly 100 albums, among them Canadian and American patriotic songs. Brand's music ran the gamut from novelty songs to serious social commentary and spanned a number of genres. He also wrote a number of short stories.
He collaborated on a number of musicals, most notably How to Steal an Election, and A Joyful Noise. He wrote various books on the folk song and folk song collections including The Ballad Mongers: Rise of the American Folk Song, Songs Of '76: A Folksinger's History Of The Revolution and Bawdy Songs & Backroom Ballads, the latter comprising four volumes.
Brand is well known for having composed catchy, themed, folk songs, including the Canadian patriotic song "Something to Sing About" and was a frequent performer at the Mariposa Folk Festival.
As a long-standing supporter of civil rights and because of his belief in the First Amendment rights of blacklisted artists to have a platform to reach the public the House Committee on Un-American Activities referred to his show as a "pipeline of communism”. In the early 1960s, Brand brought his substantial connections in the worldwide folk music community home to his native Canada with his CTV and then CBC television program Let's Sing Out. The program was staged at and broadcast from university campuses across Canada reviving and launching folk artist careers. Brand also served during the 1960s as a board member of the Children's Television Workshop and participated in the development of Sesame Street.
He hosted the Oscar Brand's Folksong Festival radio show on WNYC-AM 820 in New York City, which ran into in its 70th year and was hailed the longest-running radio show with the same host, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. In order to make sure that his radio program could not be censored he refused to be paid by WNYC for the next 70 years. He was given the Peabody Award for his NPR broadcast.
Malvina Reynolds (1900-1978)
Malvina Reynolds was an American folk/blues singer-songwriter and political activist, best known for her songwriting, particularly the songs "Little Boxes" and "Morningtown Ride."
Born in San Francisco to Jewish and socialist immigrants who opposed involvement in World War I, Reynolds studied music theory, earned a Master of Arts in English and completed her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.
Though she played violin in a dance band in her twenties, Reynolds began her songwriting career late in life penning several popular songs, including "Little Boxes" (about suburban sprawl), "What Have They Done to the Rain" (about nuclear fallout), "It Isn't Nice" (a civil rights anthem), "Turn Around" (about children growing up), and "There's a Bottom Below" (about depression).
Reynolds was also a noted composer of children's songs, including "Magic Penny" (a popular London folk song during the 1940s) and "Morningtown Ride" which became a top-5 UK single.
Her songs were sung and recorded by The Seekers, Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, and many others. Four collections of her music are available on the Smithsonian Folkways and Omni labels.
In her later years, Reynolds contributed songs and material to PBS' Sesame Street, on which she made occasional appearances as a character named Kate. A film biography, Love It Like a Fool, was made a few years before her death.
Chavela Vargas (1919-2012)
Chavela Vargas was a Costa Rican-born Mexican singer especially known for her rendition of Mexican rancheras, but also recognized for her contribution to other genres of popular Latin American music.
She had a difficult childhood, was cared for by an uncle, and contracted polio. At age 14 she abandoned her native country due to lack of opportunities for a musical career, seeking refuge in Mexico, where an entertainment industry was burgeoning and where she resided for almost eight decades. Initially and for many years she sang on the streets, but in her thirties she became a professional singer.
Vargas sang the canción ranchera, which she performed in her own peculiar style. The typical ranchera was a masculine but emotional song about love and its mishaps, usually mediated by alcohol, sung from a man's perspective, and with a mariachi accompaniment. Chavela sang this type of song as a solo, using only guitar and voice, evoking the singing style of a drunk man. She often slowed down the tempo of melodies to draw more dramatic tension out of songs, so they could be taken as naughtily humorous. In her youth, she dressed as a man, smoked cigars, drank heavily, carried a gun, and was known for her characteristic red jorongo, which she donned in performances until old.
Her first album, Noche de Bohemia (Bohemian Night), was released in 1961, though she eventually recorded more than 80 albums. She was close to many prominent artists and intellectuals of the time and was hugely popular into the 1970s, touring Mexico, the United States, France, and Spain.
She was an influential interpreter hailed for her haunting performances, and called "la voz áspera de la ternura", the rough voice of tenderness. The Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences presented her with a Latin GRAMMY Statuette in 2007 after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of that organization.
The Ashokan Center began in 1967 as an outdoor education centre, but grew to offer a wide variety of music and arts programming including the renowned Ashokan Music & Dance Camps as a place where people come together to become better fiddlers, guitarists, mandolin players, uke players, percussionists, singers, dancers and teachers. The Center also produces The Hoot, a biannual music festival.
Located in the storied Catskill Mountains, the Center is the oldest outdoor environmental education organization in New York State. The 385-acre campus is comprised of fields, forests, trails and streams and features a number of historically significant structures.
The mission of the Center is to teach, inspire, and build community through shared experiences in nature, history and the arts.
To achieve the goal of teaching, inspiring and building community, the center conducts residential and day programs for students and teachers of all ages in the following areas: Natural Science including Watershed Studies and Ecology, Living History, and Team Building. Other programming includes the renowned week-long overnight Ashokan Music & Dance Camps, concerts, dances, and visual art exhibitions.
The Center includes a 200-seat performance hall, classroom spaces, dining halls, and lodging for 150 guests. In addition to being a retreat and conference venue, The Ashokan Center hosts a variety of family-friendly community events including the popular Summer and Winter Hoot concerts, Maple Fest, the Fall Family Fun Festival, musical performances, dances and lectures.
The Estonian Traditional Music Center is a countrywide, independent, and innovative non-profit association which organizes folk music education, promotes live folk music, follows the folk music curriculum of the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy, and operates as a partner and an information center for all the Estonian music schools, associations, folk bands, folk groups, solo artists, and folk music enthusiasts.
The Centre is located in Viljandi in a contemporary cultural center where performances, training sessions, and seminars are organized year-round.
The center houses a Traditional Music Library (which holds a collection of sound recordings and an information centre), the August Pulst School (which focuses on teaching and introducing traditional music through training sessions and courses), and organizes one of the largest music festivals in the Baltics, the Viljandi Folk Music Festival.
The center believes that folk music has played an important role in the national culture of Estonia, and strives to teach and support Estonian traditional music through performances and by encouraging active participation in order to strengthen and promote Estonian ethnical and regional identity and through that, enhance the feeling of national dignity, build reverence for ancestral heritage, and teach respect and tolerance for other cultures of the world.
The aim of the center is to promote folk music by integrating and responsibly merging pan-generational music traditions into everyday life, and to make folk music a part of contemporary life and culture.
This is done by organizing festivals, concerts, lectures, and works as well as both electronic and printed media. The center also collects, catalogues, and publishes archive materials of vocal and instrumental traditional music for use in collaboration with museums, archives, and research institutions.
Helen Creighton (1899–1989)
Helen Creighton was a folklorist from Nova Scotia, Canada.
Originally intending to develop a career as a writer, she was introduced to folk songs through W. Roy MacKenzie’s book, Ballads and Sea Songs of Nova Scotia. Armed with this new awareness of the subject, Creighton began to discover local traditional singers and storytellers. In 1942, having earlier earned a junior diploma in music at McGill University in Montreal, she received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to attend the summer session of the Indiana University Institute of Folklore.
Largely, however, her methodology was learned in the field as Folklore was still an emerging discipline, but Creighton persevered and managed to carve out a career collecting and publishing traditional lore. She was able to establish connections with agencies such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the National Museum of Canada, and the US Library of Congress.
She began to travel around Nova Scotia, collecting songs, tales and customs of Gaelic, English, German, Mi'kmaq, African and Acadian origin. Frequently, she had to walk or sail to remote regions to satisfy her interest, all the while pushing a metre-long melodeon in a wheelbarrow. Among Creighton's many contributions was the discovery of the traditional "Nova Scotia Song", widely called "Farewell to Nova Scotia", which has become a provincial anthem.
Between 1942 and 1946, Creighton received three Rockefeller Foundation fellowships to collect songs in Nova Scotia. The second of these fellowships was used to collect songs with equipment loaned by the Library of Congress. Creighton also made recordings for the Canadian Museum of Civilization from 1947-1967.
Over the course of her career, Creighton collected over 4,000 songs and ballads. She authored thirteen books of traditional songs, ballads and stories, of which her Bluenose Ghosts is the most widely known. She also wrote an autobiography, and a number of articles. She received many awards, including Distinguished Folklorist; six honorary doctorates; Fellow of the American Folklore Society, Honorary Life President of the Canadian Authors' Association; and The Order of Canada.