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Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)

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GUEST,CJB 28 Aug 14 - 08:11 AM
Phil Cooper 28 Aug 14 - 09:13 AM
Deckman 28 Aug 14 - 10:03 AM
Midchuck 28 Aug 14 - 10:15 AM
GUEST,sciencegeek 28 Aug 14 - 10:15 AM
Bill D 28 Aug 14 - 10:58 AM
Thomas Stern 28 Aug 14 - 12:16 PM
Don Firth 28 Aug 14 - 04:48 PM
meself 28 Aug 14 - 05:06 PM
Stilly River Sage 28 Aug 14 - 05:38 PM
Padre 28 Aug 14 - 08:20 PM
Don Firth 28 Aug 14 - 09:03 PM
Phil Cooper 28 Aug 14 - 10:55 PM
Midchuck 29 Aug 14 - 09:19 AM
Anglo 29 Aug 14 - 10:16 AM
GUEST,sciencegeek 29 Aug 14 - 02:28 PM
Airymouse 29 Aug 14 - 10:31 PM
Don Firth 30 Aug 14 - 08:00 PM
Charley Noble 31 Aug 14 - 10:53 AM
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Subject: Richard Dyer-Bennet 06-10-13 /14-12-91
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 08:11 AM

Doing some research on VOA transcription discs I came across references to this English folk singer / minstrel.

He had quite a discography and a reputation as an accomplished banjo player and folk singer.

In this reference he states that many who are termed folk-singers are not but are in fact minstrels ...


Among contemporary folk singers, Dyer-Bennet singled out Joan Baez--who later recorded his arrangement of Byron's "So We'll Go No More A-Roving"--as a talent after his own heart. "She has the loveliest voice. When I first heard her I thought she had the makings of an extraordinary performer."

But, by Dyer-Bennet's definition, Baez, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, and all the other singers of traditional folk songs were, like Scholander, minstrels. In a landmark article written for Hi Fi/Stereo Review, Dyer-Bennet maintains that

"this distinction between folk singing and minstrelsy is more than a mere semantic quibble. If you are born and raised among rural people who know the songs, and if you can carry the tunes, and do, you are a folk singer, like it or not. If you are born and raised in the city, you may copy the intonation and accent of a true rural folk singer, but you will be, at best, an imitation of the real thing. What you can become is a minstrel."


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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet 06-10-13 /14-12-91
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 09:13 AM

Interesting distinction. I think Dyer-Bennet himself was classically trained in voice and guitar. I've liked what I've heard of him on the radio, especially "The Vicar of Bray." I think by current standards, his styling would sound studied. I leave the definitions to the academics and just like the music.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet 06-10-13 /14-12-91
From: Deckman
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 10:03 AM

I feel that Richard Dyer-Bennet's distiction between being a folksinger and a ministrel is perfectly said. As a teenager growing up with hours and hours standing in the "crook of the piano" while singing German "art songs", I certainly did NOT come anywhere close to the real hill folk. The closest I ever came was years later when, as a carpenter, I often built homes and woodshops for the hill people of Darrington, Washington. (USA). It was there I learned some of the songs and tales, but mostly how to dodge the fallout from the many moonshine stills! bob(deckman)nelson

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet 06-10-13 /14-12-91
From: Midchuck
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 10:15 AM

I consider his rendition of Mark Twain's "1601" to be a classic. It's interesting that, underneath the cultured veneer, he was as much of a dirty old man as Twain or myself.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet 06-10-13 /14-12-91
From: GUEST,sciencegeek
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 10:15 AM

maybe Charley Noble can pipe in, since he's a relative...

I saw RD-B years ago at a SUNY- Stony Brook reception for his retirement. Though never having had him for a professor, I suspect, as an academic, his perspective was more structured, scholarly and in line with other professorial types.

I never could picture him pub crawling and singing his lungs out with a gang of plebians... sorry... or do you know something different, Charlie?

many grand melodies have ended up in classical music pieces... which may help the tunes alive, but any lyrics are long gone. music, like the mortal folks who love it, is easily lost in the course of time. So whatever is preserved, by whatever means, we should appreciate.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet 06-10-13 /14-12-91
From: Bill D
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 10:58 AM

Dyer-Bennet is perfectly correct, but it is a distinction that will forever be ignored due to the tendency by most to simplify 'categories' to suit their linguistic preferences.

"Minstrel? Call it what you want, but **you know what I mean.**", says the average person.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet 06-10-13 /14-12-91
From: Thomas Stern
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 12:16 PM

I strongly recommend Paul O Jenkins biography for anyone interested
in Dyer-Bennet as a person and artist. The discography is in some
areas misleading and incomplete - but adequate for anyone with a
general interest in his recordings.

The Last Minstrel

Best wishes, Thomas.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 04:48 PM

Richard Dyer-Bennet has long been a favorite singer of mine and one of the first singers of folk songs and ballads that I heard of. A friend of mine back in 1950 had an album of his (three 12" 78s). And when I first became interested in singing folk songs back in 1952 (girl friend at the time was busily teaching herself to play the guitar and learning folk songs from a small paperback—"A Treasury of Folk Songs" compiled by John and Sylvia Kolb, Bantam Books, 35¢). I chugged down to Campus Music and Gallery and bought some records to learn songs from. Burl Ives, Susan Reed, and Richard Dyer-Bennet.

Dyer-Bennet was born in England, but his family moved to Canada when he was a youngster, then to Germany for a couple of years where his mother taught, then to Berkeley, California. While in Germany, he began playing the guitar and learning German folk songs and Christmas carols from fellow students.

In Berkeley, at the age of twenty, he took his guitar to a Christmas party and sang several songs. Voice teacher Gertrude Wheeler Beckman took him aside and told him that his light tenor had the makings of a good "minstrel's voice," and offered to teach him. During his studies with her, she told him about the Swedish minstrel, Sven Scholander. He scraped his nickels together and made a pilgrimage to Stockholm, where he met Scholander, now retired.

The eagerness of the young man from the United States prompted him to take his lute down from the wall and sing for Dyer-Bennet. That cinched it in Dyer-Bennet's mind. He spent six weeks visiting Scholander, talking with him, and listening to him sing, then Scholander gave him a folio of about a hundred of his songs. Dyer-Bennet returned to the U. S. thoroughly energized.

He resumed his voice lessons with Gertrude Wheeler Beckman and took classical guitar lessons from Cuban guitarist Rey de la Torre. Initially he played a Swedish lute like Scholander's (tuned like a guitar, six strings on the neck with a sort of "outrigger'' strung with four or five bass strings), but soon retired it in favor of a classical guitar.

After singing in night clubs (along with Burl Ives) and giving solo concerts and recitals here and there, he hired New York's Town Hall and sang a concert there. The great impresario Sol Hurok, ever on the lookout for new, fresh talent, was in the audience, went backstage during intermission, and signed Dyer-Bennet on the spot.


I had the good fortune to meet Richard Dyer-Bennet on a couple of occasions. First in Bellingham, 90 miles north of Seattle, when he sang an assembly at the college there in 1957. I drove up to hear him. I talked to him backstage after the assembly, told him what I was doing—taking singing lessons and classic guitar lessons from good teachers, studying music theory at the U. of Washington, and learning songs and their backgrounds.

"Well," he said, "there's not much I can tell you, other than to keep doing what you're doing."

He was very personable, friendly, and helpful.

We met and talked again during the time he was in Seattle doing three concerts during the Seattle World's Fair in 1962. While he was here, he joined a bunch of us local singers in one of the Sunday afternoon concerts at the United Nations Pavilion.

Although he's not everybody's cup of tea, I admire Dyer-Bennet's approach. Minstrel rather than folk singer. Although I emulate his approach, I do not imitate him.   Among other things, I couldn't. He's a light tenor. I'm a bass-baritone (think Bryn Terfel—sort of. . . .)

Point worth pondering: Although the bulk of his repertoire consisted of folk songs and ballads, Dyer-Bennet did not limit himself to them. If he liked a song, he sang it. He also wrote a few songs himself. But he did not insist on calling them "folk songs. . . ."

The art of the minstrel:

Scottish ballad.

Poem Dyer-Bennet set to music.

Don Firth

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: meself
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 05:06 PM

I think most of us would agree with his distinction - but I would feel a little precious calling myself a "minstrel" ....

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 05:38 PM

Use it often enough and people would become accustomed to it.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: Padre
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 08:20 PM

Our local library had (in the mid-1950s) a collection of 4 of RD-B's albums. I used to check them out regularly and learned a number of songs from them.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 09:03 PM

The terms "minstrel," "bard," "skald," "scop," "gleeman," and "trouvere" (southern French), "troubadour" (northern French)," and "minnesinger" (German) have been around much longer than the term "folk singer." The latter was coined by Johann Gottfried von Herder (18th century) when he urged composers who wished their music to have a "national character" to study the songs of the common people ("das volk").

Many scholars believe that works such as Homer's Illiad, Odyssey, and other long works of this sort would be chanted to a preliterate audience by, essentially, an early day minstrel accompanying himself on the lyre. Also, later works such as Beowulf (over 1,000 years old) was delivered by a scop or skald, chanting and accompanying himself on the Anglo-Saxon lyre-harp. Beg, borrow, or steal a copy of the DVD of Benjamin Bagby's authentic performance of Beowulf, according to the best scholarship. He delivers it in Old English (not easy to understand, but stirring nevertheless).

Nothing "precious" about being a minstrel. In one form or another, it's an ancient, honorable occupation, possibly several thousand years old.

MUCH fascinating stuff HERE.

Don Firth

P. S. Most buskers probably have no idea of how old what they are doing really is. Wandering minstrels have been singing in the marketplace or town square for many hundreds (or thousands) of years, in hopes of a few coppers being tossed their way. . . . If they were lucky, they might get hired by some nobleman to sing in the manor house or castle.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 28 Aug 14 - 10:55 PM

I liked his album of scottish songs with musical settings by Beethovan. Plus that bawdy songs album which had 1601 on one side. The midnight special radio show in Chicago used to end all its shows with his version of Jordan River.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: Midchuck
Date: 29 Aug 14 - 09:19 AM

I like calling myself a "minstrel," if only because, rather than "stage fright" or "performance anxiety," I can use the term, "pre-minstrel tension."

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: Anglo
Date: 29 Aug 14 - 10:16 AM

Many of his albums ( the later ones on his own label) are now available from Smithsonian Folkways. I'm slowly completing my collection.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: GUEST,sciencegeek
Date: 29 Aug 14 - 02:28 PM

I suspect that the term minstrel has been tainted a bit in the States.

We may sing "the Minstrel Boy"... but minstrel shows often had a very racist overtone and a repertoire that contained some pretty offensive material. Who wants to call themselves a minstrel and then spend the next 15 minutes disassociating yourself from the prevailing examples?

We have a hard enough time trying to explain historically accurate lyrics in a neutral fashion.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: Airymouse
Date: 29 Aug 14 - 10:31 PM

I'm still struggling with "folk song" vs. "traditional song", so the last thing I need is to take on "minstrel" vs. "folk singer." But some people just never learn. I learned some of the songs I know from Mary. She met her husband, a journalist with a degree from Yale at a dance hall, where men could buy a dance for a dime, I think.She was from rural Georgia; he was from New York City. He was educated; she was cultured. Perhaps for folk singers the songs are a part of their culture. Mary Lomax learned her "The Butcher Boy" as part of her upbringing and life; Joan Baez I would guess learned her version of this song (Railroad Boy) from a recording rescued by H. Smith.(Just a guess.) The idea that traditional songs must be from the rural poor is wrong. Surely Nellie Galt's songs belong in the Library of Congress collection, even though she lived in Louisville and certainly wasn't poor. Listen to her "Mulberry Hill" and then listen to "Oliver Cromwell's buried and dead". To my mind the two songs inform each other.

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: Don Firth
Date: 30 Aug 14 - 08:00 PM

Compared to the ancient, time honored art of minstrelsy, the American "minstrel show," with performers in "blackface," started as a sort of "entre-acte" feature in longer entertainments around the time of the Civil War and, happily, faded out in the early Twentieth Century. They were basically lampoons. And generally pretty tasteless and totally "politically incorrect."

Best to simply ignore. It's just an unfortunate anomaly amounting to little more than a "blip" on the history of the art of minstrelsy. If someone brings it up, use that as an opportunity to educate.

Don Firth

P. S. Would you let some hypersensitive person who considers Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" anti-Semitic because the villain, Shylock, was Jewish, influence you to toss all of Shakespeare's works into the dustbin?

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Subject: RE: Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913-1991)
From: Charley Noble
Date: 31 Aug 14 - 10:53 AM

Don has done a great job above with his short biography of Richard Dyer-Bennet. The Last Minstrel is an excellent work.

I am puzzled by this statement in the first post:

"an accomplished banjo player"

Dyer-Bennet was certainly an accomplished classical guitar play, and a master of the lute as well. I'm unaware of him ever playing the banjo.

He also composed propaganda songs during World War 2 for the Office of Secret Service. I have a few of those but they were rapid response compositions related to specific events.

When Dyer-Bennet began professionally performing in the 1940s there was no market for "folk songs." So he presented himself as a "minstrel" when applying for club bookings as an entertainer.

He was also a wonderful storyteller. Check out his recording from Smithsonian of Georgian Folk Tales. My favorite as a child was "The Man Who Was Full of Fun."

His recording "1601" certainly put the criticism that he was "prudish" to bed. He thoroughly enjoyed singing bawdy drinking songs with our friends the Pulestons while he was resident in Brookhaven, Long Island, in the 1950s. Every year my family would receive a recording from the Pulestons of one of their singing parties. It's rare to hear the environment recorded along with such songs: the laughter and chatter, and the occasional clatter of glassware, along with the groans and moans.

Charlie Ipcar

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