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Obit: Leon Bibb (1922-2015)

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BrooklynJay 23 Oct 15 - 11:20 PM
John on the Sunset Coast 24 Oct 15 - 10:40 AM
Joe Offer 24 Oct 15 - 12:32 PM
BrooklynJay 24 Oct 15 - 04:13 PM
Joe Richman 24 Oct 15 - 05:01 PM
BrooklynJay 24 Oct 15 - 05:23 PM
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Subject: Obit: Leon Bibb 1922 - 2015
From: BrooklynJay
Date: 23 Oct 15 - 11:20 PM

Leon Bibb has passed away at age 93.

Vancouver Sun obituary

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Subject: RE: Obit: Leon Bibb (1922-2015)
From: John on the Sunset Coast
Date: 24 Oct 15 - 10:40 AM

Leon Bibb on the turntable today in memorium. RIP

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Subject: RE: Obit: Leon Bibb (1922-2015)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 24 Oct 15 - 12:32 PM

Can somebody post the text of a good obituary? Links tend to die. I don't know anything about Leon Bibb.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Leon Bibb (1922-2015)
From: BrooklynJay
Date: 24 Oct 15 - 04:13 PM

Biography (by Bruce Eder) from

Leon Bibb

Leon Bibb was one of the more prominent African-American folk singers of the 1950s and early '60s, and enjoyed a parallel career as an actor, as well (sometimes under the name Lee Charles). Born Charles Leon Arthello Bibb in Louisville, KY in 1922, he grew up as an admirer of the actor/singer/activist Paul Robeson, the most prominent African-American performer -- in music, theater, or films -- of the '30s and early '40s, and sought to emulate the latter's career. He studied classical singing in New York City, and made his first major theater appearance in the original production of "Annie Get Your Gun" (1946), starring Ethel Merman, in which he played a waiter; he was also heard and credited on the 1946 cast recording of the show. Bibb later turned toward folk music, and was heard, along with such luminaries as Robert DeCormier, Pete Seeger, and Sonny Terry, on the 1954 album "Hootenanny Tonight!", issued by Folkways Records. His work brought him into the orbit of Langston Hughes and other literary and political giants of the '50s left, a fact that subsequently got him blacklisted from many mainstream entertainment outlets, in much the same manner that his idol Robeson -- approaching the twilight of his career in the late '50s -- was banned from most of those same outlets. Bibb's rich baritone voice was too powerful to overlook, however, and he did successfully amass some major credits in the late '50s, sometimes under the name Lee Charles. His late-'50ss credits include the Broadway production of Kurt Weill's "Lost in the Stars" as well as several recordings under that name; and he also appeared as a member of the Skifflers, in tandem with folk music legend Milt Okun. Following an acclaimed appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959, he was signed to Vanguard Records (which was already a haven for blacklistees such as Robeson and the Weavers), through which he recorded a brace of LPs and even managed to get a single release (a rarity for the label) of "Rocks and Gravel" b/w "Goodnight Irene."

By the early '60s, Bibb was making records for Elektra, Columbia, and Liberty, but by then the folk music revival had crested, and he was increasingly playing to a smaller -- but ever more serious -- audience as the decade wore on. His mid-'60s records included participation in the Verve Folkways double-LP set "African-American Poetry Theatre: A Hand Is on the Gate". Bibb later moved to RCA-Victor, where highlights of his work included the album "Foment, Ferment, Free . . . Free" (1969). He moved to Canada in 1971, and remained even more active in the decades that have followed, both with recording -- his repertory expanding to encompass songwriters such as Leonard Cohen -- and various theatrical productions. He has been especially closely associated with the musical "Jacques Brel" since the '70s, and began doing pops concerts with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and has also continued to participate in (and organize) productions devoted to the history of African-American music and culture. In 2002, he and his son Eric Bibb, by then a major artist in his own right, released the duo album "A Family Affair".

Leon Bibb discography

From The Georgia Straight (

Leon Bibb dies after more than seven decades thrilling audiences and almost as long advocating for equal rights

by Charlie Smith on October 23rd, 2015 at 2:31 PM

One of Vancouver's most beloved performers has passed away at the age of 93 in a Kitsilano care home.

Leon Bibb died this morning of natural causes after several strokes dating back to February 20, 2014.

Bibb's daughters, Dorie and Amy, travelled from New York to be with him in his final days. His son Eric, a Grammy-nominated musician, is touring in Europe.

"I was really grateful for the opportunity to hold his hand and tell him how much we loved him," Dorie told the Georgia Straight by phone.

While Bibb's theatrical and musical work earned him enormous praise over seven decades, Amy told the Straight by phone that he was most proud of his antiracism and antibullying work.

Bibb was born in Louisville, Kentucky, when segregation kept blacks and whites separate. Growing up, he was a friend of Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr., father of three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.

According to Amy, Bibb never spoke to a white person until he moved to New York in his 20s, where his career flourished.

Bibb was a big star on Broadway

In the 1960s, Bibb appeared in Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway with Ethel Merman, as well as Finian's Rainbow and A Hand Is On the Gate, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bibb hosted a show called Someone New on the local NBC affiliate.

Dorie said that her father was also an active supporter of Martin Luther King Jr., participating in the famous civil-rights march in Selma, Alabama. There, Bibb sang alongside Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez.

Dorie recalled a recent visit to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where the National Museum of African-American History and Culture was being built.

"I was walking by and I stopped because on this huge billboard outside of a construction site was Daddy's picture with Harry and Joan," she said.

Dorie and Amy each described their father as a "very involved dad". Their mother was employed as a social worker during the days and Bibb worked in clubs at night, so he spent a lot of time with his children.

"He was our family chef," Dorie said. "He always had a great love of cooking. He's famous for being a foodie."

There were also many famous visitors to the family home in those days, including Sidney Poitier, Bob Dylan, Rita Moreno, and Hugh Masekala.

Bibb found a new lease on life in Vancouver

Musician Bill Sample told the Straight by phone that Bibb first came to Vancouver as the opening act for Bill Cosby.

According to Sample, Bibb was staying at the Bayshore Inn, looked out the window, and said, "I have to live here."

"He went back to New York, packed all his stuff in a cargo van, and arrived at the border," Sample said. "They said, 'You can't just come into Canada like that. We've got protocols here.'"

In 1971, Bibb settled in Vancouver, starring in the Arts Club Revue Theatre's long-running production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well in Paris. It cemented Bibb's appeal with local fans. And it was mounted after he had negotiated the rights in New York's famous Russian Tearoom.

"As a singer, he could charm your pants off," Sample recalled. "I saw him do it so many times."

Sample met Bibb in the 1980s when Sample was scheduled to perform with Ann Mortifee at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre as the opening act for John Denver. Bibb was also in the lineup.

Later, Sample was asked to become Bibb's musical director and the two remained friends for more than three decades.

"He was a Canadian icon," Sample said.

At Expo 86 in Vancouver, Bibb starred in a gospel musical about the Underground Railroad called One More Stop on the Freedom Train.

Sample called him a "beautiful guy" and "a great tenor in his years on Broadway". He also said that as a singer, Bibb could be unpredictable, going off script and leaving his instrumentalists having to play catch-up.

"There was always an element of risk with Leon," Sample said. "He would dive into a song by himself a cappella and we would have to find out what key he was in. There were lots of moments like that."

Sample's wife, Helesia Luke, recalled many times when Bibb would show up at the family home on Saturdays to rehearse with her husband.

"For our children, that was just normal to have Leon Bibb singing in the living room," she told the Straight by phone. "I remember thinking, 'someday, they'll have a context for that.'"

Luke described Bibb as a "very devoted friend".

Bibb is a member of the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame and was appointed to the Order of B.C. in 2009.

A Step Ahead countered bullying and discrimination

In the early 1990s, Bibb launched A Step Ahead, which was offered in more than 120 schools to create greater understanding about diversity, racism, bullying, and multiculturalism.

Sample said that Bibb would gather the entire school population in gymnasiums. One of his techniques to break the ice was to do a version of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and get the kids doing hand movements.

"Some of them were skinheads and some of them were very racist," Sample recalled. "Some of them were very homophobic. Leon would stand there and talk to all of them about that."

One of the directors of the foundation that funded this work was Bibb's friend Paul Winn. Today, Winn told the Straight by phone that he's feeling "extremely sad" about Bibb's death.

"He was always a kind, gentle person," Winn said. "That's how I knew him. We had some great laughs and good times."

Bibb's daughter Dorie said that he would ask her or Amy to go on the Internet to research information. Then he would incorporate this into his school presentations.

"We were most proud of that work," Dorie said.

She explained that her father was deeply affected by being of African American descent in Western Canada at a time when there wasn't a great deal of diversity.

"I think he wanted to ensure that the Canadian population, who would not have ordinarily known a lot about African American history, understood it better," she said. "He thought it was important."

Bibb's other daughter, Amy, said that he often included a "teaching element" while entertaining people. As an example, she cited his first solo show, The Candyman, which premiered at the Orpheum in 1977. It was adapted for CBC TV the following year.

In 2010, one of Bibb's greatest dreams came true when performed at the Orpheum with his son Eric and granddaughter, Yana Bibb, who's a jazz and folk singer based in New York.

According to Bibb's daughters, there will be a memorial for their father in Vancouver later this year, likely in December.

"Our families are going to come back here," Dorie said. "Eric is going to perform."


I seem to remember - vaguely - that Bibb was either a host or a regular performer on a PBS music show in the New York City area in the 1960's. My memory could be faulty, though, because so far I've been unable to unearth the show's title.

Does any 'Catter have an idea as to which show I'm talking about?


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Subject: RE: Obit: Leon Bibb (1922-2015)
From: Joe Richman
Date: 24 Oct 15 - 05:01 PM

I remembered seeing him on the ABC Hootenanny show. I double checked it and indeed he did appear several times on that show. He was a good singer and not schmaltzy like some acts on that show. The acts on Hootenanny that most impressed me were Johnny Cash and Bill Monroe. Guess I'm more Country than Folk.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Leon Bibb (1922-2015)
From: BrooklynJay
Date: 24 Oct 15 - 05:23 PM

Coincidentally, I just found this post from Charley Noble in another thread (italics are mine):


Subject: RE: Origin: Walk Right In
From: Charley Noble - PM
Date: 29 Jan 11 - 08:34 PM

Back when I was teenager, my brother and I would visit my grandparents in Brooklyn during Easter Vacation, and then venture over to Greenwich Village where "everything was happening." Well, we did venture in one night and heard the Roof Top Singers singing this song. We also heard Leon Bibb do a set. It was very exciting for us Maine boys.

Charley Noble


Charley - any memories to share?


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