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Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (1933-2017)


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Janie 11 Jun 17 - 12:27 PM
Mark Ross 11 Jun 17 - 12:42 PM
Janie 11 Jun 17 - 09:21 PM
Rapparee 11 Jun 17 - 09:59 PM
Elmore 12 Jun 17 - 10:53 AM
Stilly River Sage 12 Jun 17 - 11:25 AM
topical tom 12 Jun 17 - 12:52 PM
Stewart 12 Jun 17 - 03:35 PM
Deckman 12 Jun 17 - 04:57 PM
StephenH 12 Jun 17 - 08:21 PM
Rapparee 12 Jun 17 - 08:35 PM
Janie 12 Jun 17 - 11:27 PM
Elmore 13 Jun 17 - 12:04 AM
Rex 16 Jun 17 - 10:06 AM
Waddon Pete 20 Jun 17 - 03:51 PM
GMGough 20 Jun 17 - 07:19 PM
BrooklynJay 23 Jun 17 - 02:41 PM
Elmore 23 Jun 17 - 03:39 PM
GUEST,Jennifer 29 Jun 17 - 10:54 PM
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Subject: Rosalie Sorrels?
From: Janie
Date: 11 Jun 17 - 12:27 PM

No official word yet, so not using an Obit prefix. A mutual friend let me know yesterday morning she was/is very near death, and saw a comment on another thread this morning that they understand she died late yesterday or early this morning.

Did/do not know her personally but what an iconic figure in folk music and for social justice.

Sending good thoughts to Rosalie, if still in this world, and to all who know and love her.

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Subject: RE: Rosalie Sorrels?
From: Mark Ross
Date: 11 Jun 17 - 12:42 PM

Her daughter Holly called me on Friday to tell me that it was only a matter of days. Hospice comes every day. Having known her for close to 50 years I am saddened, but knowing her condition of late I think that it is probably for the best. She is ready for her next adventure.

Mark Ross

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Subject: RE: Rosalie Sorrels?
From: Janie
Date: 11 Jun 17 - 09:21 PM

Thanks Mark. May she step lightly from this world. Holding Rosalie, her family and all who know and love any of them in my thoughts and meditations.

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Subject: RE: Rosalie Sorrels?
From: Rapparee
Date: 11 Jun 17 - 09:59 PM

I spoke with her some years back about doing a concert in Pocatello -- she was up for it. Said she hadn't been here in years.

But I couldn't get the backing or a venue.

I hope that her passage is smooth. She'll be greatly missed.

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Subject: RE: Rosalie Sorrels?
From: Elmore
Date: 12 Jun 17 - 10:53 AM

A Rosalie Sorrels concert was a unique experience. This woman held her audiences in the palm of her hand. She had a distinctive voice, and knew how to use it. Between songs she told funny, sometimes moving stories about her life, and the people she had encountered. I miss Rosalie, and will always remember her.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 12 Jun 17 - 11:25 AM

Dan Schatz posted on facebook that "Rosalie died Sunday night surrounded by music, love, and family. What a life she led."

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: topical tom
Date: 12 Jun 17 - 12:52 PM

What a sad loss for the folk music world.My wife and I had the honour of seeing her perform several times. She was witty, humorous and most talented. Her music will live on RIP Rosalie.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: Stewart
Date: 12 Jun 17 - 03:35 PM

I also had the pleasure of hearing her sing in Seattle

Her stories
her songs
the way she sang
interpretations of others' songs
particularly Utah Phillips and Malvina
she was an original
a sad loss
but her music will live on

S. in Seattle

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: Deckman
Date: 12 Jun 17 - 04:57 PM

I only met her once in Richmond, California, in 1967, but her are followers are legion and her songs and tales rang true. bob(deckman)nelson.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: StephenH
Date: 12 Jun 17 - 08:21 PM

Was it Mike Seeger that had an lp called "Music from the True Vine"?
I think that Rosalie Sorrels was one of those to whom that label could apply.
Condolences to her family and friends.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: Rapparee
Date: 12 Jun 17 - 08:35 PM

She's free now.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: Janie
Date: 12 Jun 17 - 11:27 PM

From the Idaho Statesman.
"Beloved Idaho Folksinger Rosalie Sorrels Dies"

Beloved Idaho folksinger Rosalie Sorrels dies; memorial will be held in Boise
1 of 3
Legendary Idaho folksinger Rosalie Sorrels belts out a song at her Grimes Creek home in this 1999 photo. Idaho Statesman file

By Dana Oland

By Kristin Rodine

Rosalie Sorrels — an Idaho singer, songwriter, storyteller and folk music legend with a career that spanned more than 50 years — died late Sunday night at her daughter Holly Marizu's home in Reno, where Sorrels lived for the past two and a half years.
Rosalie Sorrels in 2004. Idaho Statesman file

Sorrels, 83, had a history of health struggles. In 1988, she suffered an aneurysm; 10 years later, she battled and beat breast cancer. In recent years, Sorrels struggled with dementia and was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. She had been under home hospice care since February, according to her daughter Shelley Ross.

The news of her death sparked an outpouring of grief and fond remembrances for the two-time Grammy nominee.

"Rosalie lived a life as rich and poetic as the folk songs she loved and collected," says Boise-based jazz singer and musician Curtis Stigers. "Idaho has lost a treasure and so has the world of music and storytelling."

The family is planning several memorial services in the places where Sorrels lived and loved. The first one will be held in Boise later this month, probably close to her birthday. Sorrels would have been 84 on June 24.

"Every five years she would have a big bash up at the cabin (at Grimes Creek near Idaho City)," Ross says. "She wants to have her ashes scattered there."

Known as the Travelin' Lady, Sorrels lived life on her own terms, famously leaving her husband, Jim, in 1966 and traveling from gig to gig, driving the back roads with her five children, a lifestyle that Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Nanci Griffith captured in her song "Ford Econoline."

Later that year, Sorrels made her national debut at the Newport Folk Festival.

The song will appear on a forthcoming four-CD collection "Tribute to the Travelin' Lady: Rosalie Sorrels." It includes 40 tracks of Sorrels' original songs as well as other songs she loved to sing and a few songs that she inspired.

Rosalie Stringfellow grew up in Boise. Her mother, Nancy, ran The Book Shop, a cultural touchstone in Downtown. As a child, Rosalie absorbed the words of Thomas Wolfe, William Butler Yeats and other great writers. Her dad, Walter, an engineer with the Idaho Transportation Department, played piano and loved musicals. He built the cabin at Grimes Creek that would become Sorrels' home for many years.

It became a must for musicians and old friends to make the pilgrimage to the cabin. Americana singer and recording artist Tom Russell, pictured above, wrote his song "Pork Roast and Poetry" about one such night he spent at Sorrels' place.

"And the sun went down, through my glass of Tempranillo; And the candlelight drew shadows on her cheek; Oh, holy night, of pork roast and poetry; With Rosalie Sorrels, up on Grimes Creek."

"Rosalie Sorrels was a master folksinger," Russell wrote in an email from Switzerland, where he was performing. "I sang with her in Belfast, New York, and ate her finely served pork roast in her cabin outside of Boise as she recited poetry from a dozen books. She will be sorely missed. One of a kind."

The legendary folksinger also was known for her ability to spin a yarn and hold an audience in the palm of her hand.

Eric Peltoniemi, retired president of Red House Records in Minneapolis, worked on four albums with Sorrels — including "Strangers in Another Country" and "My Last Go Round," the two that received Grammy nominations — and several other projects, such as her contribution to "A Nod to Bob," a tribute collection to mark Bob Dylan's 60th birthday.

"She didn't just sing a song, she embodied it," Peltoniemi says. "She was a totally unique artist. She was one of the most passionate performers I'd ever seen. When she recorded something it was an event. People like Bonnie Raitt and Kate McGarrigle would come and play."

Sorrels was as well known as a folk historian as she was a performer.

"My mother always said she was a song collector," Ross says. "Then she became a folksinger and then she became a writer. She wrote songs that were real. She would get to know people, sit with them, eat with them so she could tell it like it is. She could tell a story like nobody else."

"She lived in Idaho but she belonged to all of us," says Rita Bottoms, retired head of special collections at the University of California Santa Cruz's McHenry Library. Sorrels donated papers, clippings and other ephemera, including a peace quilt, to the archive. Bottoms met Sorrels in Ketchum in 1996 and formed a friendship that continues with Sorrels' family.

"When she would perform at the university, people would come from all over," Bottoms says. "It was always a big event."

Sorrels had a big life. She knew Jimi Hendrix and jammed with Jerry Garcia at Woodstock and was a regular at the legendary folk-music hot spot Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where Sorrels and her kids often lived. She performed at the top folk festivals, wrote a book, recorded several albums and received two Grammy nominations, the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and an honorary doctorate from the University of Idaho.

Sorrels moved seamlessly in the worlds of major music and literary figures of her day, including "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" author Ken Kesey, Pulitzer Prize-winning "Ironweed" author William Kennedy and folk music legends Malvina Reynolds, Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie.

She got involved in causes that were important to her because she felt that her music could be used to change the world for the better, says her longtime friend and fellow singer Rocci Johnson, who is producing the tribute CD collection.

"She wove her commitment to bettering humankind into her songs, into everything she did," Johnson says. "The one thing she taught me is if you have gifts, you can use them to make things better. You can take your audience with you and show them a bigger picture. She was one of the first strong women out there back in the 1960s, saying, 'Hey, this isn't right, we need to fix it.' "

Sorrels wrote about and supported a litany of social justice issues from prison reform to suicide prevention to women's reproductive rights, and never turned down a chance to perform for a cause she believed in.

She lived a robust life and loved hard. She had a tempestuous relationship with country rocker Jerry Jeff Walker and was reported to be a sometime lover of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote the liner notes for her 1972 album "Travelin' Lady." She also had a lifelong connection to folk musician Peter Rowan, for whom she wrote the song "Go With Me."

"She had appetites, and she was well-known for them," says her longtime friend and singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, who met Sorrels in 1969 at Caffè Lena.

"In my mind Rosalie acted as a kind of twisted den mother to a group of us who lived in Saratoga back then, a gang which included her pal Utah Phillips, Frank Wakefield, Kate McGarrigle and myself. The Thanksgiving, Christmas and Sunday dinners Rosalie whipped up for our scruffy bunch are the stuff of legend."

But travel and fame had their downsides as well.

Life on the road with their mother wasn't always easy, and Sorrels wasn't always around, Ross says. Sorrels would sometimes leave her five children in the care of friends, such as Lena Spencer, owner of Caffè Lena.

"Mom always made sure we were in a safe place with people who cared for us," Ross says. "We've had some really great people in our lives who helped. We spent a lot of time at Caffè Lena. I think Lena influenced me as much as my mother did. She helped form the person I am today."

When Sorrels was around, "there was always a house full of music," Ross says. "And when we traveled, we always took the back roads, the long way around into the canyons and the woods. We'd stop at museums and have picnics in a forest. We made up stories and sang songs. There was a lot of fun."

Sorrels often incorporated family life into her songs, revealing that it was both a difficult and adventurous life. There also was tragedy. In the summer of 1976, her son David, then 22, committed suicide while the family was living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her heart-wrenching song "Hitchhiker in the Rain" was her attempt to cope, her daughter Holly Marizu says.

"His suicide completely changed family life. It was hard on Mom," Marizu says.

Sorrels returned to Idaho in the late 1980s, settling in the Grimes Creek cabin. She would play occasionally at the open mic at Pengilly's Saloon or a concert at the Idaho Botanical Garden.

In 2004, Sorrels recorded "My Last Go Round," thinking that would be her last big musical effort. For Johnson, Sorrels' own lyrics are a fitting epitaph:

"When my wandering soul shall rest, and my last song gets sung I'll find the brightest and the best; On my way back home, all my long lost friends and lovers, once again they will be found; And I'll kiss all their shining faces on my last go round."

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: Elmore
Date: 13 Jun 17 - 12:04 AM

Thanks Janie, and thanks to the writer who did a commendable job on this obituary.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: Rex
Date: 16 Jun 17 - 10:06 AM

I've learned that Rosalie Sorrels has left us and her time of trials and suffering is over. I remember her as one who stayed the course and told the tales of the common people through song all her life.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: Waddon Pete
Date: 20 Jun 17 - 03:51 PM

Rosalie was a talented singer and has left us a great legacy. There is much of interest on the Internet. Do explore and see how much she did for folk music during her life. I have added her name to the "In Memoriam" thread. Rest in peace Rosalie.


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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: GMGough
Date: 20 Jun 17 - 07:19 PM

KPFK FM Los Angeles ran a tribute to Rosalie by re-broadcasting a 1975 interview / performance which was hosted by Howard Larman asking the gentle questions.

Can't get the blue clicky thing to work, but go to

and scroll down to Folk Scene Sunday, June 18, 2017 6:00 pm
and click PLAY. The interview is contained within the two hour broadcast and starts at about 40 minute in.

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Subject: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (1933 - 2017)
From: BrooklynJay
Date: 23 Jun 17 - 02:41 PM

Didn't see anything posted; apologies if this is a duplication.

NY Times obituary:

Rosalie Sorrels, a Folk Singer Who Transported Her Audience, Is Dead at 83

By William Grimes   June 13, 2017

Rosalie Sorrels, a singer and storyteller who drew on her own tempestuous life in songs of struggle and heartache that inspired a generation of rising folk musicians in the 1980s, died on Sunday in Reno, Nev., at the home of her daughter Holly Marizu. She was 83.

The death was announced by family members. Ms. Marizu said that the cause of death had not been determined, but that her mother had been suffering from dementia and colon cancer.

Ms. Sorrels (pronounced sore-ELS) first came to widespread attention at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival, where she performed traditional songs from Idaho, her native state, and Utah, where she lived with her family.

She soon began writing her own material, about life on the road, her marital difficulties and the challenges of raising children. She then broadened her scope to include social issues like prison reform, suicide prevention and women's rights.

As a singer, Ms. Sorrels was influenced by Billie Holiday, and her jazz-inflected phrasings often perplexed her accompanists. But she delivered her songs with a throbbing intensity that came straight from the folk tradition. The critic John Rockwell, describing her voice in The New York Times in 1979, wrote, "It's full and rich, with a plaintive vibrato that thins out delicately on top, unless she's pushing for volume, in which case it becomes - if such a thing is possible - an evocative, stirring bray."

Ms. Sorrels developed a storytelling approach, surrounding her songs with tales of her childhood, her parents and grandparents, and the early settlers of the West. The effect could be incantatory.

"It's usually a big dark room, and there's this woman onstage with this beautiful, rich, velvety voice who's telling you this story or singing you a song, and then she stops and she tells a little story, and then the song continues, and she stops," the singer Christine Lavin told NPR in 2003. "It's like you're sitting around a campfire and there's this great wise shaman. And it completely transports you out of yourself."

Although she performed before multitudes at Woodstock in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1972, Ms. Sorrels didn't break through to fame and fortune. She once estimated that she had never earned more than $20,000 in a single year. She spent most of her career in small clubs and often performed, gratis, at benefits for a variety of social causes.

But her personal songwriting style and intimate way with audiences influenced younger folk artists like Ms. Lavin, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Nanci Griffith, whose song "Ford Econoline" paid tribute to Ms. Sorrels' travels around the country with five children in tow.

"I think she's influenced a lot of people who don't even know her name," Ms. Lavin told The Boston Globe in 2003.

The music historian Elijah Wald, writing in The Boston Globe in 1985, called Ms. Sorrels "a legend in folk music circles," adding: "She traveled around the country while raising five children. She drinks strong men under the table and is the first one up in the morning, bright and cheery and planning one of her famous dinners. And she can make the noisiest barroom crowd shut up and listen when she sings."

She was born Rosalie Ann Stringfellow on June 24, 1933, in Boise, Idaho. Her father, Walter, was an engineer for the state highway department. Her mother, the former Nancy Ann Kelly, ran the Book Shop in downtown Boise.

Both loved song and poetry. Rosalie, capitalizing on her father's offer of 50 cents for each "chunk" of poetry she could recite, once pocketed three dollars by memorizing Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake."

She sang and played leading roles in high school drama productions. At 16 she ended a pregnancy with an illegal abortion. After being accepted to the University of Idaho on a drama scholarship, she was raped and became pregnant again. Sent to a home for unwed mothers in Los Angeles, she gave birth to a daughter, whom she put up for adoption.

While performing at the Boise Little Theater, she fell in love with a fellow actor, Jim Sorrels, a telephone lineman by trade. They married in 1952 and moved to Salt Lake City, where their house became a magnet for visiting artists, singers and writers.

Ms. Sorrels began tuning in to the folk-singing traditions of the West. She took classes with the folklorist Wayland Hand, learned to play the guitar, gathered folk songs from quilting bees sponsored by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, and studied folk songs that her grandmother had pasted into a scrapbook.

"I got myself a tape recorder and started accosting perfectly nice old folks who were minding their own business, asking them for their old songs and stories," Ms. Sorrels told the folk-music magazine Sing Out! in 2004. "I collected a couple of hundred old Mormon songs."

The Smithsonian Institution's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage recorded her performing a selection of Western folk songs, accompanied by her husband on guitar, and released it in 1961 as "Folk Songs of Idaho and Utah." That year she also recorded "Rosalie Sorrels Sings Songs of the Mormon Pioneers," accompanied by her husband and the Singing Saints.

Turning manager, Ms. Sorrels brought Joan Baez and Jean Ritchie to Salt Lake City. Ms. Ritchie returned the favor by inviting Ms. Sorrels to sing at Newport.

It was a pivotal moment. That year she left her husband and recorded the album "If I Could Be the Rain." Released in 1967, it included six of her own songs and six by the folk singer Utah Phillips, whose career she revived.

She made good on the record's promise in 1972 with the album "Travelin' Lady," whose title song, about leaving her husband and heading out on the road, became her signature. Its personal, urgent songwriting reflected the influence of Malvina Reynolds, the writer of "Little Boxes" and other songs, whom Ms. Sorrels sought out in San Francisco.

"There was really a sense at the beginning of the '60s revival that it was the province of the male society to write the songs; that Judy Collins and Joan Baez were very fine, but basically girl singers using male songs," Ms. Sorrels told The Boston Globe in 2000. "Malvina helped teach us how to take our personal feelings into our songs; that you recognize what's funny or meaningful about you as a woman singing about these issues and put that into your songs."

She lived a vagabond life, moving from town to town and staying with friends, often parking her children as she went on tour.

"When you said, you know, the kind of generic, 'How are you?' you were braced for this kind of litany of trials and tribulations and everything," the singer and songwriter Loudon Wainwright III told NPR. "She'd say, 'This one's in jail, and that one burned down the building, and she had an operation. But I wrote two songs last week.'"

Ms. Sorrels recorded two dozen albums, including "Miscellaneous Abstract Record No. 1" (1982), a collection of her favorite traditional songs, as well as "What Does It Mean to Love?" (1994) and "Borderline Heart" (1995). Two of her albums were nominated for Grammy Awards: "Strangers in Another Country: The Songs of Bruce 'Utah' Phillips" and "My Last Go-Round: Rosalie Sorrels and Friends" (2004), a live recording of a tribute concert.

Ms. Sorrels moved back to Idaho in 1983 and settled into a cabin that her father had built on Grimes Creek, near Idaho City.

In addition to her daughter Holly she is survived by another daughter, Shelley Ross, a son, Kevin, a brother, Jim, five grandchildren and two great-grandsons. Her oldest son, David, committed suicide in 1976, an event that inspired her song "Hitchhiker in the Rain." Her daughter Leslie died in 2016.

Speaking to Idaho public television in 2005, Ms. Sorrels summed up her career:

"I'm an actress. I'm a troubadour. I take the news from place to place. I do it with music. I do it with poetry and stories, and I try to connect."

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (1933 - 2017)
From: Elmore
Date: 23 Jun 17 - 03:39 PM

This isn't the first eulogy for Rosalie, nor should it be the last.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Rosalie Sorrels (11 June 2017)
From: GUEST,Jennifer
Date: 29 Jun 17 - 10:54 PM

-I had the privilege of meeting Rosalie Sorrels in 1974 in the Folklife area of Expo '74 (World's Fair in Spokane WA). She was there because of Utah Phillips. I would have loved to have gotten to know her better.
-I'm thrilled that she, Utah, Kate, Pete, Woody, Mary and all the other greats of the folk world are together. What a Jamboree and/or Hootenanny that must be.

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