We’ve ran a piece last year on singer Ronnie Gilbert, so I’ve been feeling guilty ever since that we’ve neglected other equally exceptional songstresses who (have) continued to perform, and to stun audiences, into their late 70s, 80s, and 90s. Many great names will spring to mind, including (to name but three more or less at random) Elizabeth Cotton (1893-1987), the inspirational Malvina Reynolds (1900-1978), and the irrepressible Vi Subversa (1935-2016) whom we showcased back in June 2018.
Today we’re going to honour two such: Hylda Sims (born 1932), veteran singer with the British skiffle band the City Ramblers and daughter of Communist Party founding member Tom Sims; and Faith Petric, (1915–2013) American folk singer, head of the San Francisco Folk Music Club for 50 years, and a Civil Rights and anti-war activist and leading figure in the Raging Grannies in her late eighties and into her nineties, living to the grand old age of 98.
Why pair these two? Like Ronnie Gilbert, they’d have fitted perfectly into our workshops last year on protest songs; both travelled to Moscow (Faith as part of a peace delegation; Hylda, who has a BA and an MSc in Russian studies from Hull University and the LSE, recorded in Russia in the late 1950s). But Faith’s obituary further records that she “has been the life of British pub gatherings” as has Hylda–could she really have been?–and so I like to visualise a fantasy gig of Hylda and Faith performing together in a pub somewhere in London.
In future ‘Songs of the Week’ we’ll be bringing you songs from other female greats, including the great British blue singers Cleo Lane, Beryl Bryden, and Ottilie Patterson.