The Womenfolk Continued…

First some loser over at Askville.com uses the text of my Womenfolk Tribute without giving me any credit whatsoever. Then Martha Woodroof files a report on National Public Radio affiliate WMRA about the Womenfolk reunion without mentioning me–or even talking to me for background for her story. Now Jeremy Borden in the Charlottesville, Virginia Daily Progress writes a story and to his creidt, he does mention my role in reuniting the Womenfolk. But like Woodroof, however, he didn’t bother to contact me for any kind of background information, or to fact check–anyone who has bothered to spend more than a few minutes on my blog can figure out that I am based in Washington, DC not New York.

I have no interest in being the center of the the Womenfolk story. I think they deserve the limelight at this point and would love to have their music reissued. But I am anal enough to be annoyed by how sloppy journalists are. The jerk over at Askville is just some anonymous yahoo on the Internet–although his plagiarism annoys me, I don’t expect much more in that kind of forum. But Ms. Woodroof and Mr. Borden are getting a paycheck for their reporting. Are their employers getting their money’s worth?

I Met Babs Cooper

Last weekend when we were in New York City for Thanksgiving, I sat in a diner in the East Village with Babs Cooper of The Womenfolk. As you may recall from an earlier tribute to these great ladies, I have been fascinated with The Womenfolk since 1988. It was only recently, after posting my tribute blog, that I was able to track down, and talk on the phone with, three of the remaining four Womenfolk. After more than 20 years of knowing nothing about them except for a few tidbits included on the back of their 1960s albums, I have had the honor of chatting with (and now meeting!) members of the group.

I was most excited to hear that Babs and the other three remaining Womenfolk got together recently to discuss old times and the future. It had been years, I think even decades, since some of them had seen each other. I am so happy that my efforts in tracking them down served as a catalyst in reuniting this band of talented women. Maybe something even more exciting will be the final result.

40 by 40: The 38th Birthday Update

I turn 38 this week which means that I only have 2 years to finish my 40 by 40 list. It isn’t that big of a list so it seems like that is more than enough time to get it all done. But some of the goals are more difficult than others. In fact, most of what I have completed so far you could probably consider to be the proverbial low hanging fruit.

So, without further ado here is the update:

3. Go to my 20 year high school reunion (completed 7/28/07)
You can read about this one on an earlier post.

4. Pass the TAP Exam (completed 8/10/07)
Not only did I pass the Travel Agent Proficiency Exam, I got 98% on it. Yes, that’s right, I am going into the highly lucrative field of travel planning.

I must say that this decision hasn’t been made lightly. In addition to walking away from the golden handcuffs at my current job, I am setting aside two graduate degrees that I still haven’t finished paying for. I don’t regret going into debt for either of those degrees, they both have provided me with training and experiences that will be useful no matter what I end up doing. Plus, I loved all of the time I spent in college and grad school. I loved my four years at the University of Minnesota. Although I had real mixed feelings about my time at the University of Hawaii, it gave me the opportunity to spend two years living in a sometimes frustrating but ultimately wonderful paradise. And my two years at Cornell University were two of the best years of my life. I loved studying urban planning, I loved my classmates, I loved the campus, I loved living in a small town, and I loved being a four-hour drive from Manhattan.

Now my most recent academic credential, knocking Cornell out of the top spot, will be the Penn Foster Career School. My online travel school alma mater in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

6. Write a blog tribute to the Womenfolk (completed 6/9/07)
Not only did I manage to write this blog tribute, but as a result I’ve had the chance to talk to three of the four remaining Womenfolk. It was wonderful to be able to talk to each of them and satisfy 20 years worth of curiosity.

16. Get a letter published in the New York Times (completed 7/18/07)
Not an easy thing to do, but my strategy of being quick, concise, and on point seems to have worked.

19. Release 25 books into the wild through BookCrossing (ABANDONED 7/29/07)
If I could figure out how to do a strikethrough on this blog I would cross this one out. I thought I would love this particular challenge. The idea is that you tag books you have read with a Bookcrossing label, register them online, and then leave them somewhere for someone to find in hopes that they will pick them up, see the tag, go online to note where they found it and what they thought about the book and then release it back into “the wild” for someone else to find.

I loved the idea of people connecting through books, but the process of leaving them out in the wild gave me more stress than joy. Maybe because you don’t really get to connect with people this way, and maybe because the kinds of books I read aren’t going to find a broad audience, or maybe it is because I am sure that most if not all of the books I have left out in the wild were probably thrown away. In any case, I didn’t find anything edifying about the process and it was stressing me out. So I am abandoning this one which means at least $10 for charity when I hit 40.

20. Make pudding from scratch (completed 7/7/7)
Brown sugar pudding with a tangy whip cream. Delicious and pretty easy to do.

For the full list click here.

Tribute to The Womenfolk


UPDATE: Check out this link for the latest–including how to download the Womenfolk on iTunes…

I was first drawn to The Womenfolk by the cover of their 1964 album “Never Underestimate the Power of The Womenfolk”. Decked out in fabulous red gingham, Empire-waisted, maxi dresses, I was instantly excited by the prospect of what those five women might sound like. It was the very hot, very dry summer of 1988. I was sharing a room in a run down boarding house near the University of Minnesota. The album belonged to my roommate Annie who brought it with her when she moved to Minneapolis from Chicago. It was included in a bunch of other campy old albums of her father’s that she found funny. I joined in her amusement when she showed me the dated album cover.

Once we put the needle down on the album, however, my ironic chuckles immediately ceased. Since I was a child I had always had a secret love of groups like the New Christy Minstrels and just about anything that sounded like a well-coordinated sing-a-long. I was especially drawn to female voices. As soon as I heard this strong, clear chorus of women I was hooked.

In the following months I played The Womenfolk for anyone who would listen. Most found it amusing and something silly to laugh at. Occasionally, however, I would find a friend or acquaintance who found the sound as fabulous as I did. My obsession with The Womenfolk became common knowledge among my friends. My roommate let me keep the album when we moved into different apartments. Later, another roommate stumbled across The Womenfolk’s last album when she was browsing in a used record store. These were the waning days of the LP when sources of used vinyl began to outnumber sources of new. That album “Man oh Man!” from 1966 was, as the album notes describe, more like the “Womenpop” with the women covering such pop tunes as “Yesterday”, Baby, What You Do to Me”, and “Reno Nevada”. The album also showed the women without the gingham and with about 75% less backcombing and hairspray.

For years these were the only two albums of theirs I could find. In those pre-Internet days the only real opportunity I had to track them down was by checking every used record bin I came across. As I described them to confused record store owners I described their music as Glam-Folk, that is, folk music that was generally happy, wholesome, non-controversial, non-political, and non-threatening. Even covering “The Times They Are A Changin” in 1966, their sound and look seemed apolitical and sanitized.

It wasn’t until years later when I found the live 1963-album they shared with The Villagers and their 1964 eponymous album with songs like “Little Boxes” that I got some sense that the women may have been more than the well-packaged glamour that their later albums portrayed. For the most part the subjects of the songs don’t seem very edgy, in fact they seem the opposite of edgy. But there is an attitude in their singing that is missing in later albums and, at least in my imagination, suggests that, had the times been different, The Womenfolk might have been something entirely different as well.

28 June 2007 UPDATE: I have since heard their Live from hungry i album. I love it, and it definitely shows a edgy side of the Womenfolk including Shel Silverstein’s “Hey Nelly Nelly”.

Where are The Womenfolk?
Little is known about The Womenfolk. Over the years I have called and emailed producers, record companies, and anyone who might have some information with absolutely no luck. No doubt I could do a much better job if I had nothing going on in my life, but thankfully I keep pretty busy. There are a few threads on various Internet discussion boards with bits and pieces of information but not much to go on. In the interest of documenting what is known about The Womenfolk and in the hopes of eliciting more information I want to chronicle as much of what I know here. I had fantasized about a PBS reunion special long before Christopher Guest brilliantly satirized the 60s folk music scene in the reunion mockumentary “A Mighty Wind”. But seeing that at least one of The Womenfolk has passed away, I have all but given up any hope of that happening.

One of the few mentions of the Womenfolk that can be found online at Answers.com is not very enlightening nor accurate. The Internet Movie Database lists several appearances on The Toast of the Town and The Hollywood Palace as well as Hullabaloo. According to the cover notes on one of their albums they also appeared on the Red Skelton Show and the Tonight Show. I am in the midst of seeing whether or not the Museum of Television and Radio has copies of these episodes in their library. They even hosted a short-lived television show in Canada called A Singin’

Online video exists!
Imagine my surprise when I found a clip posted on YouTube from Hullabaloo. The women appear in the middle of a medley by various groups at about the 1:38 minute mark. UPDATE 7/2/7: The clip has been removed from YouTube for violation of their use policy. Maybe it will resurface at some point. It’s too bad too, the women looked lovely and sounded lovely. UPDATE 11/12/07: I guess it has been out there for a while, but I just stumbled across this video of the women, thanks to the conversation thread over at Mudcat.com

The Women

  • Joyce James – Unfortunately the wealth of information about Joyce James comes from her obituary. She passed away in 2001 in Newmarket, New Hampshire. She was very active in her community and at the University of New Hampshire where they have created an award in her honor. Her obituary notes that she hosted a children’s television show on CBS called “Around the Corner”.
  • Leni Ashmore – Listed on “We Give a Hoot” as Len Isabel Ashmore, Leni went on to star in the original LA cast of HAIR. June 28, 2007 UPDATE: Leni is as lively as her pictures suggest. She now lives in Virginia where she is a research historian. In addition to African-American and women’s history Leni’s interests extend to rural, agricultural, and culinary history. She earned her Ph.D. in American Studies in 2005 from the College of William and Mary. She is married and has four children.
  • Barbara “Babs” Cooper – Originally from Memphis Cooper graduated from San Fernando High School in 1961. She recorded in 1962 for Indigo Records. No other information known. June 28, 2007 UPDATE: Babs has lived on the East Coast since the Womenfolk relocated to New York in 1965. After leaving the group she worked as a songwriter, and on the fringe of Madison Avenue; singing and writing lyrics and some music for commercials. She branched out into real estate in the 1980s, and nowadays she’s involved in the legal word processing field. Although she no longer takes part in any organized singing, she says she is always singing—her songwriter’s mind constantly recalling old lyrics from the speech of the people around her. She let me know that this upsurge of interest is tickling her muse. Who know what the future may bring.
  • Judy Fine – She went to Pomona College. July 17, 2007 UPDATE: Judy Fine has never stopped singing and recently come out with a CD of her own songs. Using her middle name and her married name she now answers to the name Lalah Simcoe. You can check out some audio tracks of her recent work and buy the CD at her website. Lalah has two children and with her husband owns the Bluegrass Grill & Bakery in Charlottesville, VA.
  • Jean Amos – Appeared on the final three albums replacing Elaine Gealer. She grew up in France, Germany and the San Fernando Valley. Her father was an operatic Bass and her mother was a pianist. Before joining the Womenfolk she was part of the duo Penny & Jean. Update 11/12/07: Jean has posted this over on the Mudcat.com thread: “OK, well, I have been living in San Francisco since 1969. I taught guitar for many years – basic, ragtime and classical.”
  • Elaine Gealer – Appeared on “The Womenfolk” replacing Terry Harley. She wrote into this online forum in January 2007 saying she doesn’t know where the rest of the group is these days.
  • Terry Harley – Appeared on “We Give a Hoot”. No other information known.

Discography

We Give A Hoot – Womenfolk and Villagers (1963)
The Womenfolk (1964)
Never Underestimate the Power of The Womenfolk (1964)
The Womenfolk at the hungry i (1965)
Man oh Man! (1966)

For a listing of all of the music on their albums check out this link.

I have all but The Womenfolk at the hungry i. For a picture of that album go to this page about the hungry i. For those of you in the San Francisco Bay area, you can also check out this exhibit about the hungry i that is going on until August 2007. Here are the backs of the albums that I own. You can click on the images to make them bigger so you can read the text.

UPDATE (11/19/07): Babs Cooper sent me album images for the hungry i LP. The front is shown here to the left, the back is toward the end of this post.

“We Give a Hoot” – 1963

“The Womenfolk” – 1964

“Never Underestimate the Power of The Womenfolk” 1964

“The Womenfolk at the hungry i” – 1965

“Man Oh Man!” – 1966

Sorry, I am no expert at getting photos in these posts, so the album art is a little untidily placed.

See the latest picture of The Womenfolk here.