Ronnie Gilbert

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This article is about the folk singer. For the bassist, see Blues Magoos.
Ronnie Gilbert
Ronnie gilbert 2006.JPG
Gilbert in August 2006
Background information
Born (1926-09-07)September 7, 1926
New York, New York, U.S.
Died June 6, 2015(2015-06-06) (aged 88)
Mill Valley, California, U.S.
Genres American folk music, Protest music, Americana
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, actress
Associated acts The Weavers
Pete Seeger
The Almanac Singers
Arlo Guthrie
Woody Guthrie
Holly Near
Lead Belly

Ruth Alice "Ronnie" Gilbert (September 7, 1926 – June 6, 2015) was an American folk singer, songwriter, actress and political activist. She was one of the original members of the music quartet the Weavers, as a contralto with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Fred Hellerman.

Early life[edit]

Gilbert was born in Brooklyn, New York City, daughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.[1] Her mother, Sarah, born in Poland, was a dressmaker and trade unionist, and her father, Charles Gilbert, born in the Ukraine, was a factory worker and milliner.[2][3]

Gilbert came to Washington, DC during World War II. She encountered Library of Congress folklorist Alan Lomax and Woody Guthrie and other folk singers. She went to Anacostia High School. The Washington Post reported that she was almost expelled because of her resistance to participating in a minstrel show. She performed in the early 1940s with the Priority Ramblers before founding the Weavers with Pete Seeger.[4]


Gilbert's singing was characterized as "a crystalline, bold contralto."[5]

Her voice is heard, blending with and rising over the others, in Weavers tracks such as “This Land Is Your Land ,” “If I Had a Hammer ,” “On Top of Old Smoky ,” “Goodnight, Irene ,” “Kisses Sweeter than Wine ” and “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena.”[6]

The Weavers were an influential folk-singing group that was blacklisted in the early 1950s, during a period of widespread anti-communist feeling, because of the group's left-wing sympathies.

Following the Weavers' dissolution in 1953 due to the blacklist,[7] Gilbert continued her activism on a personal level, traveling to Cuba in 1961 on a trip that brought her back to the United States on the same day that country banned travel to Cuba. She also participated in the Parisian protests of 1968 after traveling to that country to work with British theatrical director Peter Brook.[8] In the 1970s, Gilbert earned an MA in clinical psychology and worked as a therapist for a few years.[9]

Various well-known younger singers honor Ms. Gilbert for the example she set for them, and the influence she had on their careers, particularly Holly Near, with whom Gilbert has released three duet albums: 1983's Lifelines, 1989's Singing With You, and 1997's This Train Still Runs. Near and Gilbert also joined Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger for the 1984 quartet album HARP (an acronym for "Holly, Arlo, Ronnie, and Pete"). During that period Gilbert wrote and appeared in a one-woman show about Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, the American labor organizer, and in a second work based on author Studs Terkel's book Coming of Age.[8][10] In 1992 she accompanied the Vancouver Men's Chorus on the song Music in My Mother's House from their album Signature.

In 1991, Gilbert recorded "Lincoln and Liberty" and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" for the compilation album, Songs of the Civil War, joining artists such as Kathy Mattea, Judy Collins, John Hartford, Hoyt Axton, and the United States Military Academy Band of West Point.

Gilbert continued to tour and appear in plays, folk festivals, and Jewish music festivals well into her 80s. She also continued her protest work, participating in groups such as Women in Black to protest "Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories."[11][12] In 2006, the Weavers received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys. Gilbert and Hellerman accepted the award. Seeger was unable to attend the ceremony, and Hays had died in 1981. Seeger died in 2014.

Personal life[edit]

Gilbert was married to Martin Weg from 1950 until 1959, and the couple have one daughter, Lisa (born 1952).[8] Their marriage ended in divorce.[5] In 2004, Gilbert married her partner of almost two decades and her manager, Donna Korones, when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom temporarily legalized gay marriage in San Francisco.[13] Gilbert moved to Caspar, California, in 2006.[14]

Gilbert died on June 6, 2015 in Mill Valley, California, from natural causes, age 88.[5]


  1. ^ Time Line
  2. ^ Ronnie Gilbert profile at
  3. ^ ronnie gilbert "Ronnie Gilbert: A RADICAL LIFE WITH SONGS"
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c Weber, Bruce (6 June 2015). "Ronnie Gilbert, Folk Singer for the Weavers, Dies at 88". Obituary (New York Times). Retrieved 7 June 2015. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Leslie Kandell. "Together Again: Two Women With a Multiplicity of Messages" (Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert concert tour), The New York Times, September 22, 1996
  8. ^ a b c Amy Bank and Melissa Howden. We're not the First and We're not the Last": An Informal History – a timeline showing personal activism in relation to historical events, 1983, 1986 Redwood Records.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Barbara McKenna. Folksinger-activist presents public lecture at UCSC,", UC Santa Cruz Currents Online, November 15, 1999
  11. ^ a b Michael Hochanadel. "Ronnie Gilbert tells and sings her story — and our history" Daily Gazette (Schenectady, NY), May 7, 2005
  12. ^ Ronnie Gilbert. A New Weaver’s Song (on the origins of her participation in Women in Black), The Progressive, February 2006
  13. ^ Rachel Gordon. "State lawmaker joins S.F.'s gay wedding waltz: Republicans demand Newsom halt same-sex marriages and focus on city's 'critical issues,'", San Francisco Chronicle, March 9, 2004, pg. A11.
  14. ^ Levene, Bruce (Summer 2009), An Interview With Ronnie Gilbert (PDF), Mendocino Art Center .

External links[edit]