Ronnie Gilbert, who brought vocal power and womanly soul to The Weavers, was born in New York City on this date in 1926. The group formed in the 1940s and had a hit in 1950 covering Leadbelly’s “Goodnight, Irene” and the Israeli folksong “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” which turned them into international stars until the McCarthy-era blacklist derailed their success. Gilbert pursued a solo career after The Weavers’ break-up, then earned an M.A. in clinical psychology and worked as a therapist. She was brought out of her musical retirement for a series of concerts with Holly Near in 1983, and then recorded three albums on Near’s record label. In 2004, Gilbert married Donna Korones, her partner for two decades, when San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom temporarily legalized gay marriage. Alongside Fred Hellerman, she accepted a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award for the Weavers in 2006. To see her working out with Holly Near and The Weavers in the 1982 documentary, Wasn’t That a Time!, look below. To see The Weavers singing “Goodnight Irene,” look below that. To read a very interesting interview with Gilbert from the Voices of Feminist History Oral Archives, click here. Gilbert died on June 6, 2015 at age 88 of natural causes in Mill Valley, California.
“I was the girl in the band, and I hated it. I hated that every time we got a review, they would talk about me as the chick. They would always talk about what I wore. They never talked what the men wore. They always talked about what I wore. So it was very, very split, you know. In a way, I got to be the girl from the band. But by that time, I was way past that kind of thinking and yet it was — it was pleasant.” —Ronnie Gilbert
Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert, from the documentary Wasn’t That a Time! (1982)
The Weavers sing “Goodnight, Irene” and many other songs in this medley of videos: