Folksinger Rosalie Sorrels to give free concert at UC Santa Cruz Library

Folksinger, storyteller, and social activist Rosalie Sorrels will present a free public concert, Friday, February 14, at 4:30 p.m. at the UC Santa Cruz Library's Special Collections.

Social activist will donate peace quilt to archives in Special Collections
During the event, Sorrels will officially present the Peace Quilt to her growing archive at UCSC. Since 1981, the Boise Peace Quilt Project has annually honored a variety of social activists including Pete Seeger, Caeser Chavez, Helen Caldicott, and Rosa Parks. Sorrels received her quilt--which took a year to make and was constructed by different people from around the world--on her birthday last year.

Sorrels has released 22 albums in a career that has spanned four decades, beginning with her first recording on the Folkways label in 1958. Her life is chronicled in the Nanci Griffith song "Ford Econoline," a popular tune about a single mother touring the country as a folk singer.

Last March, Sorrels retired from the road with a farewell concert in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that featured a multitude of musical guests including Jean Ritchie, Peggy Seeger, Loudon Wainwright III, Christine Lavin, and David Bromberg. WGBH in Boston recorded the show, and Red House Records may release a CD of the concert in the near future.

Sorrels decided to establish her archive at UCSC through a friendship with Rita Bottoms, head of Special Collections at McHenry Library. Bottoms had traveled to Idaho with poet/artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti to attend his art show and reading. They met Sorrels, who lives in a cabin about 30 miles north of Boise, at an outdoor barbeque. Sorrels, it turned out, was a big fan of Ferlinghetti, as well as artist Kenneth Patchen, who both happen to have archives at UCSC's Special Collections.

"When Rosalie came out here on tour, she stopped by the library to see Kenneth Patchen's painted poems and we got to be friends," Bottoms recalled. "She has very much a sense of the importance of documenting history and social movements."

Sorrels's archive consists of photos, letters, mementos, newspaper clips, posters, flyers, and drawings, as well as all of her recordings from the past four decades. In her remarkable life, she encountered many of the celebrities of the Beat era and later the counterculture of the '60s. As a result, the archive includes a variety of correspondence from well-known artists, singers, political activists, and authors such as Pete Seeger, Hunter S. Thompson, William Kennedy, and Robert Creeley.

"It's stored in an enormous old ledger from 1867," noted Sorrels last week by telephone from Minneapolis, where she was appearing at a memorial for the late folksinger Dave Van Ronk. "It has all sorts of things; I saved a lot of newspaper clippings which are hard to come by--things like the Berkeley Barb's People's Park poster."

"It's a remarkable document of the last four decades," added Bottoms. "If you were a student or researcher, you could have a whole history of social activism."

Sorrels noted that she recently had acquired the rights to all 22 of her albums and plans to release some of them again on her brand-new label, Way Out In Idaho Productions. Her first release on the label will be a compilation titled Learned by Living, Sung By Heart. Although it is set to be released in March, Sorrels said that advance copies will be available at the UCSC show.

A master storyteller, Sorrels was once described by Hunter S. Thompson as "one king-hell songwriter." He went on to add, "Rosalie's songs are so close to the bone that I get nervous listening to them."

But Rolling Stone magazine may have put it best: "Rosalie Sorrels, who must know a million songs, can sing each one as if it's her life story."