page contents

Bess Lomax Hawes (1921-2009) was an American folk musician, folklorist, and researcher.

"Steeped in folk music from birth, Bess Lomax Hawes was the youngest child of John A. Lomax and Bess Bauman Brown. Born Jan. 21, 1921, in Austin, Texas, she was home-schooled by her mother, who also taught her to play piano. Her father and her brother, Alan Lomax, collected seminal field recordings of traditional songs that had been sung by cowboys, prisoners and slaves. After her mother died in 1931, the family moved to Washington, D.C., and Hawes assisted her father's pioneering research compiling the folk song archive at the Library of Congress. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in sociology from Bryn Mawr College in 1941 and worked during World War II as a radio programmer for the Office of War Information. She was also one of a rotating crew of vocalists in the Almanac Singers folk ensemble, along with Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and her future husband, Baldwin 'Butch' Hawes. The couple married in 1943 and moved to Cambridge, Mass., where Hawes co-wrote the folk song 'M.T.A.' that later became a hit for the Kingston Trio. She also began a successful career as a music instructor. 'Everyone wanted to sing and play guitar like Bobby Dylan,' Hawes told the Daily News in 2002. 'Folk music was a real postwar phenomenon. Everyone had either been tromped over or was out tromping over someone else during the war, and people were anxious to get back a sense of their roots.' In 1952 Hawes and her husband, an artist, moved to California and settled with their children in Topanga Canyon, immersing themselves in the bohemian community anchored by actor Will Geer. Besides performing in coffeehouses and at music festivals, Hawes taught guitar, banjo, mandolin and folk singing through UCLA Extension courses, at the Idyllwild summer arts program and, starting in 1963, at San Fernando Valley State College. She expanded her instruction to folklore, folk music and ethnomusicology and, after receiving a master's in folklore from UC Berkeley studying under Alan Dundes, became head of the anthropology department at what is now CSUN. Hawes began shifting from teacher to arts administrator in 1975 when she led a group of folk music and arts performers from California in a program on the National Mall presented by the Smithsonian Institution. The next year she participated in a bicentennial event staged by the Smithsonian, and in 1977 she joined the NEA. She directed the national arts agency's folk and traditional arts program and created the agency's National Heritage Fellowships, which recognize traditional artists and performers from across the country. She retired in 1992 and the next year was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. To Hawes, folk art was 'an identifier . . . a public statement of what a hell of a fine thing it is to be a Lithuanian or a Greek or a Comanche Indian . . . so that you feel good and people looking at the work will say, 'That's good,' or 'That's beautiful,' or 'That's different.'' Hawes died in 2009. Her husband died in 1971."

Los Angeles Times


Leave a comment: