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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Rosalie Sorrels--An appreciation

Rosalie Sorrels "Starlight on the Rails"

Award-winning folk singer-songwriter Rosalie Sorrels, who died June 11 at 83, was long a major force in the genre.

Loundon Wainwright III, who met Idaho native Sorrels in 1969 at historic Saratoga Springs, N.Y. folk music venue Caffè Lena, saw her as "a kind of twisted den mother to a group of us who lived in Saratoga back then, a gang which included her pal Utah Phillips, Frank Wakefield, Kate McGarrigle and myself."

In comments for The Idaho Statesman, Wainwright added, "The Thanksgiving, Christmas and Sunday dinners Rosalie whipped up for our scruffy bunch are the stuff of legend.”

Sorrels' fellow Idahoan Ronee Blakley bid "goodby to one of the greats, early on the scene, an inspiration. A pioneer," in a Facebook post. Via email, she said, "Rosalie Sorrels was a friend of mine. We were both female Idaho singers, but she came first--not only came first, but was still first: one of the earliest solo girl folksingers who toured and played guitar--a pioneer. She was kind and wise and will be missed by all who loved her and who love folk music. All you have to do is listen to her sing the Utah Phillips song 'Starlight on the Rails' to know what I mean--to know what we have lost."

Blues harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite likewise reflected on Sorrels' kindness.

"I'd been in a really bad wreck and she came to my hospital room to visit," recalls Musselwhite. "She brought flowers and sat and talked with me. Like her music, her presence was calming and reassuring. I can't pin it down, but there was something about her that gave me the feeling that 'everything's gonna be alright.' I think you can call that 'Inner Peace.' She was a fine human being."

As for her music, folk music producer and radio personality/concert engineer Edward Haber notes that "there was always something so soulful about her singing and the songs she chose to sing—they seemed to come from some kind of deep well of experience I could never reach. I saw her live many times, and I always had that same feeling from her live performances."

Observes contemporary folk singer-songwriter Christine Lavin, "Rosalie could build an entire show around a single song! She'd sing with that velvety voice of hers, playing guitar under it, then stop playing and launch into a story, then go back to the song, then stop and continue with the story, then sing again."

"I think there was a show where the audience didn't get to applaud once 'til the very end," Lavin recalls. "That one song and story went on for 45 minutes! She truly was 'spellbinding' in every sense of the word."



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