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Ronnie Gilbert of The Weavers, a groundbreaking folk-singing group nearly destroyed by McCarthyism, will read from her work-in-progress memoir and sing 8 p.m. today at the Williams Center for the Arts.

Making a rare East Coast appearance, Gilbert, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., will talk about her life as a folksinger and victim of the McCarthy blacklist. Part of Lafayette’s celebration of Women’s History Month, the event is free and open to the public.

Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Gilbert began performing together as the Weavers in 1947. The group found commercial success with early “world” music, social commentary songs such as “This Land is Your Land” and “If I Had a Hammer,” and standards such as “On Top of Old Smokey,” “Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” and “Goodnight Irene,” the latter of which sold two million copies. An article in the New York Times stated, “The Weavers have been a key force in transforming folk music from a coterie cult to a popular pastime.”

Although the Weavers introduced the record-buying public to folk music, the politically conscious group could no longer tour when it was blacklisted due to the anti-Communist movement of the McCarthy era. The group temporarily disbanded, coming together again at a historic 1955 Carnegie Hall concert that rekindled its recording and touring life despite the blacklist. The Weavers finally disbanded in the early 1960s.

Gilbert then switched to a solo singing and acting career, recording albums and performing in plays off and on Broadway. She took time off to earn a master’s in clinical psychology, working as a therapist on the West Coast and rural British Columbia for several years. She then returned to the theater, working with innovators such as Joseph Chaikin, Meredith Monk, and Elizabeth Swados.

Coming out of musical retirement in the 1980s, Gilbert recorded several albums. During the 1990s, she researched, wrote, and then toured a one-woman play with music about legendary labor agitator Mother Jones, known in her time as “the most dangerous woman in America.” She also wrote the lyrics and co-authored the book for a 1998 musical play inspired by Coming of Age, Studs Terkel’s oral history of old activists.

Gilbert now focuses on work as a writer, teacher, and activist. Her speaking voice as narrator or actor can be heard on several award-winning documentaries, including the Ken Burns and Paul Barnes documentary about Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Not for Ourselves Alone. She participates in feminist and global peace work through workshops and lectures, and is involved with Women In Black, challenging U.S. policy in the Middle East and around the world. She also is at work on her memoirs.

A documentary, The Weavers: Wasn’t that a Time, was screened March 5 in Limburg Theater of Farinon College Center. A panel discussion moderated by Beth Seetch, lecturer in English and coordinator of the College Writing Program, followed. Panelists included Andrew Smith, assistant professor of English and chair of American Studies; Samuel Hay, visiting professor of government and law; and Joshua Miller, professor of government and law.

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