Jean Redpath, a Scottish-born singer who delighted audiences worldwide and was described by The Boston Globe as “something very close to Scotland’s folk singer laureate,” died Aug. 21 at age 77. She brought her musical talent and extensive knowledge of Scottish history to Wesleyan and the Middletown community as an artist-in-residence in the 1970s.
According to her official website, Redpath arrived in the United States in 1961 with $11 in her pocket. Through serendipity, she found herself sharing quarters in Greenwich Village with such folk legends as Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. She went on to tour around the world, doing hundreds of performances, and to record more than 40 albums. According to The New York Times, Redpath sought to record all 323 songs written by Scotland’s revered bard, Robert Burns, and made it to 180. Her recordings ranged from traditional ballads to contemporary favorites. Redpath also became a well-known radio personality in America with regular appearances on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion and Morning Pro Musica from WGBH in Boston.
She received many honors for her work, and in 1977 was one of only four performers commanded to appear by Queen Elizabeth at the royal banquet at Edinburgh Castle during the Royal Jubilee Year. A decade later, she was on the Queen’s Birthday Honors List and was invited to Buckingham Palace to be awarded a Member of the British Empire. The Edinburgh Evening News once wrote, “…To call Jean Redpath a Scottish folk singer is a bit like calling Michelangelo an Italian interior decorator.”
Redpath was an artist-in-residence at Wesleyan from 1972 to 1976. She worked as a lecturer in folklore in the Music Department, and as a cultural resource to the local school system.
Mark Slobin, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, remembered her fondly.
“Jean Redpath taught Wesleyan students and kids at McDonough School with the same attention, artistry and warmth. She combined true folk roots with a gift for shaping concerts as pure performance. She returned for years to visit the department’s administrative assistants, who had become strong friends, pretty unusual for a visiting artist. Her voice was a world treasure,” he said.